Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Coachpocalypse 2012: No more Hope

Danny Hope was probably gone at halftime of the Minnesota game, when Purdue trailed 34-7 and had made it clear that getting above .500 was gonna be an impossibility; Purdue just made it official on Sunday, with the three straight wins at the end of the year meaning little since they were all against crappy teams and still only resulted in a whoop-de-doo 6-6 record.

And that was particularly problematic since 6-6 was Hope's best previous record in his entire tenure. Purdue's records over the last four years: 5-7, 4-8, 7-6 (with a bowl win) and 6-6. Granted, Purdue isn't Michigan, but Joe Tiller had all of of two sub-.500 seasons in 12 years; getting to middle-tier bowl games on a fairly regular basis wasn't/isn't an unreasonable expectation. So 22-27 wasn't gonna sell anybody on a fifth year.

To be fair, Purdue's injury situation under Hope was so absurd that it turned into a spectacular meme ...

... with Perry pretty thoroughly summarizing the careers of Robert Marve and Ralph Bolden and Rob Henry and various other guys who nominally played for Purdue but mostly just stood on the sideline with crutches and large knee braces and whatnot.

That injury situation was the main reason Hope got some leeway for Purdue's mediocrity over his first three years; the offense's blah-ness could largely be written off to the complete lack of stability at quarterback (and running back, to a lesser extent). This year was different, though, in that Purdue returned a bunch of legitimately good players on both sides of the ball and had both 2011 starter Caleb TerBush and a healthy-ish Marve at quarterback, hence Hope spending the spring and Big Ten media day telling everybody about how this was gonna be the year, man. This was gonna be the year for a division title (especially with Ohio State and Penn State irrelevant) and maybe a Big Ten title and a New Year's Day Bowl and all that good stuff. Except not so much. Going all "Big Ten championship game or bust" tends to lead to bad things when "bust" is the result.

As mentioned above, Purdue won three straight to end the year; those wins were against Iowa, Illinois and Indiana, three teams with a combined record of 10-26 and were by a combined eight points. Establishing that Purdue was still slightly better than the dregs of the Big Ten did little for Hope in terms of establishing any hope (no pun intended) for the future. A 22-27 record in four years + no signs of significant progress or upward movement in a relatively down Big Ten = meh.

So he's gone, which means Purdue is starting its first coaching search since Joe Tiller got hired away from Wyoming in 1997 (Hope was hired as O-coordinator and coach-in-waiting after previously working as Purdue's O-line coach and then head coach at Eastern Kentucky). The thing about Purdue is that there's somewhat of a chasm between recent success (under Tiller, I mean) and likely ability to bring in a legitimately good coach, with Bruce Feldman succinctly summarizing:
The issue is the school isn't going to pay all that much comparatively to the rest of the Big Ten. 
Boom. As of a year ago, Hope was making $900K, or barely half of what Mark Dantonio was making at Michigan State as the median-salaried coach in the Big Ten. A million bucks doesn't go that far; look at assistants' salaries in the SEC for some reference.

Burke also limited the field to some extent when he said at Hope's firing presser that Purdue is "about quarterbacks and offense," which would seem to eliminate Feldman's "hunch" candidate, Northern Illinois coach (and former Wisconsin D-coordinator) Dave Doeren, as well as possibly gettable Michigan State D-coordinator Pat Narduzzi and Notre Dame D-coordinator Bob Diaco. Whether those guys won't really be considered is unknowable at this point since I'm not Morgan Burke.

But assuming Burke's words mean anything, those guys won't be at the top of the list, which means somebody else will be. Possibilities: Sonny Dykes if he doesn't get hired for one of the other bajillion openings for which he's reportedly a candidate, Cincinnati coach Butch Jones (although going from Cincy to Purdue would be a mostly lateral move at this point) Kent State coach (and former Ohio State receivers coach) Darrell Hazell, Ball State coach Pete Lembo and maybe Illinois State coach Brock Spack, a longtime Purdue defensive coordinator who obviously isn't an offensive coach but worked under Joe Tiller forever and would presumably maintain the quarterbacks/offense thing (but ideally with a better defense).

Except it won't be any of those people since it will definitely be Jim Tressel. Mmmkay. In "things that have an actual chance of happening," Purdue site Hammer and Rails has Dykes and Jones as the two guys of legitimate interest and an "anyone but Brock Spack, please" disclaimer, although it probably will be Spack since he's the only guy on the list with the obligatory Purdue mustache.

If Purdue can scrounge up the cash for a competitive-ish salary, either of the aforementioned guys would probably be intrigued and would probably be able to generate the kind of offensive success Purdue hasn't had the last few years (Dykes, in particular, might be pretty much exactly what Joe Tiller was 15 years ago). It's not a bad job; it's just that the ceiling is relatively low. With Ohio State and Wisconsin being what they are, Purdue is no better than the third-best program in the conference, and that's to say nothing of having to go through Michigan or Nebraska or whoever in the Big Ten title game if the stars were to align for a division title at some point in foreseeable future. Tiller made a career out of going 8-4, and that's probably about all that can be expected unless the next Chip Kelly is somewhere out there looking longingly toward West Lafayette (he isn't).

That's obviously preferable to trying to maintain success at Louisiana Tech/Kent State/Ball State, though; there are worse things than being at a Big Ten program where 7-5 is fine and an occasional New Year's Day bowl game is even better. There are also better things, which is why nobody's ever really done better than the scenario laid out in the previous sentence. Purdue is Purdue; its enticing-ness is all relative (and will be until/unless somebody comes along and turns those occasional New Year's Day bowl games into regular ones).


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