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An Open Letter to Coach Patric Morrison of Madison, Indiana, (and all other parties concerned) May 23, 2019

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Dear Coach Morrison and hiring committee:

                As a Madison [Ind.] Consolidated High School football alumnus (Class of 1998), allow me to congratulate you on your recent promotion to associate athletics director.  I also wish to extend congratulations on a job well done as head football coach, within the context of that with which you and the community have had to contend.  You have shown good vision in your player development; you have demonstrated that you deeply cared for your players; you were also forward-thinking in your team-building measures, too.  In my day, for example, it would have been unheard of for a head coach at Madison or some place similar to take his team all the way up to Canton, Ohio to engage in some team-building/skills-building drills.  It remains a surprise to me that such creative measures did not translate better into the wins column come that season.

Be all that as it may, I have observed the progress from afar of Madison football off and on as any concerned alumnus would for his former team.  During my college years, I served for three seasons as a staff member on the Purdue football team, and I learned through working with Coach Joe Tiller and his able assistant coaches about what it takes to build a winning program.  Over time I have come to some conclusions with regard to the challenges the program continues to face and what sort of coach it would take to effectively address them.  This is to build on the firm foundation you, Coach Morrison, have diligently set in place.

As most of us are aware, Madison faces one systemic challenge of being the smallest school in the Hoosier Hills Conference.  Moreover, while some rival schools are in conferences with growing, more dynamic populations (e.g., Floyd Central and Jeffersonville), the town (pardon me, “city”) of Madison’s population has been stagnant, if not gradually declining, for the past two decades.  Bottom line:  our pool for talent is already limited compared to the competition.  Other environmental factors – too many, too complex to list for now — on top of that stack the proverbial deck even further against us.  Can we even win at all in such a situation?  I believe we still can.  Here’s what we need:

As is the case in college football, it all starts with the coach.  In the high school and college games, the coach plays an outsized role in program success compared to his factoring into success in the NFL (though the head coach is still vitally important there, too).  At those levels, players first have to want to play for the coach (indeed, in college, the players literally choose to play for him and his assistants).  Moreover, at the high school level (and yes, college, too), the coach, in addition to being sufficiently adept at the X’s and O’s, also needs to be the team’s spiritual leader, for lack of a better term.  That is, he must be ever-vigilant in keeping the team motivated and keeping its morale high.  Superior morale is an absolute must-have for Madison football.  The boys need to be amped-up and excited to take the field more so than the other team.  It is one of the few advantages they can leverage.

That means a coach capable of lighting a huge fire under the team’s collective arse.  It means giving extra-rousing motivational speeches in the locker room before kick-off and at the end of half-time.  That also means a coach who will encourage the guys on the team to celebrate on the sidelines during a successful series.  Not only will such things sustain good morale, but it will create a fun environment that everyone can see – including able-bodied male students in the stands who would come to realize they want to be a part of that, and contribute to the team in so doing.

MadisonFootballLogo

This logo, only several years old, is one befitting a good high school program.  What Madison [Ind.] Consolidated High School needs to do is find a coach to match; one who is sufficiently dynamic and has a singular vision to create a winning culture.

Snazzy uniforms also help for good morale at that level.  To that end, I must once again commend Coach Morrison, this time for the neat-looking uniform image he has crafted during his tenure (they’re light years better than the generic rags my teammates and I had to play in).  His successor must keep this good look going, and the only changes he should be making there, if any, should take things even further, provided they do not exceed the bounds of good taste (no need for the Oregon unis of 2007 with the anti-skid patterns on the knees and shoulders, please!).  Yes, that means it is important to press candidates on their uniform-styling philosophy.  If the potential new hire confesses in the interview that he is a “Penn State uniforms kind of guy”, that’s an automatic deal-breaker.  He’s gone; next candidate.  Period.  Why?  Because a predilection for such generic uniforms shows that he is unimaginative and rigid against change.  What we need is a coach who is the exact opposite – very imaginative and willing to pivot on a dime in terms of offensive or defensive strategy.  I know this from experience.  We failed to win a single game my junior-year season (1996) because the head coach and his staff were too inflexible to make changes that desperately needed to be made.  Such changes ranging from re-shuffling the offensive line to strategic offensive changes that would have played to the strengths that we had at the time would have minimized our weaknesses and actually would have put us in the position to win games, which is a coach’s number one job, lest we forget.

These two things would be a solid start.  But what about the deficit of talent?  With limited practice time, talent on the field often becomes the deciding factor, after all.  Herein thus lies the core challenge.  In addition to being good and keeping up team morale in all its facets, the next head coach at MCHS must have a combination of boundless energy and a Messianic complex where he is bent, in part, on maximizing the turnout within the school.  To accomplish this, he’ll need to win over the support of the community – not an easy task for a town susceptible to complacency.  He’ll have to attend every community function, every community festival (e.g., Old Court Days, the county fair, the Madison Regatta, etc.), every local church cookout, and spread the word about the new mission of the team.  He’ll have to kiss a hundred babies and shake thousands of hands as if he were running for high state-wide office.  In this process, he will have to sell as many folks as possible on his new, winning vision for the program, and how this new, winning vision will help put the town on the map.  Such is what it will take to win over supporters within the community and thus build up the support infrastructure – support that in turn will encourage an improvement, and ultimately, a maximization of turnout that the team desperately needs.

This aforementioned Messianic complex will also be necessary to withstand blowback from parents who might be incensed that their son would be utilized less or in a different way.  If you have to replace a drop-back QB for an option QB, for example, because therein lies the opportunity to start winning games, you’ll have to brush aside the ruckus raised by parents as so much background noise irrelevant to keeping everyone’s eyes on the prize of winning games.  Vince Lombardi was right:  winning isn’t everything, but it is the only thing.  Otherwise, why put in all the effort?  Yes, a more detailed exploration of this side-issue merits another article for another time.

The next step after that would be to continue the change in organizational culture.  All currently-available evidence shows that Coach Morrison made great strides in changing the team culture towards a supportive one.  The next head coach needs to take that and translate it into a winning one.  This is arguably the toughest challenge of them all – changing an organizational culture from a losing one to a winning one.  Where to begin?  Those in charge of hiring need to look at coaches who have turned around organizational cultures in the past.  A great example is what Barry Alvarez did at Wisconsin.  For years, they were a doormat of the Big Ten Conference.  Nowadays, they are perennial conference contenders and routinely win bowl games.  You and the hiring committee need to study what he did, then ask your coaching candidates if they would enact similar things.  You could also provide necessary guidance-as-support to ensure that you are on the same page and are pursuing the same goals together.

Lastly, it almost goes without saying that if you are truly committed to building a winning program at MCHS, you must consider what you need to do attract such a candidate, and make any accommodation necessary to bring him in. Given the unique dynamism that a head coach will have to exhibit at MCHS to build a winning culture, is the hiring committee willing to make the necessary accommodations to attract such a leader that the football program needs?  Are you willing to pay a little extra?  Are you willing to clear whatever path is necessary with regard to his teaching skill sets?  Are you willing to create an environment at school that gives the new head coach ample opportunity to interact with this players/students?  Shoving him off to the side as a junior high study hall monitor like you did with Coach Getts back 2001 is not going to cut it.

That might mean twisting a few arms and cajoling a few members of the school board to see it your way.  But this might be the only way to bring in the coach you need who will reliably win games.  This will take political competence and the power of persuasion on your part to accomplish, but it’s also important that you do so.  Sell them on the idea of this being the opportunity we’ve been looking for to put Madison “on the map”.  The last thing we need is for some narrow-minded warm body to foul things up because they cannot see past their own complacency.

                To summarize, here are the bottom-line guiding suggestions for Coach Morrison and all others who have a say in the hiring decision of his successor:

  1. Ensure the coach is proven to boost and maintain high morale on the team, within all facets of the game, from game-time celebrations to sufficiently-stylish uniforms (the latter of which is already headed in the right direction, and good on Coach Morrison for this).  Can he light a fire under the team and keep it lit all season-long?
  2. Ensure the coach is both imaginative and flexible.  Is he willing to change offensive strategies mid-season if that’s what it takes to win games?  Is he willing to think creatively in what that new offensive strategy might entail?
  3. Does the coach have the necessary tunnel vision to withstand or brush aside blowback and keep his, and the team’s, eyes on the proverbial prize?
  4. Gauge the level of the coach’s energy.  He will need maximum energy to campaign as if he is running for political office so as to maximize the team’s turnout.  Once hired, guide him on all possible opportunities in the community to spread his message and thus his vision.
  5. How good is the coach at changing organizational cultures?  More than anything, this could help him build a lasting legacy of program success.  Can he cite examples he knows of regarding what other coaches have done to convert losing cultures into winning ones (see:  Barry Alvarez at Wisconsin).
  6. Lastly, are you and the powers that be willing to do your parts in creating the environment the head coach needs to succeed in his mission?

Does this all sound like a tall order?  Initially, yes.  But the further one implements this list, the more doable it shall appear.  All of this is necessary to overcome the systemic challenges that Madison football faces.  If the hiring committee is not committed to the last point, then then they will fail in passing muster with the previous five points, for it shall prevent the attraction of the uniquely dynamic coach you need to properly build on what Coach Morrison has already put in place.  Either you are committed to doing what it takes to bring in this sort of head coach, or you’ll end up settling for some guy who seems nice enough and enjoy being a whipping boy of the HHC on a weekly basis in the fall.  The choice is yours.  Let’s choose to build on Coach Morrison’s supportive legacy and do what it takes to create a wining culture.

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On Morgan Burke and Purdue February 19, 2016

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MJB_Purdue1Morgan J. Burke has been the Athletics Director at Purdue University for more than 20 years.  On Thursday, Feb. 11, he announced that he would retire from this position, effective June of next year.  During his lengthy tenure, he has garnered a reputation amongst his peers as one of the most competent AD’s in major college athletics, especially in terms of finances.  With so many AD’s spending money as if their budgets were bottomless pits, Burke has been very fiscally sound, and has enjoyed the deserved reputation as a prudent business manager as a result.

When he took over as the top athletics administrator in 1993, Purdue had the absolute worst athletics program in the Big Ten.  Hammer and Rails has an article that puts this in perspective, including that fact that the football program only had five (yes, five) bowl appearances total in its history, and was in year eight of a 12-year bowl game drought.  The schools’ baseball, ahem, “stadium” would have been considered poor by high school standards.  The swimming and diving teams’ home pool was in some hidden location underground at Lambert Fieldhouse.  Ross-Ade Stadium was practically falling apart.  In short, the department itself was operating on a shoestring budget with awful facilities and teams badly-performing as a result.

In the span of Burke’s tenure, Ross-Ade received much-needed renovations, including leading the way in building an aircraft carrier-sized press box on the side of one’s football stadium.  The football team has enjoyed 12 bowl appearances between 1997 and 2012, including an elusive and prestigious Rose Bowl berth.  Mackey Arena has also enjoyed major upgrades, along with being home to a men’s team that has delivered four men’s basketball Big Ten titles and a women’s national championship.  For what it’s worth, women’s golf brought home the national title in 2010. A nice, more comprehensive list of all that Burke has done well can be found here.

Moreover, (again, for what it’s worth), women’s soccer, softball, baseball, and tennis all have new facilities.  The new swimming and diving pool, opened up ca. 2000, is considered one of the finest college natatoria in the whole country.  While not exactly on most people’s radar screens, Purdue has become a diving powerhouse (e.g., David Boudia, 2012 Olympic gold medalist).

And yet, to speak with the Purdue University faithful these days, the firm impression is that the athletics department is in an absolute shambles.  Sure, it’s all well and good that the softball, baseball and soccer teams have wonderful facilities, and a fine reflection on the university that the swim teams have a jewel of a pool to call their own.  But there are problems afoot with the two highest-profile programs, those being football and men’s basketball.

The latter has been performing very inconsistently as of late, what with promising recruiting classes that fail to live up to their potential.  But even worse and more urgent is the absolute disgrace of the football team.  Coach Joe Tiller’s teams’ performances started waning during his last few years, especially since the 2005 season.  When former assistant coach to Tiller in Danny Hope took over (he had been the head coach at Eastern Kentucky University from 2003 through 2007), things kept declining further (5-7 in 2009, 4-8 in 2010).  Coach Hope enjoyed only two bowl appearances after going 7-6 in 2011 and 6-6 in 2012.  Ironically, he was fired despite a bowl berth in 2012.

Herein lies a symptom of a systemic problem.  Purdue has been NOTORIOUS for not paying its coaches even average market value.  Coach Tiller was one of the lowest-paid football coaches in the conference for one, and that did not change when the torch was passed to Coach Hope.  In college football, it’s all about the coach and the kind of playing talent that coach is able to recruit.  Just see what Brian Kelly has achieved at Notre Dame, in this era’s Sunbelt-dominated era of college football, or how Jim Harbaugh has been turning things around at Michigan to illustrate this crucial point.

Basically, Burke tried to make things work with Coach Hope while giving him a shoestring budget.  Coach Hope in turn did what he could with such a dearth of resources, but his performance on the field reflected the fact that he was not getting the type of support he needed to compete effectively in major college football.  Firing him became tantamount to killing the messenger.

But there are other dimensions to this problem.  Before and during the Coach Hope era, Purdue’s reputation for under-paying its athletic personnel was well-founded and deserved.  Even competent, ambitious people who worked on the administrative side of the department would leave for better pay at other schools, even to the intra-conference competition.  That especially went for assistant coaches who were worth a thing in the sport; after a few years of building a reputation at Purdue, they would soon leave for greener pastures.  As Fox Sports’ Colin Cowherd often reminds us, “[C]oaches do not care about your fight song:  PAY them!”

Burke seemed to have gotten that memo when searching for a new football coach in the wake of Coach Hope’s departure.  He announced that he was raising additional funds to try to attract a better coaching talent.  Eventually, the searched settled on Darrell Hazell, then the head coach at Kent State who had a good year with the Golden Flashes (as an aside, snapping up a MAC coach who has had only one or two good years there into a Power Five Conference team is always a risky roll of the dice).  Case in point:  while Coach Hope’s base salary was $925,000 a year, Coach Hazell’s base salary was $1,750,000.  Better, but still not enough to attract talent on par with, say, James Franklin of Penn State or Mark Dantonio at Michigan State, let alone Urban Meyer or Jim Harbaugh.

Moreover, when the bigger players in the B1G are searching for their new coach, they never seem to have to announce some fundraising effort to be able to offer a big-name, proven winner of a coach a competitive salary.  Yet Purdue had to announce such an effort just to be able to pay its coach $1.75 million, which is still sub-average among the Power Five.

Before drilling even deeper to the root problem, let us keep things in perspective for now.  Burke has been proven that he is among the best AD’s in the country in terms of two things.  One is operations.  Having attended the Big Ten wrestling championships, hosted in Mackey Arena on March 3, 2012, I can personally attest that they were carried out flawlessly.

The other is financials.  The Big Ten is home to some gigantic athletics departments that include both Michigan and Ohio State, both of whom have a figurative license to print money.  Purdue, meanwhile is at a systemic disadvantage in that its athletic department receives ZERO money from the university.  Despite that handicap, Burke has led a very financially-sound department, with each fiscal year ending in the black.

But Burke’s weakness has been talent acquisition, which, frankly, is 90% of his job in the public’s eye.  He lucked out with Coach Tiller, who in hindsight had a limited shelf life of effectiveness without Drew Brees.  He tried going cheap with Coach Hope after Tiller, and that ended up crippling the program.  Although he doubled the head football coach’s salary at Purdue, he has wasted it on Darrell Hazell.  Granted, Hazell is a fine man who has raised outstanding kids and has done everything beyond reproach.  Moreover, he has done wonderful, marvelous things in reaching out to football alums.

Yet despite being a fine gentleman off the field, Coach Hazell’s on-the-field record has been only 6-30 in three seasons.  This dismal performance has led to a damaging effect on Purdue’s athletic and thus academic reputation to average people.  It has in turn led to major frustrations on the part of the Purdue alumni and related faithful.  Since Burke hired Hazell, a good bulk of this frustration has understandably been laid at the feet of the AD.

Thus, the initial reaction to the announcement of Burke’s eventual retirement:  why wait so long when a changing of the guard appears to be in order?  Sixteen months seems like a long time to wait to take the program into a new direction.  More to the point, is the change desperately in order?  Answer:  yes and no.  A two-decade tenure for an athletics director is long enough.  After that lengthy span of time, new blood is needed, with new leadership to take the department in new directions.  Given the current, disgraceful abyss of the football program and the inconsistent performance of men’s basketball, that new direction is obviously, desperately needed.

But will a changing of the guard at AD really help beget that?  After extensive deliberation and searching of perspectives, I am led to conclude that a new AD alone might not help bring about  the change Purdue desperately needs.  Perhaps Burke’s ineptitude at hiring a proven, big-name coach was a symptom of his being hamstrung by the Board of Trustees.

Most universities “get it.”  That is, they understand that college athletics, and football in particular, are front porches to their universities.  Meaning, the trustees of most major universities understand that football is the primary marketing tool, and they thus see the football team as a way of leveraging and building the schools’ entire reputation in the eyes of the general public.  Purdue, in contrast, sees athletics as a secondary mission, and has historically chosen to put academics first.  While this is noble, it is also short-sighted, given the context of today’s society, where we accept the use of a school’s football team as the primary promotion tool as normal and indeed, expected.

When podunk Appalachian State was vying for three consecutive national titles as the FCS level in football last decade, it was a huge shot in the arm for that school.  During a home game in the playoffs in 2007, the university’s president was on the sidelines wearing an ASU football jersey, joyously telling the sideline reporter for ESPN that applications for potential students to attend that university had skyrocketed.  Enough said.

Thus we are led to the core problem at hand:  why do the members of Purdue’s Board of Trustees fail to grasp this?  As long as they fail to understand this basic, modern tenant of university promotion, it might not matter how capable Burke’s replacement at AD will be.

College Football Drills in Wintertime February 28, 2013

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We are still in the winter season, normally associated with basketball, wrestling (the non-pro kind!) and Winter Olympic-related sports.  The Super Bowl has been concluded for almost a month by now, and the college football bowl games have been over for almost two.  But do not think that nothing is going on in the world of college football; things are anything but sleepy in that world right now, and I don’t mean the latest developments in the Fulmer Cup, either!

The truth is, college football is very active right now, just not active in the way that ordinary fans, hard-core and casual alike, can readily see or discern.  That is because fans do not see the tough conditioning drills that players put themselves through (scratch that, that COACHES put players through) during the week, often at very inconvenient times of day, to get them ready for Spring Ball.

Conditioning is the game, here.  The NCAA restricts coaches to 15 spring practice sessions, so there’s no time to waste on gassers or the like when there’s plenty of schematic options to explore to see how they play out and to try to install new offensive stuff for the regular season come Fall.

That means that these boys need to be in shape for all of that.  What is truly interesting is all the different approaches that coaching staffs take towards these conditioning sessions, starting with what their nomenclature.  One generic, all-purpose term is “winter conditioning drills,” since they last from early February, usually, to early March, though that alone varies from program to program.  Another term some teams use is “mat drills,” since some of the conditioning drills take place on wrestling mats or a similar playing surface.  At Purdue, we just called them “6 AM’s”, since that’s when these drills officially began.

Six-AM’s are a royal pain in the ass.  There, I said it.  Some coaches seem to agree, with is why schools of thought differ even on this approach, since some programs WISELY undertake these conditioning sessions in the AFTERNOON (why, what a novel idea!).  As disastrous a head coach as Jim Colletto was while at Purdue, one of the few bright spots during an otherwise dark time for the program was that he had said conditioning drills held in the afternoon, when normal people are still, you know, functional.  Coach Joe Tiller, however, in a hasty move to — otherwise commendably — change the tone of the program (and goodness knows it needed a change of tone at the time) had them in the morning, hence the term at the beginning of this paragraph.

But Purdue is not the only one; many a program from UConn to USC has had these sessions at 06:00, for whatever reason.  Luckily, there are voices of reason at big-time programs that still have them in the afternoon.  Take Georgia, for example (this policy alone strengthens my faith in Mark Richt’s adept leadership):

FYI, those human-centipede push-ups are a lot harder than they look!  Notice the presence of a red mat in the middle of the indoor practice field, though.  We never used a mat for drills on the astroturf playing field of Mollenkopf Athletic Center (field turf was finally installed in there in 2006), which might account for the absence of the mat drill term within our organizational lexicon.

Still, another interesting thing to marvel is what sort of combination of drills the coaches prefer to get their players into shape.  We never did the human-centipede push-up drill at Purdue, for example, but one constant one will find from program to program are all sorts of directional drills.  Those are simply where the coaches have players run or side-shuffle in one direction then instantly turn to run in a different direction and so on.  Players would go to various drill stations throughout the session and about four or five-minute intervals, and variations of directional drills were usually two out of several of said stations.  Because two stories of staircases leading to the coaches’ offices were located close to the indoor field, another station was to have players run up and down said stairs — ensuring that endurance and power were covered!

Clemson is considered a big-time program, but sadly they still cling to the out-dated notion of having drills pre-dawn. North Texas, an inconsistent contender in the Sun Belt, also still have their sessions before sunrise.

Notice the good examples of directional drills show in the above video.  The tug-of-war drill is no doubt a cool idea!  Another constant one sees during these drills from program to program are the puke buckets.  Part of the job of the managers are to set up these drills (meaning they must report around 5:30 AM), and part of the setting-up is placing those plastic, dark gray garbage cans in, er, strategic areas for players to conveniently access in the split second before they blow hash.  On further review, one advantage to running before dawn is that one needs not to worry about losing one’s breakfast!

At Purdue, after the players were thoroughly worn out from all the drills, to cap things off, the coaches had them run 100-yard wind sprints repeatedly.  After all of that, the session would not be completed until all the players on the team did positioning drills (lie on your back, the whistle blows, then you instantly switch to lying on your chest, etc.) to the coaches’ satisfaction.  Doing these twice a week to start out seemed manageable.  Three times a week and it wears considerably on you; but at four times a week, it pushes you towards the brink of insanity, and makes you jump for joy when it comes time for spring practices to commence.  At least we could brag, though, that we practiced while [normal] people slept!

Addendum, 04-03-13:  Yes, by now, spring practices are in full-swing all across the land, but I just came across a video of Purdue’s 6 AM drills for 2013, and naturally found that to be a great fit for the article — enjoy!

The End of the Danny Hope Era at Purdue: a postmortem and a forward look November 30, 2012

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Over the past few days, the word about Coach Danny Hope’s firing has spread like wildfire.  In four seasons as Purdue’s head football coach, Hope was 22-27, with no appreciable signs of improvement from when he took over from Coach Joe Tiller at the helm.  This particular development had been, according to rumors, that Athletics Director Morgan J. Burke had actually been planned since Purdue’s blowout loss at home to Wisconsin.  Be that as it may, the development having been brought to fruition has opened a floodgate of after-the-fact criticism against the man, something I flat-out refuse to join.

Say what you want about Coach Hope:  he treated those who played under him as well as those who worked under him more than equitably.  He cared for every one of his players as if they were all his sons.  Coach Hope and I go back about 15 years, when I first met him at Coach Tiller’s summer football camp for high school players.  Starting a year later, I was an aide to him while a student manager on the Purdue team, helping him out on the sidelines during games while he was the offensive line coach under Joe Tiller.  In the subsequent years that followed, he went out of his way to make me feel like part of the football family, be it at Eastern Kentucky University – a long story! – or at Purdue as well.  I have awesome articles of athletic-themed attire that I shall forever treasure wearing – stuff that he personally gave me.

But I am not the only one ever grateful, ever true to the man now stepping down as head man of the Purdue football team.  None other than Drew Brees and Matt Light consider Coach Hope “their coach.”  Drew has been quoted as saying that he would run through a brick wall for Hope.  Matt Light, former all-pro offensive tackle, not to mention the man who protected Tom Brady’s blind side for a solid decade, has credited Coach Hope with molding him into an NFL lineman.

Bear Bryant was known to say “[i]f anything goes bad, I did it. If anything goes semi-good, we did it.
If anything goes real good, you did it. That’s all it takes to get people to win football games.”  With every big win – few as there were – Hope always passed the credit along to his players.  When Purdue won in Michigan Stadium for the first time in over four decades, Coach Hope was almost in tears on account of how proud he was of his boys and how well they played.

Moreover, when Hope’s tenure began, on paper, it was a good hire.  He was the perfect organizational/cultural fit, having served under Coach Tiller all those years.  Moreover, anybody who has met the man could not help but love him, what with his high-energy, high-enthusiasm personality that could brighten up any room.  Better yet, he brought in Gary Nord as offensive coordinator.  Both learned the coaching ropes together under the legendary Howard Schnellenberger, so obviously they had the pedigree.  Between Hope’s high-energy approach towards motivating players and Nord’s abilities with the X’s and O’s, it seemed to be an awesome match.  Sadly, things did not turn out that way, as the results clearly show.

The question becomes, why?  One plausible explanation is that Hope’s under-performance is the symptom of a bigger issue within Purdue’s athletics dept.  One of Purdue’s dirty little secrets is, historically they under-compensate their personnel compared to other Big Ten athletics programs.  Anybody with any ambition at all puts in their time, enhances their resumes, then leave for, er, greener pastures, leaving behind good people that stay out of a combination of loyalty (commendable though that may be) and lack of options.

To put things even more bluntly, Purdue is notoriously cheap when it comes to paying its coaches.  That could explain Coach Hope’s woes, to an extent.  A cursory survey will reveal that Purdue has the lowest football coaches’ salaries of any staff in the B1G.  Not good.  Hope himself was the lowest-paid head coach in the conference, making only $950,000 this year.  Yes, I know, to the vast majority of people, that is a tidy sum.  But when you consider that even Tim Beckman of Illinois makes $1.6 million, or even Kevin Wilson of lowly Indiana makes $1.2 million annually, something is dreadfully wrong in Boilerland.

The same problem applies to underpaying assistant coaches.  Therefore, the head coach does what he can to bring in assistants, but once they build up their resume, they then go somewhere else where they can make more money.  Successful football programs depend in part with coaching continuity.  Don’t believe me?  Look at what happened to mighty Texas when the bulk of their assistants left, or the slump Florida found itself in for a while.  Now imagine the havoc that is wrought on a program like Purdue from lack of such continuity.  To quote ESPN’s Colin Cowherd, coaches do not care about your school’s fight song:  pay them!

That brings us to the another major point.  Morgan Burke right now faces the awesome task of finding a new CEO of the football program to take it in a new, better direction.  Certain names have been tossed around here and there, but no matter whom they hire, if Burke does not take a crowbar to the department’s wallet, Purdue will be in the same situation it is in now in three or four years’ time.

Adam Rittenberg, a blogger of espn.com has reported that Burke is putting together a $4.5 million fund for the next coach.  If that is true, then maybe, after all these years, it has sunk in that he needs to pay his football coaches substantially more than in the past, distant and recent.  Yes, Burke deserves credit for ably managing the athletics department’s bottom line, but that bottom line itself is in jeopardy if the team keeps losing games and the fans vote with their feet in the form of lost ticket revenue.  As the saying goes, you have to spend money to make money.  Winning games makes money, and to win games, Purdue needs to raise football coaches’ pay (both head coach and assistants) if they want to get anywhere.  Let us hope that the rumored $4.5 million is made available soon for the best coaching talent out there.  But by that same token, assembling those funds should be a sign that Burke et al. have finally figured out that winning in the Big Ten (or any other “Big Six” conference these days) costs money, and they do deserve some credit for figuring that out, even if belatedly.

Another problem for the program was the offensive strategy combined with a stale culture.  Concerning the latter, let us face it:  bringing in Coach Hope to replace Coach Tiller was, in some regards, more of the same.  The head coach is CEO of the football program.  Like a chief executive, his job is to not only set the strategy, but also the culture and tone of the organization.  Bringing in Hope was more of the same in that the Tiller influence was able to linger longer than it should.  Coach Tiller did a wonderful job of bringing Purdue out of the wretched Jim Colletto era doldrums, but after a while, things became stale.  Furthermore, his one-sided “basketball on grass” was becoming less and less effective.  Frankly, Drew Brees and his ability to work the on-field magic that he did made Tiller’s offense look far more effective than it really was.  The best season Purdue had post-Drew was the 2003 season, where we had a tough, veteran defense combined with Coach Tiller “discovering” something called the running game.  Sadly, Coach Tiller never learned from his successes that season, and engaged in a very lengthy panic to where Purdue’s offense continued to dwindle as it became ever-more reliant on the passing game.  The more-of-the-same approach, that which worked before but became less effective as the conference overall changed, in turn caused the organizational culture to go stale as well.

Ultimately, Coach Hope’s on-field woes could most likely be attributed to the ongoing quarterback merry-go-round, combined with a poor choice of offensive strategy that was, again, too reliant on the pass.  In so many games, I observed too many over-engineered plays that were attempted to be executed by under-skilled personnel.  The nature of these plays tended to put the offensive players in too many precarious situations, which could account for why injuries perpetually plagued Hope and his team.

A run-oriented, option-based attack could have rectified this problem.  So many fans argue that the passing game is what puts butts in the seats, but I counter in turn that winning is what truly generates enthusiasm for a program, and thus stimulates greater attendance.  Three yards and a cloud of dust will sell just as well as the passing game, if you win.  The new coach, whoever he may be, will be well-served to heed this advice.  Given our current personnel, we could credibly execute a flexbone option attack much like Georgia Tech and Navy currently use.  It could buy us time until we bring in personnel that could give us more options in a balanced, pro-style attack that is a proven winning approach with teams throughout the country.

But in the meantime, do not pile on Coach Hope.  I will always admire him as a loyal, gracious man.  He stood for everything a place like Purdue should support — values, character, sincerity, and integrity.  The Boiler Nation would be well-served to never forget that.

About the Author July 18, 2011

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My name is Patrick Murray, though many of my friends from college know me as “Sarge”.*   This website that I maintain is dedicated to the advancement of knowledge and insight, specializing in the virtues of limited government, as well as of scientific, historical, and pop cultural insights, plus the occasional sports commentary for fun.

I was born in Louisville, Ky., on March 2, 1980.  I graduated from high school in Madison, Ind., where I lettered for three seasons in football and track.  My undergraduate years were spent at Purdue University, where I majored in Mass Communications with a minor in History (honestly, I felt more like a science and history student masquerading as a comm student!).  On the side, I took some courses in German, Latin, Entomology, Oceanography and Paleontology — in other words, fun stuff!

Outside of the classroom at Purdue, I served for three seasons as a student manager on the Purdue football team.  That job allowed for me to see almost every stadium in the Big Ten (except for Iowa and Illinois), to say nothing of making some special life-long friends.  I have a number of friends who play in the NFL — including Drew Brees, with whom I celebrated my 19th, 20th, and 21st birthday — and I remain an avid football fan to this day.  As a manager, I worked directly under Coach Joe Tiller, and during the games, I helped out then-O-line Coach Danny Hope, who later became the current head coach from 2009 thought 2012.  I also worked with Coach Kevin Sumlin, who was then the receivers coach (he played at linebacker for Purdue), before going on to give the Houston Cougars program a shot in the arm and then leading the Texas A&M Aggies to become the hot program it is today.

My services with the team also allowed for me to travel to special away games, including a season opener in Los Angeles Coliseum against USC (before the Pete Carroll era, to be sure!) in 1998, and in the Citrus Bowl against Central Florida in 1999.  The three bowl games I was a small part of were the 1998 Alamo Bowl in San Antonio, the 2000 Outback Bowl in Tampa, Fla., and of course, the 2001 Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif.  Those were memorable times.

After I graduated from Purdue, I went straight into business graduate school at the University of Louisville, where I earned my MBA.  The next few years found me knocking around in the customer service sector until I just happened to find a teaching opportunity as an adjunct faculty member at the Louisville campus of National College.  Finally I was able to find a job more commensurate with my education and talents.  At that school, I have taught a number of different business courses, including Intro to Business, Principles of Management, Small Business Management, Operations Management, Purchasing & Materials Management, and, my favorite, Strategic Management.  In addition to all of those, I have taught a number of general education courses, such as Public Speaking, Georgraphy, American History (both 1896-1945 and 1945-2000), Political Science, and American Government (needless to say, another one of my favorites to teach!).  Starting in the late Spring of 2013, I have also taught computer skills courses (Microsoft Word, PowerPoint, Excel, etc.).

In more recent years, I have elected to fulfill a very latent goal of mine, and that is to become a mechanical draftsman (sometimes known as a CAD operator), if not an outright engineer.  I have a design internship under my belt at a materials handling system manufacturer in Jeffersonville, Ind., and worked as a design engineer for a conveyor systems manufacturer on the southern edge of Louisville.  In April of 2014, I accepted a position as an on-site project manager for a conveyor systems integrator, and have helped build sorter systems at FedEx Ground facilities in Fort Wayne, Ind., Indianapolis, New Castle, Del., Philadelphia, and Santa Fe Springs, Calif.  This job has allowed for me to travel extensively and to engage in extensive learning in so doing.

Assuming that I have failed to establish my renaissance man credentials yet, it is also worth noting that I have given a couple of education seminars on insects to the docents at the Louisville Zoo — an occasion that allowed for me to show my rather extensive exotic insect collection.  I also am an avid photographer (I use a Canon 7D), where I specialize in macro nature (particularly insects), aquarium fish, classic cars, and some sports.  In addition, I have been a guest on a friend’s radio show on multiple occasions, discussing the Constitution and our Founding Fathers.

* The “Sarge” cognomen started back in June of 1997 — right before my senior year of high school — and was attending football camp at Purdue.  The era of Coach Tiller was about to begin, and this camp gave me the opportunity to get to know all the coaches.  Part of the camp’s curriculum was for the campers to coalesce into passing league teams, where we had such games for three consecutive nights, four games a night.  My team’s coach was Coach Gary Emanuel, Purdue’s once and again current D-line coach.  He did not know my name, but noticed I took a rather militaristic approach towards addressing my superiors (e.g., “yessir,” “no, sir.”).  Such is the way I was raised.  Noticing this, Coach Emanuel started calling me “Sarge,” and the name stuck.  When I got on with the team as a manager, all the coaches remembered me, and soon the players too, started calling me by the same cognomen.  It was only a matter of time before the cognomen in question spilled out beyond the gridiron to the greater campus.