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Hutton: Hope for Boilers likely lies with next hire

Purdue head coach Danny Hope left celebrates with defensive tackle Kawann Short after Purdue defeated Indian56-35 an NCAA college football

Purdue head coach Danny Hope, left, celebrates with defensive tackle Kawann Short after Purdue defeated Indiana 56-35 in an NCAA college football game in West Lafayette, Ind., Saturday, Nov. 24, 2012. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

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Updated: December 26, 2012 9:51AM



WEST LAFAYETTE — Ok, so what do you want to be, Purdue football?

A team that is just good enough to whack Indiana at the end of a disappointing season? A team happy to be headed to either the Dallas Bowl or the Meinke Car Bowl in Houston? Northwestern good? Michigan State competitive?

The Boilers’ 56-35 victory over Indiana on Saturday in the Bucket game had all the feel of a living wake for head coach Danny Hope. (Warning: Winning the Bucket game can be hazardous to your professional health. Bill Lynch was fired as the IU coach after winning the 2010 Bucket game.)

There were 42,638 semi-energized, mostly giddy fans at Ross-Ade Stadium on Saturday.

It always feels good to beat IU. The win is complicated when the coach appears to be of the lame duck variety.

Hope could be dispatched soon, like Sunday or Monday, if Purdue athletic director Morgan Burke is inclined to it. And it appears that he will. The diehards came out to see what it was like to watch a dead coach walking the sidelines on a gray, cold day after a depressing and yes, even a distressing season for the Boilermakers.

Afterwards, Hope was predictably feisty about defending his work ethic while maintaining that he hadn’t talked to Burke about his future yet. He certainly sounded like a coach who knew his time was up.

“I always do my best,” he said. “Never second guess my effort and commitment. I committed my life to Purdue football for the last four-and-a-half years. Sometimes, it wasn’t reciprocated from many others on the outside.”

When asked who the outsiders were, Hope said: “Make a list.”

Ah, the outsiders will get you every time, that and a bad contract with no leverage (Hope’s words) and subpar resources (Hope’s words again). These are now viewed as excuses when really they are problems that will be addressed after the new guy is hired. Sometimes, life isn’t fair.

The expectation was that Purdue could be formidable and perhaps even win the Leaders Division of the Big Ten. Those expectations were ratcheted up after a 3-1 start that included a narrow 17-14 defeat to Notre Dame. The reality is the Boilers’ season started to spiral downward after a 44-13 loss at the start of conference play. Losses to Penn State and Minnesota more or less put Hope’s tenure in past-tense perspective.

In an effort to make it better for his successor, Hope publicly complained this week about the low grade of his assistants, saying the school was $300,000 to $400,000 behind in the Big Ten pool.

In an effort to hold out a glimmer of hope for maybe, perhaps saving his job, Hope mentioned in his pregame show that the Boilermakers beat Iowa at Iowa for the first time in 20 years. He didn’t mention that Iowa was 4-8.

And, finally, in an effort to make himself look even worse than his predecessor, he praised Joe Tiller, a Hall-of-Fame coach, for holding it together despite the subpar facilities.

Ultimately, none of that could explain away the notion that it’s a heckuva lot easier to be successful in the Ohio Valley Conference at Eastern Kentucky than it is at Purdue.

How can I say this delicately? It’s really easy to tell a coach to clear out his office and take I-65 to some other place to coach football. This is one reason that might give Burke reason to pause about firing him now.

It’s a lot harder to find the right fit — the one guy that is going to make it possible for the Boilers to be more like MSU or Northwestern than Minnesota or, God forbid, IU. It won’t be easy to find another Tiller.

If there is one skill that Burke has pioneered, it’s transitional management.

He did that with Matt Painter essentially interning for a season under Gene Keady and it worked fabulously.

If there is one thing Burke has to master, it’s crisis management. The Boilers aren’t accustomed to sending coaches off in this manner.

The Hope experiment will have to be termed a failure. He has to hire someone worthy quickly.

The competitive metabolism of the Big Ten was just amped up with the addition of Rutgers and Maryland.

The gulf between the rich programs (Ohio State and Michigan) and the rest of the league got a little bigger with the addition of Urban Meyer and Brady Hoke in the last two years. The Big Ten arrow is pointing up for football despite a bad season overall.

It would be nice and convenient if the Boilers could just decide what they wanted in a program and go out and get it.

That’s just not the way it works for the middle-of-the-road Big Ten football programs. They get what they get and sometimes they get lucky, like when Tiller answered the call.

Sometimes, though, it’s Hopeless dilemma with no good solutions. Burke is now on the clock, barring some kind of last-second change of heart. Time to see what he’s got, and who answers the phone.



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