Morgan Burke On Coaches: “Astounding Job”
The other day, Morgan Burke addressed the media in the wake of a 3-9 Purdue football season, which followed a 1-11 football season…which followed Danny Hope’s goofy-ass leadership of a program that had gone 13-13 the previous two years and had gotten Hope axed. So one had to assume this was going to be good, right? An AD who is famously tight-fisted finally ponying up the cash for a good coach only to see the program apparently become even more inept…he had to be furious, right? Well, turns out…not so much.
Burke talked about a number of things, including the coaches, players, recruits, fans and of course, most importantly, the….
…South end zone plans.
So anyway, here are some observations on Morgan Burke’s press conference, the largest 11-minute chunk of which was posted to Facebook by Purdue Sports but, oddly, is not available on the Purdue Sports or Purdue Football YouTube pages.
When asked if he was angry: “Many of you don’t understand how my wick gets lit.”
Ooooohhhhhkay. I don’t really want to touch that one, but I feel compelled to point out that while many of us think an embarrassing performance on the field should light his wick, it’s not that – it’s pesky blogs who criticize his approach and annoying alums who don’t just kiss his ring.
Burke did say there are “some gaps” in terms of player talent, but he said this after talking about how much better some parts of the roster – specifically the line – played. He also said he was excited that the “bulk of the roster” is back and that he’s “encouraged” by incoming recruits, but also happy won’t need them on the field right away, as Purdue is getting older and deeper. Let’s hope.
Many fans have been clamoring for changes in the coaching staff. We’ve obviously seen the knee-jerk reactions to completely clean house, but that’s impossible on many levels – not the least of which being Hazell’s nearly $10M (effective) buyout right now. But coordinators are another story. So what does Morgan Burke think of them?
“I thought John Shoop did an absolutely astounding job this year…trying to figure out plays to make us productive.”
Just… wow. He points to what the offense did against MSU (45-31 loss), Nebraska (35-14 loss) and Wisconsin (34-16 loss), as well as how the defense played against Indiana (23-16 loss to a team quarterbacked by a kid who wouldn’t start at most high schools).
So let me just ask…How are these successes? By what measure are they successes? Burke specifically noted that Shoop did an “absolutely astounding job” and then pointed to MSU, Neb and Wisconsin as the games that illustrate this absolutely astounding job. Sure, early in the season we were suggesting everyone have a little patience with Shoop because, yes, the offense seemed to be coming around. And it did for a bit. But scoring 31, 14 and 16 – followed by just 16 against Indiana’s defense – in losses is some sort of marker of success? Really?
We still don’t think firing John Shoop is some magic elixir that will cure the program, but to suggest that merely scoring points is to be lauded is just… detached from reality. Is this where we are now as fans and supporters of this program? That the fact that Wisconsin didn’t hang 60+ on our boys and they “only” lost by 18 is a step in the right direction? Yes, we’ve said that losses (such as the MSU game) can have some positives drawn from them – it’s possible. BUT, it’s only possible when put in a greater context of improvement. If you’re doing nothing but losing, then it doesn’t matter how creatively you lose – you’re still just losing.
So yes, John Shoop helped Purdue’s offense move from positively hopeless last season to merely bad this season. Hooray?
Back to Burke’s comments, he said in no uncertain terms that “Football needs to be successful at Purdue.” He talked about how each president through history of Purdue know it’s important to be successful and that it “can’t be mediocre.”
The problem, of course, is that Purdue football has to look up at the plateau of mediocrity. From 2004-2012, Purdue football was four games under .500. That’s right at about mediocrity. Their worst season in that span was 4-8 (only once) and their best was 8-5. That, my friends, is the very definition of middling football. In the last two seasons, Purdue football is 4-20, or sixteen games under .500. I know you all know this but I point it out because I believe context is important in so many situations and this is one of them. Purdue football is not mediocre. It is terrible.
Burke made is way around to talking – albeit fairly briefly – about the fanbase, and of course it wouldn’t be Purdue athletics if there wasn’t a bit of a veiled dig in there:
Burke said you need to “see which way the fanbase looks at it… are they ‘from Missouri’ and think ‘Don’t do anything until you improve’ or are they saying ‘this could be transformational, let’s get on board.’”
Heh, yes, Morgan… that’s exactly it. The fans are fussy and are going to wait for more of a national champion contender before showing up in droves.
Let’s make no bones here – Purdue has not won a home Big Ten game since November 2012 and has won three home games in the past two seasons. Most of the games in Ross-Ade are barely watchable anymore and there isn’t much else (weather, stadium amenities, a cell phone signal) to make the gameday experience better. And as we pointed out on the podcast, if you’re looking for signs of how starved for a football winner Purdue fans are, look no further than the sendoff the Boilers enjoyed in Indianapolis before their season-opening trip to Cinci last year.
Going further on the fan experience, MJB feels ticket prices are “not overpriced.” He feels it’s “dangerous” for fans to wait at home for discounted tickets. How about free tickets? Can they wait at home for them? Why would anyone pay full price? I guess to get into Morgantown.
Burke also sounded very squarely behind Coach Hazell, praising how composed and focused Darrell is. I’m fine with this, not only because we know Darrell isn’t going anywhere, but because I continue to believe he’s the right guy for the job and most certainly a better option than Danny Hope.
When asked about expectations, Burke said “My expectations are we’re going to get better… and I hope we do more than that.” BOLD! What would be so wrong with saying “I expect a bowl game next year and a top-tier bowl game in 2016”? Let’s set the bar so we have something to measure against. I’m not saying fire the coach if he doesn’t make the Rose Bowl but you could at least then fairly say, hey, we’re not achieving our goals – how can we achieve them?
Naturally, Burke seemed more excited to talk about the South End Zone than anything on-field-related.
He noted that the refurb of the SEZ would focus on four key components:
1) Technology – video boards, ribbon boards, lights, sound system
2) Fan experience – Fans want to be entertained in different ways…
3) Recruiting – Feels it’s not easy to find certain facilities… so want to have a “common place” that is “eye-catching” for recruits. Want to create a “front door” for Ross-Ade...whatever the hell that means.
4) Team Space – currently inadequate
I like that MJB acknowledged that things like alternate helmets and the like are “not silly” because they are critical for recruiting. I also find it amusing that he’s got a more detailed, focused plan for the SEZ than for getting Purdue football back to the top (or even the middle) of the conference.
The Indy Star posted another clip of the MJB presser, wherein Burke talks a bit more about the program, the coaches, the players and the enhancements.
He said he gave four assignments for returning players:
1) Stay strong in the classroom.
2) Get in the weight room and get the bad taste out of your mouth. “This will be the last December you’re not traveling.”
3) Look in the mirror and ask if you’re a good teammate.
4) Have huge recruiting weekends coming up… embrace future brothers.
To the coaches, he said:
You’re the right guys for Purdue “because you’ve been at programs that have struggled.”
On recruiting: “The recruiting rankings are suspect…our guys played pretty well.”
“Well,” of course, is a relative term. I don’t mean to take shots at the dedicated players because I truly appreciate them being willing to represent my alma mater, but when recruiting rankings put you near the bottom of the conference and you finish rock bottom…. you just keep your mouth shut until you can prove them wrong. And more to the point… who cares what the recruiting mags are saying?
Burke also spoke about being an advocate of the program… which I think is fair. But as we’ve said about ourselves, you can be an advocate of something or someone and still be immensely critical. Criticism does NOT mean you’re not a supporter. This is something that a lot of people need to get through their skulls, particularly the young fans out there who have grown up in a culture where you don’t always keep score in little league and everybody gets a trophy.
* * *
All in all, Morgan Burke is not a dumb man. He is in fact very smart and simply has decided to run the athletic department like a small business. He wants to stay in the black at all costs and he’s proud of the fact that they do. But that simply does not square with big time college athletics and whether or not he and the administration of the University want to get into the “arms race” necessary to win, they are in fact in a big boy conference. If you’re content with fans giving up hope, empty stadiums and, ultimately, not staying in the black, then keep it up.
One of the characteristics of successful people – particularly CEO-types and business owners – is the ability to change course when needed and to do it confidently. I know some people think paying Darrell Hazell $2M and putting a beer garden (tm, zlionsfan) in the SEZ qualify as changing course, but the fact is, they’re kind of half-measures. As much as $2M sounds like, it doesn’t put him even into the middle of the Big Ten pay pack. And maybe the SEZ renovations will ultimately be as nice as Mackey and if so, terrific. And if that helps recruiting and somehow translates to on-field improvement, greater still. But right now, I don’t see these moves as decisive, committed changes. I see them as continuing to do the bare necessities to remain a Big Ten football program. That, to me, is a pretty sizable delta.
Naturally, I wasn’t there and I’m not inside the football program so Morgan and others know better than me. But especially in light of his positive outlook/comments on the coaches and situation, I might have liked to hear the answers to questions like:
--Do you foresee any coaching changes? (Despite how much you like them.)
--Do you really believe that a full stadium will change how they play on the field?
--If it’s important for football to be successful, are you willing to go “into the red” to make that happen? The question is… how important is it?
Purdue fans are out there, laying in wait… waiting for some good news to cheer for, because we’re desperate for it.