Oh Yes, It's Most Definitely The Coaching
I've always been a Matt Painter guy. I liked the hire when it happened, defended it to a pal of mine who thought he was just a cheap way out for Burke. I like the fact that he has a seemingly-encyclopedic knowledge of game situations from the past. I like that he is respected in the coaching community. I love that he took a Purdue program that was on the trash heap when he took over, and turned it around on a pair of surgically-repaired ACLs (Landry and Teague). I loved the identities of those early teams- they were gritty, not real pretty, and made you believe something special might be on the horizon...and it turns out, something was. The advent of the Baby Boilers made us all believe Matty was a damned genius...as a recruiter and on the court. That instant-impact bunch was glued together by Keaton Grant and Chris Kramer; they were a force to be reckoned with...And we all believed that Matt Painter had resurrected the fiery determination and smart-minded game IQ of Keady-coached teams in the 80s/90s. Mackey was a fearsome place...and we gave Painter his credit, because he deserved it.
Well now, it's time to give him something else he deserves: blame.
The last few seasons, we've described Purdue with different adjectives: heartless at times, uninspired, poorly-focused, easily-bullied, sloppy, soft, bone-headed, inconsistent...the list could go on. This is a shame. I'm a guy who has loved Purdue sports for all of my life, but I don't look forward to watching Purdue play right now. You can call me whatever you'd like, and I'm sure some of you will...I don't give a damn. I'm telling you what my gut has been saying...and it's murmured, "meh" a lot recently about our Boilers.
Can you blame my gut though? When the Boilers need to rise to the occasion, they really don't. They needed a win versus aOSU; it wasn't a must-win, but it was a game, at home, that could put the season on solid footing. aOSU is a top-10 team...and Purdue couldn't stick with them in spite of a solid effort...that's become surprisingly familiar and comfortable; like an old sweatshirt...we Purdue fans are pretty used to that sort of play. Purdue's beaten an over-rated Illinois team and two legit ranked opponents in the last few years...yep, that's the list...that's the three games that our Boilers rose to the occasion. And at this point, this program looks up at the term usually reserved for bad Purdue football teams, Spoilermakers (which I hate, by the way).
I'm honestly, not bitter right now...but my eyes are wide open to reality; and reality is as chilly as this January night in Indiana.
I go on the Knucklehead board and observe- there are Painter apologists that keep reminding us that Painter was the coach of the year a few years ago...that he runs clinics...that he's won BT championships. All true. But he also recruited two-straight recruiting classes chocked-full of guys who don't belong playing in the best conference in America and others who were never a good fit for Purdue.
Just as Tom Crean recruited his way into a highly-ranked IU team, Matt Painter seemingly recruited Purdue out of respectability.
I don't blame players for being who they are. I do blame kids for being bad kids (breaking the law, fighting with teammates, getting bad grades, etc.) But, I blame coaches for poorly-assessing talent...I blame the coaching staff for not developing players...I blame the head coach for not figuring out a rotation...I blame the coach for not benching players when their heads look to be out of the game...I blame the coach when it seems he won't go to war for his players. And THAT might be Painter's biggest problem in my opinion...the other stuff could be glossed over, but right now, Purdue's lack of continuity all comes back to the coach, for a myriad of reasons.
I've never said in this post, or any other, that I want Painter fired. But, as Purdue continues to limp along and Mackey crowds get smaller and less fearsome to opponents...and if Purdue backs into an NIT at the end of this season, minds and hearts, even of those apologists mentioned above, might start to change.
Purdue is decidedly-young...That's not an excuse.
Lots of teams in America are young and still succeed. Hell, Purdue was young and succeeded not too long ago.
There's a dearth of leadership on the roster.
I'm not sure anyone can argue about that. That issue comes from a few factors: one Senior is a starter and major contributor. Two others have only been on campus for a few months and the last one doesn't match up well with players in the B1G. While Purdue and Painter may be trying to cobble together a cohesive roster, we're watching the second-straight season in which Purdue's upper classmen don't "own" the team. I have a lot harder time blaming DJ Byrd and Terone Johnson for this than I do blaming the guy who's a millionaire on the same bench.
Look at IU this season, they're in a similar situation. Their Senior
toolbag 'leader', Sheehy simply isn't a guy that can carry a team...he's an ensemble player who's lacking stars to lean on, because they all went pro. That's Crean's fault. He didn't have much of a long term plan...and he surely has never been a guy who will beat the opposition with his Xs and Os...so it's OK to hold the Forehead accountable. In the same way, in the interest of fairness, Purdue fans need to remove the gold-colored glasses and see things as they are right now.
Purdue having a mass-exodus last year, whether positive or negative in the long run, was Painter's fault. He recruited them, they didn't fit at Purdue, the program is now paying for it.
And speaking of paying for it, Burke did the right thing a few years ago, and gave Painter and his staff a hefty raise. Painter currently is in the top-10 to top-15 range for coach's salaries in the NCAA. Since his raise, our Boilers are 48-36 and the teams have been in the high 30s to where they currently reside, 144 (according to the RPI).
I'm not demanding Purdue be a top-10-15 team each season...I think it would be nice if they were ranked more than for a few weeks in the last three seasons though. And I absolutely do not think that's asking too much.
Another fun fact was pointed out to me a week ago. Since Painter signed his 8 year, $2.3mil/year contract, Purdue has won 10 true road games (non neutral court games). That's really not acceptable. Probably less-acceptable to many Purdue fans is that the good guys have lost 11 home games. And, in my opinion, something that's absolutely unacceptable is that they've gone 0-8 versus teams in the near vicinity (IU, UND, Butler and Xavier) in the same period of time.
When Painter's agent orchestrated new jobs for Martin and Lusk, AND got Matty a deserved raise, I applauded his figurative chess game and poker face (am I allowed to mix metaphors like that?). I also thought the investment made good sense, not only for Painter, but for Purdue as well...well the deal hasn't really panned off for half of the parties involved yet.
I do believe that the Sophomores, Freshman and in-coming Freshman will be an awfully tough group next year. But I really thought last year's Freshman would have more success than they did...and this year's Freshman might have had more instant impact as well.
Sure, some of the slow growth from those two classes can be blamed on their Senior leadership...but if that's the case, what will next year's Freshman do when they have ZERO Seniors on the roster that are scholarship players? Kind of a fair, logical question.
My older brother always says that good programs seem to be perpetually-filled with upper classmen while bad teams are perpetually young. Purdue has been pretty young for a while now, doesn't it seem?
Oh yeah, there's that elephant in the room that I haven't addressed- you know the rumors that swirled around Painter's personal life a while ago. Those stories range from the absurd to the almost-believable...but I honestly don't know everything about what happened in Painter's life...NOR SHOULD I. It's his life.
With that said, I think it's fair (from a fan's perspective) to expect a coach's personal issues not to affect the product on the court...The same would be asked in most jobs. Sure, there might be a time of correction that occurs, but when the job suffers, generally employers aren't happy. I had a friend ask me if all of the stuff off the court has affected Purdue on the court. Honestly, I don't know the answer...but the fact that the question can be raised without an absolute, resolute response might say a lot in itself.
At this point, Purdue fans are living and dying by faith in the program. Faith and belief that things are going to be turned around in the near future. Sadly, there isn't much concrete evidence of this turn around...and the fact that a CBI season looks like it will be followed up with an NIT post-season bid says a lot about how far our Boilers have fallen.
There's still a lot of basketball to be played this season, but Purdue will probably need 21 wins to get into the NCAA tournament. When I look over the schedule, then I look at the body of work thus far, I only see 18 or 19 wins (and I think I'm being more than fair). Computer predictors also think I'm being generous as they have Purdue with 16-17 wins prior to the BT tourney.
I college basketball, is coaching recruiting? Yes. Is coaching Xs and Os? Yes. Is coaching motivating players? Yes. Is coaching developing players? Yes. Is coaching about making very difficult personnel decisions yes? Is coaching public relations? Yes.
Coaching is all of these things and a ton more. It's a difficult, lucrative, grown-man's job. And at the end of the day, it's about winning basketball games well-within the rules. In my opinion, the rate at which Purdue has been winning, regardless of why it's happening, has been far too low. For that reason, Matt Painter has earned this criticism. Youth, free throw shooting, strength of conference, changes to defensive rules, team chemistry and poor upper class leadership, at this point are all excuses.
Things need to change in the near future, and Painter and his staff need to make sure of that.