The Bucket Comes Home
Joe Tiller retired from Purdue in 2008 and was succeeded by Danny Hope, who in turn was fired in 2012. 2012 was the culmination of several years of frustration for Purdue fans. Despite the massive success that Tiller enjoyed early in his time at Purdue, the team's upward trajectory had stalled. They won eight games apiece in 2006 and 2007, but 2008 ended in a four win campaign and it what had been suspected for a couple years really came into focus. It was time for Joe to retire, and turn the team over to Coach Hope.
Danny Hope was never able to win more than six games in the regular season; add in some institutional rot and it was clear that it was time for him to go. He was fired during the 2012 season, one in which Purdue lost five games in a row but managed to squeak its way to an invite to the Heart of Dallas Bowl against Oklahoma State. Purdue did its best under challenging circumstances, but its best consisted of getting routed 58-14 in a game that didn't even feel that close.
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One would forgive a Purdue fan in 2012 for thinking that Purdue was just a decent coach away from being respectable, and a really good coach away from being formidable. After all, the Rose Bowl wasn't that far in the rear-view, and who's the say that they couldn't follow the lead of a Michigan State or a Louisville?
So then-Athletic Director Morgan Burke swung big, wooing Butch Jones, a hot name at the time who would go on to be fired from Tennessee. But while he might have set his sights on Jones, the Athletic Department was not ready to back up a hire like that with the institutional commitment necessary for a good coach to produce results. Jones recognized that immediately, and pretty much ghosted Purdue (perhaps leveraging Purdue's interest into a sweeter deal with Tennessee). Perhaps panicking after a high-profile candidate more or less ran screaming away from him, Burke took a flier on Darrell Hazell, a very green coach. While re-hashing the Hazell era yet again isn't worth the digital ink, it is important to point out that the institutional investment that Burke had promise did not materialize. Progress on the Department's construction priorities stalled, perhaps reflecting a overall approach to the football program that bordered on apathetic at worst, anachronistic at best. After all, Purdue's AD would on more than one occasion comment ruefully that the NCAA should revisit the freshmen eligibility rule.
But things changed, and things changed from the top. Burke stayed on as long as possible yes, with his fingers straining to maintain their hold atop the Department, but eventually he had to step aside. Enter Mike Bobinski, an Athletic Director with a vision shared by the man who hired him, Mike Berghoff. Bobinski spoke clearly and forcefully about the need for a significant investment and focus in the football program.
What has that focus lead to? A 100,000sqft football-only training facility that had ESPN drooling on Saturday. A series of internal investments and managerial changes that showed the college football community that Purdue was committed to football once again.
Those investments begat the hiring of a football coach in Jeff Brohm who shared the vision of his bosses. Brohm was our top choice to replace Hazell for a reason. He had an aggressive, innovative offense, and sustained success over several seasons as head coach at Western Kentucky.
It's still only been one year, but the returns on the football field on those investments have been magnificent. Yes there's a different energy around the program, and yes people are actually excited about this team, but the tangible payoffs are there as well. Recruiting has improved. The team is playing better on both sides of the ball (the defense, in particular, has been a revelation). And the team is winning again. Which leads us to today.
Purdue won by seven today, but they never felt out of control of the game. They scored first, by virtue of their defense (more specifically, the play of a substitute covering for one of Purdue's best players), kept IU and their beast of a WR Simmie Cobbs at bay. IU stubbornly kept rushing the ball, trying to open up more opportunities for their offense, but Purdue's defensive front wouldn't budge. And while IU did have some success for a time on 3rd down, they weren't able to generate enough of a spark to be truly threatening.
On offense, Purdue overcame some lackluster periods of play in the first half (after the first TD, they had four punts and a fumble) and began generating some momentum. The second half in particular belonged to Markell Jones, who finished the day with 31 carries and 217 yards. Noteworthy for many reasons, not the least of which is because he came into the game today with 263 yards total.
So the win is just a win, except for all the ways in which it is much more. It's getting the bucket back from IU, after being gone for far too long. It's getting to six wins and snapping a four-season streak of losing records in the regular season. It's the fourth win in conference this year, surpassing the three conference wins Hazell was able to manage in four years. And it's a berth to a bowl for the first time since that 2012 season. It's closing the door on the disaster that began on January 1st, 2013 and continued for four dreadful seasons. It's a tip of the hat to the late Joe Tiller; the man without whom none of this would have been possible. Your Purdue family remembers, honors, and loves you Joe.
It's permission to think positively about both the state of the Purdue football program as it exists today, and the future of the program as well. Before today, before this season, I thought three wins was being hopeful and every positive moment was covered in the dirt and dinge of the previous four seasons. Beating IU was exhilarating and amazing and cathartic. Purdue has something to look forward to past November. I forgot how good this feels.
I'll let Dowd take it from here: