Avoiding a Coletto Redux
Some of the parallels are a bit scary for those of us that had to live through it. An ex-Ohio State guy came to Purdue to re-instill order, discipline and respectability. When it happened, most thought the hire was a solid one...There are of course a couple of big differences.
Colletto wasn't as private and thoughtful with his words in press conferences, jumped straight from aOSU to Purdue and had never had a winning season as a head coach. Colletto also had a pair of four-win seasons before his one-win campaign at Purdue. That said, winning just one game in the modern era of college football places both coaches in a small fraternity that no one wants to be a part of...but we've gotten to see both in black and gold. A few great coaches started in similar fashion, but year three was the season they showed that they were righting the ship; Hazell needs that to be the case at Purdue as well...for his sake as a head coach, as well as Purdue's ailing football ticket sales.
A few of the problems Hazell is fighting come from himself...and we've touched upon them. He's loyal, doesn't seem to make knee jerk reactions (to anything) and is a bit stubborn. Like Coletto, Coach Haze wants a formula that worked at aOSU to work at Purdue. Purdue doesn't have the resources or manpower that the Bucknuts have...nor will it ever; so it's time to shake things up. Granted, if Hazell ever read something like this, it would probably make him want to dig his heels in and continue the course simply out of belief that his way is correct.
I have something on my side- Hazell only comes to the site to read J's Morgan Burke posts...like everyone else, I'm sure he can't help but laugh at Purdue's AD's inconsistencies.
So what's broken about Hazell's team? A better/easier question might be: What's working?
-Akeem Hunt was really good this season. Sadly, the NCAA won't give him another year of eligibility out of pity for our Alma Mater. One note about Hunt that doesn't help Coach Hazell or Coach Shoop- they took the starting job away from him prior to this season after he was one of the most productive players on the team in 2013...it's tough for me to forget details like that.
-Lastly, (yes I mean lastly), Marcus Freeman seems to be the real deal as an LB coach. He took the most questionable corps of players on the Purdue team...fought through losing two players in the two-deeps, and still helped the LBs improve greatly. He's high-energy, he's young, he seems to love what he's doing...where he's doing it.
I've spoken with people about what Hazell should change...almost everyone agrees that Shoop's time in West Lafayette needs to be over. I'm actually bothered that it's not over yet. If you read this site and the Twitter feed, you'll note that we gave Coach Shoop time. We have an advantage that we hate the Bears and didn't have a built-in bias against Hazell's OC hire. But, after showing a reason to believe things were changing just before the middle of the season, Purdue's offense took massive steps back.
Shoop, who also coaches the QBs, has now taken two young, highly-touted Elite 11 quarterbacks and rendered them ineffective. Etling's low point came versus Iowa- a game in which he had historically-bad numbers. 11/26 and a mere 61 yards passing. Appleby's stinker of a game came versus IU- 19/35 124 yards and 3 picks.
Both quarterbacks seemed to have regressed into highly self-conscious mental states in which they look so afraid to make mistakes, that they can no longer make plays. Appleby's big arm and confident body language has been reduced to aiming the ball while missing receivers, even on short routes...badly. If you want, you can compare and contrast that to his first start; the differences are stark.
I was wrong in my assumption and statement that Appleby could save Purdue's offense. Now, I have the belief that no player could save Shoop's offense as it stands. His unusual philosophy of demanding near perfection, is the opposite of what a young quarterback needs, I believe. A QB who's learning on the job needs a system that allows mistakes because the offense still moves the ball. The ball control style that Purdue currently uses really demands a game manager, a great running back and a veteran offensive line. The good news is the OLine is almost all in tact next season. The bad news is they seemingly regressed as a unit too toward the end of the season; both on running and passing downs.
I don't think they forgot how to block- I think DCs simply figured out Shoop's play calling (it wasn't that difficult).
I know that both Anthrop and Knauf weren't available at the end of the season. I also know that Knauf wasn't really available for much of the year to begin with...So will Shoop defenders sell the idea that the offense was completely predicated on Anthrop's health? If that's the case, the system is still broken.
A change, both to the coordinator and in the philosophy with which Purdue runs the offense is warranted. In the old system, Purdue needed great RB play (as I talked about) and TEs that could make plays on dump off plays. Purdue loses 3 of 4 of its top RBs to graduation...in the wake of those losses, a handful of Freshman and Sophomores will fight for time/carries. All three of Purdue's TEs that acted as receivers also graduate...and in their place a group of unexperienced players will try to step up.
Shoop's ball control system wasn't even very good at controlling the ball. In fact, in the Purdue backs were fumbling the ball more than ever at the end of the season...and possessions were very short. And the numbers, as predicted, are not good- Purdue's strength, running the ball yielded a 72nd-best yards/game stat in the nation. VICTORY!! In pretty much every other category they were near 100.
At least Coletto's teams could run the ball effectively...let me rephrase that- Edwin Watson and Mike Allstott were flat-out good.
One of the ironies of Hazell's offensive woes is that the receivers aren't great route runners...and they have a case of stone hands. Granted, Anthrop was consistently catching the ball...and Sinz was solid. After that, not one receiver could be called solid, in my opinion. Some of that can be attributed to youth, but as a former WRs guru, you'd think Hazell would be able to bring up a young receiver. It hasn't happened yet.
His WRs coach, Kevin Sherman has a solid resume and is a veteran...but his experience simply hasn't yielded results. After Shoop, no one should be held more accountable for the lack of productivity in this offense than Sherman.
Am I demanding a firing? If I said yes, it wouldn't make my words any more or less impactful? I'm pretty simple when it gets down to it- I really want to see a product on the field at Ross Ade that is:
A. Producing wins
I'd say Purdue's WR, QB coach and OC all failed during the last two seasons by that metric.
Hazel said every coach and player would be evaluated in the off-season...if he misses these two failures, his situational assessment will be brought into further doubt by even the loyalists...and those who were teetering and looking for reason to hope as they choose if they should buy tickets next season won't find much hope in the status quo.
If Shoop and Sherman are asked to leave, I have some ideas of where to look for their replacements.
For WR coach, if Taylor Stubblefield isn't called and not allowed to get off the phone until he accepts, Purdue is missing an opportunity. Stubby is an up-and-coming coach...and a favorite son.
For offensive coordinators, I'd shoot high and work down from there. UNC's Seth Littrell bloodied Purdue into submission while he was IU's OC; if he's offered the same money that Shoop's getting, he'll be getting a significant pay bump. It'd be tough to turn that down as a young coach. Next up, and maybe even tougher to get- T A&M's Jake Spavital and Oregon's Scott Frost (**sigh**).
If you can't get a young gun, get an old genius- Nevada's retired coach Chris Ault, New Hampshire's Sean McDonnell, Cal's Tony Franklin or Colorado State's Dave Baldwin.
Oregon's Matt Lubick would probably be my top realistic candidate though- Sonny Lubbick's son isn't even an OC...is a WR coach BUT knows a thing or two about offense. He was bred and groomed for designing inventive offensive systems.
My point is- there are options...good, affordable options. (Did I get your attention, Mr. Burke?)
And speaking of affordable, I'm not so sure Coach Hudson shouldn't be on high alert.
Sure, Hudson's defense was young to begin with...then decimated by injuries...but the defense was as statistically-bad as the offense. It ranked in the 100s in most important categories...and after a good start, two veteran defensive ends couldn't get near opposing QBs. Next season, youth will be on the bill again. Both Des will be replaced...and both starting safeties are gone as well. Williams, Brown, Bentley and Howard will be the corps that the defense will be built upon...not a bad place to start, actually. But there are challenges.
If Hazell's reviewal of the defense leads him to believe the DC should move on, I would hope Freeman would get a serious look. He's cut from the same cloth as Northwestern's Fitzgerald- a young, passionate guy that players rally behind. He would be extremely affordable...until his defense does what I think it would do under him- play fast, hit hard and yield results.
I don't think there's much of a need to look at this any further, as I believe Hudson should be, and will be safe. Since I've typed that, he'll probably get canned.
As I look backwards, I think of the impassioned speech Hazell gave following the massive loss to Wisconsin in 2013. It was inspiring...but we've yet to see any proof of the idea that the Purdue football program is anywhere near the middle of the conference (let alone a team that can beat the upper third).
As you all know, I want Hazell to succeed...I'm not sure he can do so with his staff and his philosophy as it is right now.
To avoid the past, we must learn from it. It's time for Hazell to learn from the mistakes of Jim Coletto.