Some of the comments on this site and stuff I've been reading on Twitter, combined with Hazell's comments after yesterday's practices sparked this post. When you were a teenager, you might remember the aches that came with growth...if you're really tall, you probably remember it more than a guy who is 5'4" (like this guy). That said, I still remember it.
We all can relate with the idea that it's tough to get back into the swing of being active after a long period of vacation. Maybe for the college kids, they've spent a summer at home without access to a good gym...so they're getting back to the Co-Rec...for the older readers, maybe you took a year (or two) off of working out after a kid was born...you know those first two weeks feel like torturous anguish.
Purdue's football program is going through that...Coach Hazell knows it...he sees it and feels it as camp wears on...but he's charging harder now.
Gameday Saturday used to be my favorite thing in the world. In the late 90s and early oughts, we all knew, whether Purdue won or lost, it was going to be fun. There would be scoring, there would be risk-taking, there might be a let-down sometime during the game...but generally, there'd be a furious fight back, if that happened.
Players like Okobi and Mitrione would goof off a bit...they were having fun playing the game. Their team captain seemed to like the game too. It wasn't work for Brees, but he worked defenses relentlessly as his offense marched up and down the field. 1-2-3-4 FIRST DOWN wasn't just an antiquated cheer, it was a reminder to opposing fans and players alike, that Purdue was on the move...again...and today was going to be a long one for their defense.
Winning is awfully fun...winning the way that the Brees and some of the Orton-led teams did, made me (as well as many of you, I'm sure), flat-out giddy.
The contentiousness of a few players, a divided locker room, a coach who seemed sick of solving problems, prima donnas getting their way and losing to respectable competition started to tarnish the program that Tiller worked and innovated to bring out of the junk heap in the Big Ten's cellar. Then, the team became one that could only beat teams that were simply not good.
We've talked on multiple occasions with current and ex-players who were on the Hope-coached teams. Something we heard time and again was, "We knew going into that one that we weren't going to win." And there's the rub.
I never heard Hope say he didn't think Purdue wouldn't win a game prior to kickoff...but something in Purdue's preparation sent the idea that our Boilers were merely a participant in the contest and not a competitor.
The backsliding from a perennially-ranked team to one that no one really cared about wasn't sudden...it was a six or seven year decent. During those years, habits were formed, thought processes were established and a culture was entrenched. It wasn't really a culture of losing...but it was absolutely a culture of malaise.
This malaise was a thick, rigid rust on the fans, on the team...on the machine that used to be Purdue's football program. It made gameday Saturdays a chore for fans, a joke for the media (that noticed), and no big deal for the players. Gameday had gone from Christmas morning, six or seven times a year to just another day.
On-field performance displayed it...Ticket sales showed it as well. Purdue football wasn't dead, but had become comatose.
That's the culture that Coach Haze inherited...and I believe he knew exactly what he was getting into.
He swept into the offices with signage to remind everyone that a change was happening. He sets meeting and practice times, then starts things ten minutes early. He tirelessly talks to alums and students reminding them that he has a vision. He gave every player 500+ pages of information...about football...about studies...about life to help them change their hearts and minds. He hired coaches that he thinks can execute his plan. And finally, his attention to detail, all of these details and many I'll never know, has been far-reaching and meticulous at the same time.
Now, comes the hard part. The initial PR push is over. Players are tired, injuries are creeping up, guys are being pushed harder than they ever had. Old habits might be showing themselves...and gameday is just two weeks away. J told us that Hazell is showing everyone that he is concerned with some of the execution. It's deeper than that; I think he's a bit frustrated. BUT, it seems instead of whining to the media like Coletto, playing mind games like Tiller or sugar-coating it like Hope, he keeps his focus on the same place- change isn't an option, it's mandatory...and winning isn't something he wants to happen next season, but he wants to win now and thinks his squad can do it.
At practice the other day, Purdue ran a tight end drag from right to left with Bade (I believe) on the receiving end. There was a big collision by the LBs before the play was blown dead (it was skelly work)...but seemingly out of the scrum, Hazell blew the whistle, set the ball and demanded the next play be run quickly and run correctly. He was right in the center of the field, literally in the middle of the play. I thought of it as a microcosm for his management style.
I know that Hazell's Boilers haven't won anything...and his success as a coach, of course, will be measured by wins and losses. That said, it's tough not to believe that it'll come quickly.
Here at this site, we're split on how quickly it will come- I hope I'm wrong about the timeframe, and J is right. He's thinking 8 wins...right away. I think we'll have to wait a season until we can see our Boilers over .500.
Even after watching the practices and listening to the rhetoric, I still think the final record in '13 might not reflect how far this program has come- I believe that lightning striking once again, like it did with Tiller, with Purdue winning right away, is a pipe dream. This season's schedule couldn't be tougher unless Purdue added a few NFL teams...but like the early Tiller teams, the cupboard is far from bare.
Like most great coaches, Hazell seems to think the process matters...we'll see how far along in the process of change this team really is, in a mere 17 days.