Need a shot of optimism? Look to Bloomington

Need a shot of optimism? Look to Bloomington


This football season is going badly for our Boilers...really, really badly. My Freshman year on campus, 1993, was the last time our Boilers had a one-win season. Prior to that, you have to go back to 1950 to see just one win in God's country. As I asked you in my knee jerk game reaction post, are we watching the worst Purdue football team in the plastic helmet era? If things continue as they are going now, absolutely yes. Why is this worse than 1993? Simple- because the lone win (so far) was over a lower-division opponent. Back in the early 90s, D-IA teams didn't play teams in IAA. Sure, things change, the MAC was much worse back then, and BT teams all fattened on MAC opponents...but the 1990s is modern era football.

I started asking myself, have I ever seen results this bad from a first year coach, that went on to completely turn a program around and eventually became the gold standard for that program? The latter part of that statement is debatable, but you don't have to go far to find some of the best coaches from a few Big Ten teams that started off in dismal fashion.

Iowa is similar to Purdue in the fact that since 1990 they have only two one-win seasons since 1970.  One of those seasons was Kirk Ferentz's first season. Ferentz's time in Iowa doesn't make a ton of sense, honestly. Whenever the Hawkeyes are left for dead, it seems Ferentz somehow resurrects them...this season is an example of that. They're quietly 4-2 right now as Ferentz is squeezing another solid season out of a bunch of overachievers.

There's an adage in football that you never want to follow a legend as head coach.  Darrell Hazell doesn't have to worry about that, but Ferentz did. He followed Iowa's program's greatest coach, Hayden Frye...who like many legends, probably stayed a season or two too long. So when Ferentz came in, Iowa fans were excited about a new start. Instead, that 1999 team was 1-10. They won their third game  of the season, but lost every other contest...They lost four games by more than 30 points, and another by 24. Iowa fans in their 20s and older might be able to empathize with Purdue this year. The next season, the Hawkeyes only got marginally better, finishing with a 3-9 record, but reached a bowl in the third year of the Ferentz era after a 7-win season...The fun really began for Ferentz in the fourth season as it was the first of three-straight double-digit win seasons for the Hawkeyes.

Next up, the 1990 Wisconsin Badgers took a ton of licks as Barry Alvarez laid the groundwork for his program. Unlike Ferentz, Alvarez didn't follow a legend. He followed a short-lived coach in Madison who never went to a bowl. His first season was a painful one. His only win, like Ferentz's was against a MAC foe, but in the second game of the season. His Badgers finished 1-10 as well. They only lost one game by 30+...but lost 4 more games by 18 or more.  The next two seasons, his teams won five wins each year, but in his fourth season in Madison, Bucky went to the Rose Bowl.

Neither Ferentz nor Alvarez played Purdue in their first seasons at Iowa and Wisconsin (respectively).

Bill Mallory went 7-6 v. Purdue, took IU to six bowl games and won 69 games...and was fired.

In 1984, Indiana University hired Bill Mallory after NFL legend Sam Wyche left Bloomington following his only season in that God-forsaken place (3-8). Mallory inherited a program that had little discipline or direction...and had to try to convince a disgruntled fanbase that IU would get them back to a bowl game...they hadn't been to one in five seasons.

His first season was a bitter pill for Hoosier faithful to swallow as he tried to implement a ton of new systems and schemes. The Hoosiers went 0-11 in 1984. They lost two games by 30+ points, and another by 20+. Unlike the other two coaches in this list, they played Purdue in Mallory's first season...and lost the Bucket by just seven points. Some IU fans might say that was their lowest point that season as Purdue earned its way into a bowl with that win. But, the 50-7 loss to aOSU a few games earlier was pretty low too.

Mallory's 1985 season earned the Hoosiers four wins...but he lost to his rival again (IU's seventh straight loss that season). IU went 6-6 in Mallory's third season, earning his Hoosiers a bid to their first bowl in seven seasons. In 1986, Mallory's Hoosiers had 8 wins and went to a real bowl game, but lost. They did beat Purdue handily that season...and even worse the next season, on the way to a bowl victory and one of their players becoming a Heisman Trophy candidate.

Mallory was forced into retirement as IU's winningest coach...Alvarez is Wisconsin's winningest coach, by a lot...Ferentz will probably not catch Frye though.

The point of this is that many Purdue fans can't really relate with a coach turning the program around in any other way other than the way Tiller did it- quickly. If you're a bit older, you might remember Jim Young doing it after just one mediocre season...But the point is, program rebuilding and restructuring is sometimes not easy...and just because a team has a lousy season doesn't mean a guy can't coach.

There's still time for Hazell's team to win another game or two...doing that in itself would feel like a monumental accomplishment based on what we've seen the last three weeks, but there's still time. Even if that second victory doesn't come in 2013, there still might be some hope for your alma mater's football program, in spite of what your eyes are seeing and what your head is telling you following each shellacking.

The Costs of Seasons Like This

The Costs of Seasons Like This

Same Story, Different Saturday

Same Story, Different Saturday