When Does It Get Better?
Coach Hazell’s legendarily bad start at Purdue continued Saturday, as he fell to 2-13 as Boilermaker head coach and 1-13 versus FBS competition. If one assumes a shellacking is coming on Saturday versus the Irish and a win the following week versus a presumably overmatched FCS program, that will put us at the 1 ¼ year mark for this staff – and with a 3-14 record, 1-14 vs FBS competition. And my question right now is the headline here: when does it get better? We’ve discussed that patience was necessary, up to a point. Joe Tiller got tired, Morgan Burke was cheap and then Danny Hope was inept. That has long-range consequences. That’s not easy to undo, particularly at a program like Purdue. And looked at in a vacuum, as the expression goes, 15-17 games isn’t a long time. However, looked at through the prism of a college football season, it actually is a while. It’s 1 ¼ seasons. In just three months, we’ll be hitting the two year mark of when Darrell Hazell was hired to coach the Boilermakers. It’s enough time to implement your system, get the guys on board, recruit the players you would want and make sure the coaches you have in place are the kinds of guys you can rely on. I don’t know if any of that is happening.
I felt as though it appeared that the players were on board and I do still think that. But are they in shape? Are they mentally sharp? Getting manhandled by a middling MAC program surely would suggest otherwise. Mental lapses such as too many men on the field on a critical fourth down just, as Hazell said, simply cannot happen. And yet it did.
Saturday’s game felt to me like the Northern Illinois game from 2012 in so many ways. A program that we knew could beat Purdue but that, quite simply, we didn’t believe should be able to push around a Big Ten program – on the road. And yet, as much as we didn’t want to believe it was possible, we kind of knew it actually was. It was just one of those things we didn’t want to say out loud because, frankly, it’s embarrassing. But maybe we need to all collectively get over that because supporting Purdue football is an embarrassing proposition at this point.
Let me be clear – I’m not embarrassed to be a Boilermaker. I will fly the colors proudly. But there isn’t a whole lot any of us can say if our football program’s mettle is questioned. Because for several years now, there has been no discernible improvement. This is a program that has been plagued by stupid penalties at awful times, poor game management, weak decision making both on the field and on the sidelines, and lackluster effort. Couldn’t those descriptors be slapped on any Purdue program since the mid-2000s? Astonishing when you look at it that way, isn’t it?
It’s hard to believe it’s something systemic when it has spanned three head coaches (not counting poor Patrick Higgins, who is still probably getting the cowboy boot marks off his face from the Heart of Dallas Bowl). Those three head coaches were pretty different men, but the result has been the same. And the best we can sum up that result is what you’ve heard us say before: a lack of progress.
We’re not expecting the Rose Bowl yet. We don’t have illusions about the playoff. We don’t even absolutely need to see bowl games all the time. But progress, that’s what we have asked for. Show us this program is headed in the right direction. Show us the players and talent are being molded in an image we will enjoy watching. Getting your ass kicked around your own field by a 6-6 MAC program is most decidedly not progress.
So when do things get better? There are those calling for Darrell Hazell to be dismissed already. We think that’s obviously premature and think he deserves a fair amount of time to get his plan implemented. But we do now feel as though the honeymoon is officially over and the excuses about how Danny Hope left this program are hardly valid any longer. It’s time to make something happen here.
Aside from him deserving the chance to build the program his way, what do you do next if you fire Hazell? Go cheap again? Then Purdue surely becomes the consistent, decades-long doormat that IU is. The chances of not being that are becoming thinner and thinner right now and that’s why the next year or two of Darrell Hazell’s regime are so critical. If he can’t turn this program around, the future becomes darker than any of us want to imagine. Fan apathy will get worse, recruits will become more hesitant and then what? Then you need to find a coach who will be able to recruit to a school in Indiana that hasn’t won more than a couple games in a bunch of years? Sounds like we’ll all be praying for lightning in a bottle at that point.
Naturally, a gotcha win over a Notre Dame or Big Ten foe makes a lot of this feel better and brighter. Those kinds of things can do wonders for a team’s confidence and sometimes can be a springboard to better times, where you look back and remember that game as a turning point.
Coach Hazell, we’re all good and ready for our turning point.