2016 Purdue Football Coaching Search: Bruce Barnum
Candidate Tier #4
Category: Risky, Unique System
Who Is He?
Bruce Barnum is in his second year as head coach at I-AA Portland State, a school that less than 10 years ago had Jerry Glanville as head coach and Mouse Davis as offensive coordinator. Given that, it will come as a great surprise that Barnum’s offense is seriously run-heavy: the Vikings’ run-pass ratio last season was 598-241, pretty much the opposite of the Glanville/Davis days.
Barnum is perhaps best known for indirectly getting Dan McCarney fired at I-A North Texas by beating the Mean Green 66-7. At North Texas. They also upset Mike Leach’s Washington State squad in Pullman 24-17 in the season opener, becoming the first I-AA team to knock off two I-A opponents since North Dakota State (yes, that NDSU) in 2007.
Why would he be successful at Purdue?
Barnum took a 3-9 team that struggled badly in the Big Sky and got them one win short of a share of the conference title (of course the Big Sky has 13 teams, no divisions and no title game, so schedules are really weird), plus a first-round playoff bye.
Along the way, the Vikings beat a 9-win WSU team plus five I-AA ranked opponents. That’s a pretty impressive turnaround at a place that’s more of a commuter school and definitely a little fish in a mid-sized pond (the Pacific Northwest doesn’t have a ton of talent, and once Washington, WSU, Oregon, OSU (not that OSU), Boise State, and your usual national recruiters come through, there’s not much left, so hey! That’s pretty much what he’d be taking over in West Lafayette.
Why could he flop at Purdue?
Well, it’s what he’d be taking over, only about three difficulty levels higher. Barnum was the OC for five seasons under Nigel Barnum, who replaced Glanville, and the Vikings had a winning record just once in those years. That’s not necessarily an offensive issue, but it does make you wonder what was different with Barnum in charge.
Also, Portland State is off to a much worse start in 2016: while a 41-3 loss to Washington doesn’t look bad at all now that the Huskies are 6-0 and a top-5 team, the 66-35 loss to San Jose State doesn’t look good at all with the Spartans stuck at 2-5, with their only other win coming against Nevada. (Oh.)
All the evidence right now seems to point to 2015 as a one-off season, and unfortunately for Mike Bobinski, by the time we’d know for sure, Barnum would be a Boiler for a year or two.
Would he come to Purdue?
He might already be here, lurking around corners, perhaps waiting to ask me why I never took the plunge and entered the full master’s program there.
(It was a money thing; a master’s in software engineering is nice in my field, but not at all required, so I couldn’t justify the cost.)
I mean, his next game at Portland State will be his 20th ever as a head coach at any level. (He does have 31 years of coaching experience, but the majority of that is as an OL coach or an OC.) If a Power 5 school made any kind of offer to you in that situation, would you take it? Yes. Yes you would.
It seems unlikely that his name would actually come into play given PSU’s struggles in 2016; there are coaches with better track records that can be had for similar salaries.