Water Finds Its Level
Let's not even talk about fun. Because there hasn't been anything fun about watching Purdue football in a long time. Maybe in 2012, when Purdue faced Notre Dame and Danny Hope outdid himself in giving the Irish every opportunity to walk away with the win (they eventually obliged.) Maybe 2011, when Robert Marve scored a TD to beat Ohio State in OT? That was fun. Those teams were deeply flawed, with a ceiling lower than any of us were comfortable admitting, but at least there were moments of fun.
What have the last three years given us? Hazell's cold detachment wasn't going to rally the fanbase, or the team for that matter. We kept waiting for that light to turn on, for the switch to flip, for the worm to turn, and...nothing. Poor choices in assistant coaches begat poor schemes and weak strategies. A blasé attitude towards recruiting - and the work involved therein - begat a dearth of talent and depth. With Hazell at the helm the frustrations at the team's continued failure focused on him like a laser. But when Mike Bobinski put him out of his misery, what was left? That same team with little roster talent and little coaching talent.
The post-Hazell era has shone a spotlight on those issues. Without him to kick around anymore the systemic failures surrounding the program come into focus. There's no depth at all; injured players don't get to rest, they just sit on the bench and sub in for freshly injured players. The new defensive scheme didn't make sense in May, and doesn't make sense now. Purdue's defensive coordinator spent last season coaching his son's high school team; before that he was LBs coach at Nebraska, his last noteworthy unit coming in 2012. His hire has been a spectacular failure, as Purdue's awful scheme hasn't been able to compensate in any way for the spotty talent on that side of the ball. That's not even getting into the piss-poor tackling. More problems? How about a beleaguered offensive line, or a vulnerable secondary? I'm tired of listing Purdue's weaknesses.
So while we may have opened some windows to let the stink out, there's still mold in the bathroom, water damage in the ceiling, and frayed electrical in the walls.
It is in that environment that Gerad Parker has taken ownership. While he bears some small share of blame for the state of the program - he was the WR coach and recruiting coordinator, afterall - what he's done since taking over has been nothing short of admirable. He's 0-3 as a head coach, of course, but he's cultivated a different atmosphere around the program. The team looks competitive in stretches (ok, first half stretches), and outside of the Penn State game, a Purdue fan might be forgiven if they find themselves thinking this team might do some winning.
But at the end of the day, it's still the same coaches, still the same players. Still the same weak schemes, still the beat-up roster. As they are currently constructed, Purdue simply cannot be competitive for a full Big 10 game. As fired up and focused as they may be, as hard as they may work, none of that changes the fact that when Purdue lines up against any of its remaining opponents they are, man-to-man, at a decided and noticeable disadvantage.
So perhaps fun isn't the right word; the last three losses don't look that much different than the 33 that preceded it. But I don't know, maybe they feel a little different. Maybe it's because Parker has given this teams some balls - going for it on fourth down in their own territory, letting Blough air it out a bit...the calls have been riskier and they haven't always paid off, but who cares? So what if Purdue loses to close out the season? In what way is that different than the previous three years?
Parker hasn't given Purdue fans a reason to hope or frankly even a reason to care. That is now Mike Bobinski's job. But he has given them a reason to have the game on in the background, to look up from their phones every once in a while. Is that good? No. But for me, right now, it's good enough.