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November 25, 2012

No surprise: Hope is shown the door at Purdue

Boilers went 6-6 after setting big goals at start of season.

INDIANAPOLIS — INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Purdue wants to a football team that can get to the Rose Bowl and decided Danny Hope was not the coach to get the Boilermakers there.

About 24 hours after retaining possession of the Old Oaken Bucket against rival Indiana and becoming bowl-eligible again, athletic director Morgan Burke announced he had fired Hope and had made receivers coach Patrick Higgins the interim coach for the Boilermakers’ next game.

The swift move was no surprise to Boilermakers fans who had grown increasingly restless with a program that had been no better than mediocre for much of the past decade. That wasn’t good enough for Burke.

“Make no bones about it, we want to go to Pasadena. That’s what it’s about,” he said. “We’ve got to put ourselves in a position to do that.”

During a hastily called news conference with reporters Sunday evening, Burke repeatedly praised Hope’s commitment for trying to resuscitate a program that was already sinking when he took over after the 2008 season and then was ravaged by injuries.

Even so, a three-game winning streak, back-to-back bowl games and three wins over the hated Hoosiers couldn’t save Hope’s job.

Burke had said he would wait until the end of the season before making a decision. Apparently, he came to the conclusion before Saturday’s 56-35 rout over archrival Indiana — a win that made Purdue 6-6 and bowl eligible for a second straight year, the first time that had happened since 2006-07 — and he saw no point in wasting any more time.

“I think when it became clear to me that no matter how hard one was working, it was going to be difficult to reverse the image and the view of the program,” Burke said. “I don’t like people to have to continue to put 120 percent effort in — and Danny is a 150 percent effort guy, he gives it all he’s got — and to recognize that there are forces beyond your control. As the season progressed, it became increasingly clear to me that we were probably going to have to make a change.”

Burke did not provide much detail about how the national search would be conducted, though he did say Colts general manager Ryan Grigson, Texans GM Rick Smith and Colts ex-vice chairman Bill Polian would advise him. Grigson and Smith are former Purdue players.

Burke also did not provide a timetable for hiring a new coach.

Some names that have already been percolating include Northern Illinois’ Dave Doeren, Illinois State’s Brock Spack and Ball State’s Pete Lembo. Former Ohio State coach Jim Tressel’s name also popped up on some web sites Sunday night. Other names also have bandied about over the past several weeks, but Burke declined to comment on any of the potential candidates.

One thing is clear: Burke does not want a complete makeover.

“We are an offensive-minded program. That’s where we’ve made our mark over the years and I don’t see us changing,” he said. “We’re certainly not going to move into a coach that has a dramatically different scheme. Because we built this team to play a certain kind of football, and we’ve seen other institutions who have made a coaching change and then they change their style of play and it took two or three years to adjust. We’re not going to do that. We’ve got talent in this program.”

Hope was the hand-picked successor to the school’s all-time winningest coach, Joe Tiller. He left Eastern Kentucky, spent one season on Tiller’s staff as an assistant and then went 22-27 in four seasons as the head coach. He ended the school’s three-year bowl drought last season and brought Purdue its first bowl win since 2007 by winning the Little Caesars Bowl in Detroit last December.

He also received a two-year contract extension in December that was to keep him at Purdue through the 2016 season.

But last year’s late-season success raised expectations — expectations that fell flat this season and resulted in empty seats.

Things looked promising after a 3-1 start. Then came blowout losses at home to Michigan and Wisconsin, and the restless fans started calling for a change. The rumors were so loud by Oct. 29 that Burke took the unusual step of issuing a statement that essentially said he would wait until the end of the season before making a decision.

Hope knew what was being said.

“I don’t have any idea. But either way, I’m going to be OK,” he said when asked about returning next season after Saturday’s game. “Like I said, I’ve learned to live life on the hot seat here at Purdue. Any time that you have a contract that has some weak spots in it, I didn’t have a lot of leverage when I came here. I don’t have that strong of a contract from a buyout standpoint or a compensation standpoint, any time you’re dealing with a contract like that, you can be on the hot seat on a regular basis.”

The buyout was only $600,000 and declined by $100,000 each successive year.

Players also had a sense the move was coming.

After beating the hated Hoosiers, Hope hugged his wife and one of his players before leading the team singing the school’s fight song in front of the student section. When the song ended, two players hoisted Hope on their shoulders briefly — a moment Hope called special.

During postgame interviews, players expressed support for Hope, none more emphatically than sixth-year quarterback Robert Marve. He thanked Hope for giving him multiple second chances and allowing him to play this season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee.

For now, the Boilermakers are asking Higgins, who had been calling the plays while offensive coordinator Gary Nord was out with a back injury, to pick up the pieces. Nord will serve as a senior adviser for the bowl game.

Hope and Purdue opened this season by talking publicly about reaching the Big Ten title game in Indianapolis, putting the program back on the national map and possibly returning to a New Year’s Day bowl game.

When that didn’t happen, it sealed Hope’s fate.

“I don’t like to walk in the locker room and see the faces on the young men after they lose,” Burke said. “I don’t like to see the long faces on the coaches who I have a lot of respect for.

“I know how hard they’ve worked and how close they’ve been,” Burke added.

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