Let's just go ahead and assume that Danny Hope will be fired at the end of the 2012 regular season. I know, it's a little pessimistic; some of you will say that it is necessary.
I agree that it is necessary. Hope has lost his team. Purdue was in a position to actually win the Leaders Division--with Ohio State and Penn State both ineligible at the same time--and could not capitalize on the opportunity. They lost to Michigan, and it was like "okay, but win the Leaders." Then they lost to Wisconsin, the team who was considered the only other real contender for the division crown. Purdue's chances of going to Indianapolis just plummeted.
Almost all of it is on Danny Hope. He is four years into his tenure and, despite the tremendous opportunity of having the other conference teams struggle, has backslided. The Boilermakers are typically known for being the cradle of quarterbacks, but this year there is no one truly elite (i.e. Brees-like) under center.
So it's time to at least start talking about who will eventually be Hope's replacement. Hope may not even be fired this year: Burke has shown incredible levels of apathy as an athletic director, evidenced by the fact that Hope and his staff are among the lowest paid coaches in the Big Ten. Burke's decision to give Hope an extension may have been premature.
After the Wisconsin game, BoilerMacR did a quick run-down of possible candidates. I'm mainly going to expand on that list, and attempt to clarify which candidates are realistic gets. The goal is that this becomes a discussion in the comments section, where you list your favorite coaches, and we discuss who'd be the best fit. (As opposed to doing this later when Hope is fired and the H&R staff is scrambling to compile candidate lists before someone is hired.)
First, let's start by separating candidates into four basic categories:
1. The Long Shots. These are guys who everyone wants to have, but are highly unlikely to take the Purdue job when a better one is offered. They are pretty much proven winners who have coached well at a high level and would get an A+ on anyone's radar. (I'll also provide reasoning why they're long shots.)
2. Possible but Unlikely. These are coaches that people can realistically see coaching at Purdue, and who might even jump at the opportunity, but for one reason or another it's just not in the cards. Either Purdue is too unappealing, or they're comfortable, or they're waiting for a better job.
3. High Risk, High Reward. These guys have shown the potential to do well, but are either unproven or have been disappointing at times. They and the university need to be a "good fit" in order to succeed. Both sides will likely have to give 100%, and some patience may be required.
4. Safe Bets. These are proven coaches who don't really excite anybody. They're either past their prime or have hit their ceiling. They can get the job done in terms of winning percentage, but probably won't be truly elite. They are likely to take a job like Purdue if offered, but the reaction will probably be "underwhelming."
Okay, now that we've done that, let's assign the priorities for Purdue's next head football coach. While every priority is important, some are more important than others. All of these factors add up to an ideal candidate. Most candidates (especially the more realistic ones) will be missing a few of these traits.
- Head Coaching Experience (preferably college). Purdue's status as a team in the Big Ten conference means that it's not exactly the best place to "experiment" and "start over" or "grow into the role." You want a guy who knows what he's doing and can handle it.
- Expertise Recruiting/Developing Quarterbacks. Given Purdue's quarterback tradition, it's important that a candidate utilize what is one of the program's best recruiting pitches outside of academics and conference. Plus, Purdue can't just sing of the tradition; it has to maintain it.
- Ties to the Midwest. This one isn't super crucial, but Purdue is a Midwest university. The Big Ten gets most of its talent from pipelines like Ohio, Indiana, and Pennsylvania. National recruiting should come with time, but a coach who can recruit well locally is always preferred.
- Record vs Top 25 teams. This one may be more important to some people than others, because it shows how a candidate does in big games, and particularly in games when his team is not expected to win if they are the underdog. This also relates directly to game plan and preparation--one of the biggest knocks against Hope. However, so few coaches have stellar records against Top 25 teams that this makes the list drop off considerably, and most coaches of this caliber are probably not interested in Purdue.
- Has Built or Helped Build Solid Programs. This one may be too close to "Head Coaching Experience," but it bares consideration. You hire a coach for the long term, not the short term. You want a guy who can take a program when it's weak and make it strong, not a guy who walked into a great situation and just kept it going.
- Will Not Jump Ship for Better Job. Again, you hire a coach for the long term. You want a guy who sees Purdue as a destination, not as a stepping stone. The ideal candidate is preferably young and looking to carve out a 20 to 30-year legacy. Which brings me to the last criteria...
- Has Genuine Interest in Purdue. This, to me, is the most important factor, because it doesn't matter how good a guy is, how well he can coach, if he's not interested, it ain't happening. We can get into a whole debate about whether or not the only thing keeping Purdue from being elite is a ponying up the cash for a high roller, but Purdue isn't in a position where that's going to happen, not with more appealing jobs (like Arkansas) out there.
Okay. Let's take a look at some of the candidates.
1. Charlie Strong
Current Position: Head Coach at Louisville
Why he's a Long Shot: The Arkansas job. Plain and simple. Following the oust of Bobby Petrino and the subsequent implosion under John L. Smith, the Razorbacks (who went 11-2 in 2011 and 10-3 in 2010) will be anxious to get back to competing a high level again, and Charlie Strong will very likely be their No. 1 target, especially with the pace he's on this year. The Purdue job is no slouch, but it can't match up against SEC powerhouses. As much as we may all scream "GET THIS GUY NOW!!!", there are other programs more appealing looking at him, with better resources and more national attention, and Strong has not expressed any interest in Purdue.
2. Kirby Smart
Current Position: Defensive Coordinator at Alabama
Why he's a Long Shot: With the amount of defensive success Smart has had at Alabama, he can basically coach anywhere he wants, but I sincerely doubt he would ever consider Purdue. 2011 saw more coaching transitions than any off-season in the past ten years, and somehow Smart never became a head coach when there were doubtlessly dozens of opportunities and offers. He has allegedly expressed some interest in becoming a head coach, and will likely be high on the list for any school (big or small) in college football looking for one. He has no experience leading a program, however.
3. Chris Petersen
Current Position: Head Coach at Boise State
Why he's a Long Shot: Because he's Chris Petersen. If he turned down Penn State and UCLA, he's turning down Purdue. Is anyone seriously hoping or expecting that this guy comes to West Lafayette? The sports world would explode if he did, but it's not happening. I only bring this guy up because I've met a few hardcore Boilers that really, really want to see this happen and would be hugely disappointed if it didn't, but let's come back down to reality. Petersen may have lost to Michigan State but he's poised for another season of 10+ wins, and he has said publicly that he is perfectly comfortable in Boise.
<h2>Possible, but Unlikely</h2>
1. Frank Solich
Current Position: Head Coach at Ohio University
Rationale: Solich wanted to prove a lot of people wrong when he took the Ohio job after being fired by Nebraska for not being able to replicate Tom Osborne's national championship success. He brought good, solid coaching to Ohio and has turned them into annual challengers for the MAC championship -- which, for a MAC team, is pretty much like winning a national championship. However, Solich's age (he is 68) would definitely be a problem long-term and his desire to leave Ohio for another project is doubtful at best. He's comfortable where he is, and people are happy with him. He can't ask for much more as a college head coach.
2. Kyle Whittingham
Current Position: Head Coach at Utah
Rationale: Kyle Whittingham was an A+ prospect when he was dominating the Mountain West before Boise State came along, but since joining the Pac-12, he's not quite talked about as much. Whittingham had a mediocre Pac-12 debut at 8-4, and is struggling through the 2012 schedule midway through the season. If things continue as they are currently, Whittingham may find himself quickly in the hot seat. Still, if I were a gambling man, I'd say that he's not leaving Utah unless they completely fall part and he can't even manage a winning record.
3. Pat Narduzzi
Current Position: Defensive Coordinator at Michigan State
Rationale: This is kind of like people saying that Jeff Casteel (former DC at West Virginia, currently DC at Arizona) was a prime candidate for a head coaching job a few years ago. Like Casteel, Narduzzi may just be one of those guys who is content being a coordinator. Narduzzi's defensive reputation means that he has considerable upside for head coaching potential, especially in this league, but is he really leaving Michigan State when Mark Dantonio has said he will do everything in his power to keep him there? And even if Narduzzi does take a head coaching job, will he really stay in the Big Ten? When Dantonio left Ohio State, he cut his teeth at Cincinnati -- a safe, manageable starting point that helped him get a better job. Expect something similar from Narduzzi if he wants to upgrade.
4. Sonny Dykes
Current Position: Head Coach at Louisiana Tech
Rationale: I could see Sonny Dykes coming to Purdue. He has tremendous upside, seems poised for a jump, and would probably be considered a steal. But after turning heads by breaking into the Top 25, if Dykes continues on the road he's going, bigger programs are going to come calling. He is getting paid a measly $750,000 at Louisiana Tech, so it won't take much to persuade him. However, as much as I can see this happening, there's an overwhelming feeling that it won't. It's not a long shot, but it's exactly the type of hire that Purdue can get but just misses out on. Dykes is young (42), has a pass-heavy offense centered on quarterbacks, and has done a decent job rebuilding. Yet he seems like a golden boy for Kentucky, which is struggling immensely under Joker Phillips. Dykes knows that area better and has strong ties there.
<h2>High Risk, High Reward</h2>
1. Vic Koenning
Current Position: Co-Defensive Coordinator at North Carolina
The Pros and Cons: People will probably see this as more of a retread, even though it's a couple years removed. Koenning is your classic High Risk, High Reward-type of coach. His head coaching record at Wyoming (5-29) is troubling, but he was largely responsible for the defensive turnaround at Illinois in 2010 and 2011. He has ties to the Midwest, and his coaching helped Illinois players like Michael Buchanan receive praise and become projected first-round draft picks. Koenning's days as a head coach are likely done, but after ten years, he may want to take another crack at it and prove people wrong.
2. Tom Clements
Current Position: Offensive Coordinator for the Green Bay Packers
The Pros and Cons: Clements was a popular choice for Penn State fans in the discussion of possible candidates to replace Joe Paterno following the Jerry Sandusky scandal. Clements, who played football at Notre Dame, has a long history of coaching quarterbacks in the NFL: the Saints, the Steelers, the Chiefs, and the Packers. He is currently the OC for Green Bay. Clements has limited college coaching experience (QB coach at ND from 1992-1995), but his experience with quarterbacks makes him an intriguing candidate for the Boilermakers and Quarterback U. With his time in the NFL, he will recognize elite quarterback talent when he sees it. However, Clements is 59, probably past his prime, and has no head coaching experience.
3. Jim Caldwell
Current Position: Quarterbacks Coach for the Baltimore Ravens
The Pros and Cons: After Tony Dungy retired, Caldwell led the Indianapolis Colts to the Super Bowl in his first year as their head coach, but lost to the New Orleans Saints (led by one Drew Brees). He was subsequently fired from the Colts two years later. Nevertheless, Caldwell has tremendous experience developing quarterbacks on both the college and NFL level (Peyton Manning, anyone?). He was also the head coach of Wake Forest, where he had a dismal record of 26-63 over eight seasons, only getting to one bowl game (which he won). His college head coaching record may be dismal, but who can win at Wake Forest? Hiring Caldwell will almost certainly provoke mixed reactions, but with his connection to quarterbacks and history of coaching them, he could bring Quarterback U to new levels.
1. Pat Hill
Current Position: Offensive Line Coach for the Atlanta Falcons
Why he is a Safe Bet: There is probably no better definition of a "safe hire" than Pat Hill. He was a long-tenured Division 1-A coach with varying degrees of success and a decent overall winning percentage (112-80). In 15 years at Fresno State, Hill led the Bulldogs to 11 bowl appearances. He is famous for the "We'll play anyone, anywhere, anytime" motto that became synonymous with Fresno State. However, Hill's sluggish 2011 season finished at 4-9, his first losing season in five years, and was enough to make the administration kick him to the curb when expectations are for championships, not just winning seasons. At 60, he's not much of a long-term solution, but older coaches have been hired at better places with worse records. He also has a mustache that would make Danny Hope jealous, but the similarities stop there. He is ambitious and has a good reputation as a recruiter, talent developer, and game-day coach, but likely hit his ceiling in Fresno.
2. Dave Doeren
Current Position: Head Coach at Northern Illinois
Why he is a Safe Bet: Every year the MAC churns out an attractive candidate in some form or another, and this year it's probably going to be Dave Doeren. With an 11-3 debut that continued much of the success that Jerry Kill established, Doeren was already on several coaching candidate lists during the Widespread Coaching Carousel of 2011, but some wanted to see if he wasn't just a flash in the pan. He answered a lot of those questions with a fast start in 2012, and he's in a great position to make a jump to a bigger platform. But has he hit his ceiling? Doeren, only 40 years old, has handled business in the MAC and almost upset Iowa in the season opener, giving several the impression that he's got potential. If there is a downside, it's that he's still a relative unknown in recruiting. This is a safe, easy, almost predictable hire that fits pretty much all the criteria.
3. Ron Zook?
Current Position: Analyst at CBS Sports
Why he is a Safe Bet: Admit it. This could totally happen. In 2007 Zook led Illinois to the Rose Bowl, but it was pretty much all downhill from there. He simultaneously enthralled and enraged his fanbase game-to-game, landing surprising recruits and talent, winning upsets, and losing head scratchers. With new Illinois coach Tim Beckman on a downward spiral (only in his first year), there are Illini fans pining for Zook when they never thought they would. While it's possible that Zook was a universally mediocre coach, it's also possible he shouldn't have been fired when he broke even. With his knowledge of the Big Ten and reputation for bringing in some talent, he could find himself on Purdue's sidelines. Stranger things have happened. Ole Miss hired retread Houston Nutt from Arkansas and it didn't work out. Texas Tech hired retread Tommy Tubberville from Auburn and it did. I wouldn't put it past Morgan Burke.
4. Danny Hope
Current Position: Head Coach at Purdue
Why he is a Safe Bet: There is still the very likely scenario that Danny Hope does not get fired. As much fun as it is to speculate on a possible coaching search at Purdue, it's also possible (and even somewhat probable) that even with a low level bowl game or a losing record, Morgan Burke buys all of Hope's excuses and still doesn't fire him. You would think that with waning to non-existent fan support, the decision to let Hope go would be clear. I guess Burke and Hope still aren't at the point where termination is the best course of action. Hope still has half the season to do something.
Well, that's it.
I didn't include all the guys mentioned on BoilerMacR's list because I don't know enough about them to form an opinion. I'm sure there's someone significant that I missed, and if you have an idea for a candidate, include it in the comments section.
So, who would be your replacement for Danny Hope?