More than sharing the same set of initials (thus saving Morgan Burke monogramming fees on the towels in the football coaches office), both Darrell Hazell and Danny Hope have now had very similar beginnings to their tenure as Purdue's head coach. Both generated excitement in the summer by saying the right things to the fans and making it look like the players were all on board (remember Opportunity Now for Everyone?). Both went with a senior quarterback that was sparsely used, hoping to replicate Joe Tiller's success in 1997 with Billy Dicken.
Now, both started 1-4 against a schedule that was expected to be tough with a tricky non-conference road game and a home game against Northern Illinois.
By the time Hope was done people had turned on him because the team suffered blowout after blowout in big games and generally looked as if it was underprepared and lacked fight. Now, even though Hazell's team has, on paper at least, more talent, it is struggling even more. Hope had very little talent in that first year and still had a team that fought hard. With Hazell, the stars on their recruiting profiles may be more numerous, but as a whole the team looks completely outmatched.
Hope: 52-31 win vs. Toledo
Hazell: 42-7 loss at Cincinnati
Not a lot was expected of Purdue in 2009, but the Boilers got things started immediately with some excitement. Ralph Bolden took the third play of the season 78 yards for a touchdown on his way to a 234 yard, 2 touchdown day. Toledo went on to finish 5-7, but Purdue never let this one be in doubt. Joey Elliott threw for 220 yards and three touchdowns, but also had three interceptions as the first stirrings of turnover issues showed their head. Jaycen Taylor also ran for 81 yards and two scores as the ground game dominated.
Hazell had pretty much the exact opposite. While Bolden's 78 yard run started a big day, Purdue only gained two more yards as a team than Bolden had by himself against Toledo. Almost nothing worked offensively and Purdue avoided a shutout thanks to Cody Webster's 73 yard punt that was fumbled to set up a Rob Henry touchdown run. this looked like a game where Purdue could be competitive when I originally previewed it, but it got out of hand in the second half as a Cincinnati team that was also playing under a first year coach rolled.
Hope: 38-36 loss at Oregon
Hazell: 20-14 win vs. Indiana State
This is when we thought that maybe, just maybe, Purdue had something special in hope. The Boilers took the long road trip to the west coast to play an Oregon team coming off of a 10-3 season. The Ducks were just morphing into the juggernaut they are today and the win over Purdue started their current run of going 50-6 since the Purdue game at Autzen.
Purdue outplayed them and probably should have won the game, but it gave up two defensive touchdowns and a fumble set up a field goal to give them 17 points. Even then, Purdue had a chance to tie in the final minutes before the two-point conversion pass by Elliott (needed because of a blocked extra point) was incomplete. It was a very impressive performance from a big underdog.
Hazell's home debut was also a game that came down to the wire, but was far more harrowing than it should have been. Purdue managed just 13 points against a defense that gave up 73 a week before. In fact, if not for some trickeration on the opening kickoff that allowed Akeem Hunt to score, Purdue might have lost to the Trees. What was most troubling was getting only three points despite twice having hte ball first and goal on the one. Ricardo Allen saved the game with a last minute interception, but it never should have come to that. This was the second of four games in the first five where Purdue's opponent was also being coached by a new hire.
Hope: 28-21 loss vs. Northern Illinois
Hazell: 31-24 loss vs. Notre Dame
It almost became a tradition under Hope to lose a game to an opponent Purdue should have handled easily. NIU went 7-6 in 2009, but led 28-7 in front of a very dispirited and lackluster Purdue offense before Elliott rushed for two touchdowns to make it close. Bolden, who was leading the nation in rushing, was held to 62 yards and Aaron Valentin twice fumbled punts back to NIU. This was after he had a 62-yard return for a score. It was a very ugly performance from Purdue.
For Hazell's team it was another agonizingly close loss to the Irish, something that has happened far too often. Purdue was the better team for three quarters but gave up 21 points in less than five minutes thanks to two big plays. The DeVaris Daniels long pass play gave the Irish the lead and Henry would almost immediately throw a pick six to end what has been, by far, the best Purdue has played under Hazell. Strangely, Purdue played its best game against it toughest opponent, who was led by the longest tenured coach of the first five opponents.
Hope: 24-21 loss vs. Notre Dame
Hazell: 41-10 loss at Wisconsin
We didn't know what to think about Purdue at this point except that turnovers were killing them. Dumb mistakes had cost Purdue a likely 3-0 record, and it was Hope's infamous timeout with 36 seconds left that cost them against the Irish. Leading 21-17, Hope called an inexplicable timeout with Notre Dame facing a Third and goal from the two with Notre Dame out of timeouts and the clock running. The Irish scored two plays later when Jimmy "Hawaii Bowl Hero" Clausen hit Kyle Rudolph for the score. Without the timeout the Irish either have to spike the ball or run a rushed play there. Instead, Hope allowed them to collect themselves and prepare two plays.
Hazell's team clearly regressed in game 4, giving up several hundred yards on the ground and looking like Hope's teams always did against the Badgers. Purdue was in it, briefly, after an interception by Allen set up a field goal to cut it to 14-10 in the second quarter, but poor tackling and no offense at all the rest of the way ended any hopes of an upset. Wisconsin continued it physical domination of Purdue that it has had for three different Boilermaker coaches now.
Hope: 27-21 loss vs. Northwestern
Hazell: 55-24 loss vs. Northen Illinois
This was the fourth straight loss for Purdue by a touchdown or less, and it was one of the most painful. When you look at the 2009 season you can easily argue that Purdue was a handful of plays from being 10-2, but lost close games where a single play or two decided the result with Oregon, NIU, Notre Dame, Northwestern, and later Michigan State.
This one hurt because Purdue led 21-3 in the second quarter, then the wheels came flying off. With 3:04 left Purdue stuffed Purdue at the 1-yard line on Fourth and Goal to preserve the 21-3 lead just before halftime. What happened next is the most bizarre series of events you'll ever see. Elliott immediate threw and interception and the Wildcats capitalized four plays later with a touchdown. Valentin then fumbled the kickoff for Purdue and Northwestern recovered, setting up a field goal. On Purdue's first play from scrimmage after the field goal Taylor committed the third turnover in roughly two minutes, to set up another field goal. Basically, Purdue gave up 13 points on three turnovers in two minutes. It had six turnovers on the day, but still got the ball to the Northwestern five yard line in the closing seconds before getting stopped with a chance to win.
As for Hazell, we saw what happened Saturday. Given the records that NIU set and the fact that they scored more points than any other opponent in the home history of Purdue football, it could easily be called the worst home loss in the history of the program.
So why the comparison? I think it comes from how quickly we sour on coaches. Hope faced a similarly tough schedule in his first five games and generated excitement because Purdue was more than competitive. It easily could have gone 5-0 and it was probably a tougher schedule because it lacked an FCS team. Oregon went on to play in the Rose Bowl while NIU and Northwestern were bowl teams. Notre Dame went 6-6, but declined a bowl bid after firing Charlie Weis.
For Hazell, much of his goodwill was based on him not being Danny Hope and in what he said over the summer. His teams on the field have been far less competitive and have generally looked like a disaster on both sides of the football for all but three quarters against Notre Dame and (defense only) three quarters against Indiana State.
I am not advocating that we fire Hazell. He gets leeway because he has installed an entirely new system and he is trying to institute a new culture with the program. He is only trying to emulate Jim Tressell, who practically owned the Big Ten for a decade. Tressell got to do that with Ohio State-level players and all that comes with it. Purdue is a much harder uphill climb.
Hazell is also getting things moving on offense with several young and promising skill players. The defense is still a major issue, and there is some help coming in Drue Tranquill and Gelen Robinson, but the change from Henry to Danny Etling on Saturday at least showed that the staff is willing to make a change if something is not working. That is different from the previous regime, which tried the same things over and over again despite the fact they were not working.
Hazel deserves more time to change things. We have seven games to build for the future and show that something is moving forward, especially with a much needed bye week to prepare for Nebraska. Unfortunately, because Purdue has looked so awful so far these next seven games will be more about rebuilding the goodwill Hazell once had. I still like what he is saying and teach, but this is a results-oriented business. At some point the results have to show in the win-loss column. It is kind of like Rob Henry. I think both Hazell and Henry are nice guys and they say the right things, but I also know what I have seen on the field. Most people predicted Purdue to be 1-4 right now, but it has not been nearly as competitive as before even as the offense improved from the first two weeks the defense looks worse.
There is hope though. Illinois was 2-10 last season under Tim Beckman and look much better in year two. Hazell also went from 5-7 to 11-3 and provided Kent State with its best season in school history. All we have learned with any certainty is that the rebuild would not be immediate and easy. Let's give Hazell some time to see if there will be improvement, because it can't get much worse than it is right now.