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Fire Matt Painter? Don’t Be Absurd

Despite almost 200 wins in less than nine seasons, some people want Matt Painter gone. Yes, that is stupid.

Matthew O'Haren-USA TODAY Sports

Purdue is currently 12-11 on the 2012-12 basketball season. This season has not gone Purdue's way in a number of ways. There have been embarrassing losses either by opponent (Eastern Michigan, Northwestern) or by margin (Indiana). The team has a noticeable lack of effort on the defensive end, cannot shoot for long stretches of games, and trips to the free throw line are an exercise in torture. To make matters worse, we have to hear about the miraculous recovery and return to prominence (from their own self-created demise) of our bitter rivals.

As good as it was at this time three years ago right now, it kinda sucks to be a Purdue basketball fan at the moment.

When things like this happen blame gets thrown about. As someone who runs a major Purdue fan forum I have seen it all. It's the player's fault. It's D.J. Byrd's fault because he's not being a senior leader. It's Terone Johnson's fault because he is struggling. It's recruiting's fault because Matt Painter can't recruit. It's recruiting's fault because Branden Dawson was paid off by Michigan State. After awhile, it all becomes dull noise in the background.

The most absurd reasons though throw all the blame at the feet of Matt Painter, who not only can't recruit, but is a bad coach that needs to be fired because he only got lucky with Robbie Hummel, E`Twaun Moore, and JaJuan Johnson.

While Painter is at least partially responsible for where the program is right now, what he has done is far from a fireable offense. In fact, we should be damned grateful we still have him as a coach.

First, let's look at the numbers:

  • Painter has a 197-93 overall record in just nine seasons as a head coach. That's a .678 winning percentage. If you take away his least talented team by far that went 9-19 in his first season at Purdue the percentage jump almost .750
  • In his eight seasons before this one he took his team the NCAA Tournament seven times.
  • He is a three-time Big Ten Coach of the Year, most recently in 2011. He was also the Missouri Valley Coach of the Year in 2004.
  • He has won two regular season conference titles (one in the MVC) and one conference tournament title.
  • He has three former assistants coaching at Division I schools, two of them in the SEC.
  • He has produced four NBA Draft picks in his first seven years at Purdue.

Everyone is talking about the job Tom Crean did at Indiana. It took him until his fourth year to even make the NCAA Tournament with a completely depleted roster at the start. Purdue was in a similar spot (though not as depleted) and he did it in season two. This was all before the Baby Boilers even set foot on campus.

Lest we forget how things looked in the fall of 2006. Yes, the Baby Boilers had just committed, but Purdue was coming off of consecutive seasons with a combined 16 total wins, a new coach, and two of its main players coming off of ACL surgeries. A pair of freshmen (Keaton Grant and Chris Kramer) were looked on for major minutes, but for the most part this was a team with much less talent than it has now and guys in Jonathan Uchendu and Chris Lutz who would soon leave the program. Purdue went from 9-19 and a last place finish to 22-12, fourth place in the Big Ten, and an NCAA win before pushing an absolutely loaded Florida team to the brink in round 2.

For the next four years with the Baby Boilers Purdue finished no lower than second in the Big Ten. He integrated a team playing four freshmen and two sophomores major minutes in approximately 12 games and came with a game where Hummel had the flu up at Michigan State of winning the Big Ten in 2008.

Even this season, one in which he is reloading, there is evidence of a good coach's touch. 12-11 is nothing great, but remember what Indiana's OMG TOTALLY AWESOME class of Christian Watford, Jordan Hulls, et all did as freshmen (10-21, 4-14 in the Big Ten). They are now the best team in the country.

Is that in store for this new group of freshman? Who knows. Much of it depends on how long A.J. Hammons stays, but for someone who can't recruit worth a damn he sure saw something in Hammons that others did not. The biggest knock against Painter has been his recruiting since the Baby Boilers came on board. I agree, there have been misses, but even with the recruits he did get this team could be much better this season had they only stayed.

We all agreed that there would be some fall off once the Baby Boilers were gone until the new freshmen could mesh. Well, remember: the Baby Boilers had solid upperclassmen in place as freshmen. Nemanja Calasan was a JuCo solution of a forward that allowed JJ to develop. Kramer and Grant were exceptional sophomores. Terrance Crump and Marcus Green were statesmen that had been around awhile.

What does this group have? Byrd is the lone recruited senior left of a senior class that should include five instead of two with him and Dru Anthrop. Kelsey Barlow, John Hart, and Patrick Bade should be on this roster. Terone Johnson has been mercurial this season, while Travis Carroll and Sandi Marcius have become good role players, but not all-Big TEn players, but they were never supposed to.

I'll agree that Bade was a huge miss in recruiting, but how much better does Purdue look right now with this exact same team, only Barlow and Hart are on the roster. I'll give Bade leaving because his open spot is what allowed Painter to go out and get Hammons, which is probably the best contribution Bade has given to the program.

You're telling me we can't use Hart, who is averaging 14.2 points per game and shooting 77% from the line and 39% from three? Yes, he is hurt again and injuries hampered his entire Purdue career, but before he got hurt on January 5 he was playing extremely well for IUPUI. Sure, he's not going to average 14 points in the Big Ten, but just having him as a second shooter with Byrd and as a leader does wonders and Purdue likely beats Xavier, Eastern Michigan, and Villanova. That has the Boilers at 15-8 instead of 12-11.

Hart transferred because he wasn't getting minutes, which was a product of his constant injuries, but he would be a difference-maker and it is hardly on Painter that he kept getting hurt. As for Barlow, Purdue's defensive effort has been terrible, but Barlow was (mostly) a fantastic perimeter defender and was a decent offensive threat averaging 8.3 points per game before he was booted for his own mistakes. After being a terrible free throw shooter he had improved to almost 70% by the time he was gone. He's also a more reliable scorer at the point than Ronnie Johnson learning on the fly.

No, Purdue wasn't going to win the Big Ten with those two guys in 2013. The conference is simply too loaded and we couldn't close the deal (this is the part on Painter) on guys like Dawson, Gary Harris, etc. You're telling me Purdue is still 12-11 with the additions of Hart and Barlow, however? Purdue is at least an NCAA team if you add them with a promising young nucleus, however, that can develop with more time. They would have less pressure because they don't have to immediately succeed or Purdue gets drilled by a much tougher Big Ten in 2013 than in 2008.

That was another factor in the Baby Boilers' immediate success. Wisconsin won the league and Purdue was second, but the rest of the Big Ten was pretty bad that year. Only four teams made the NCAA Tournament, and one was an Indiana team that quit on Dan Dakich. Wisconsin, as the best team, was a three seed.

This year the Big Ten has at least six teams in the NCAA, possibly eight. At least five will be a top 5 seed and two could be No. 1 seeds. It's loaded, and we're asking a group that did not have the benefit of playing together for years on the AAU circuit like the Baby Boilers did to come in and replicate their success all without any kind of a senior class ahead of them and a junior class that is currently underwhelming.

While Painter had some misses in recruiting he is well on the path to making up for them. This year's class can still be extremely good, especially since one (Jay Simpson) isn't even playing at the moment. Hammons is a fantastic piece to build around, and two shooters are coming next year to replace Byrd, who is the definition of streaky. You're adding three very good players and only losing a streaky shooter and a former walk-on that hasn't played many minutes and is currently injured. Oh, and Purdue is still staying afloat around .500 instead of crashing into a 9-21 season like some thought. Really, the Boilers were in all but one non-conference loss too.

Everyone agrees that the 2012 recruiting class was greatly improved over the years before it and the 2013 is equally exciting. It is now on Painter to get more talent in 2014 and 2015 to string a few together. He has the salary and the tools in a nine-figure facility renovation to help that weren't there before, either. I am very pleased that it is at least trending upwards.

What's more concerning is the complete lack of effort vs. Northwestern and in the first half against Penn State. When watching Big Ten basketball this year it seems like every single team has a defender right on the ball except for Purdue. This is troubling because Purdue has long been a program known for its defensive tenacity. We may not be the most talented team, but we'll be damned if we're not going to out-work you.

That has been missing this year. I am not sure how much is on the players and their youth or on Painter. They looked completely lost defensively for large stretches of the last three games. That's not something we're used to seeing at a school that has a "Time to play hard" clock above the tunnel to our floor. If anything, a team that struggles as much to score as Purdue does should ratchet it up more on the defensive end. That's how Purdue dragged that great Florida team down into a close game they had no business being in. A similar Indiana team rolled us on our own floor because they were better, but because they out-worked us as well. That is what was most troubling about that game.

I really don't know what to say. Some have speculated Painter's divorce has played a role there. It hasn't been addressed publicly, but it is a badly kept secret that he has gone through a divorce in the past year. I am sure that he is affected in some way internally, but that's his personal life. It stays where it belongs: out of the public eye. He didn't get a cheerleader pregnant (which is an absurd rumor started on the internet), but the fact is that there was a major change in his personal life that may or may not be a distraction.

In the end, I still trust in Painter. This season sucks because Purdue is used to playing in the NCAA Tournament and staying around it for a bit. When you reach it for six straight seasons and have a legitimate Final Four shot in three of them it is never fun to go back to .500. I trust in Painter, however, because unlike Danny Hope he has gotten results on the floor time and again. In nearly seven times out of every 10 games in his coaching career his teams have come out on the winning end. That one bad season to start his Purdue coaching career, when thrown off the books, gives him nearly a .750 winning percentage. Plus, he can each, yell, scream, and get T'd up all he wants. It means jack if the players, who are often evaluated by hundreds before they are declared as talented as they are, don't listen not much can be done.

I have sensed that at times from Painter this year. I have sensed almost a resignation because the methods that have worked before in his coaching career to get guys to perform are not working this year. he looks as frustrated as we all feel at times because he can see the talent there that we do, but it is not working together. Coach Painter is a competitor though. He's not going to quit looking for ways to make it work.

Painter has earned the right to work through this. Yes, it sucks in the mean time, but I am reminded of what a diehard Indiana fan said last Saturday when I talked to him in Kokomo. This was after the Hoosiers blasted Purdue by 37 and Northwestern added insult to injury with a 15 point win over Purdue. I said that some fans thought Painter should be fire and he simply said, "that's the dumbest thing Purdue could do right now."

When you have that respect from your rivals it tells me he's doing something right.