I’m not talking about money, I’m not talking about wins (although both of those are needed as well), I’m talking about what Purdue needs in their next head football coach. What kind of person do they need to hire? Would you rather they look toward the quiet but reliable type who always gets things done but not in a flashy way ala Jim Tressel? How about a madman who maybe says some inappropriate things or yells on the sidelines but is harmless and really loves what he does ala PJ Fleck? I suppose in the end it comes down to what is important to you as a fan and as a Boilermaker. For me there’s really one thing that Purdue needs to look for in their next head coach. Competence. Yes, I know that’s a no brainer but hear me out. Let’s take a look at the last two hires Purdue football has made and see where it all went wrong.
Riding high on the Joe Tiller years, but slowly slipping down the hill they had just climbed, Purdue football started looking for their next coach. They looked for people with coaching experience and someone with a Purdue connection, which is a stupid requirement in my opinion, and they found both in Danny Hope. The main complaint about Hope was that his teams always seemed unprepared and would often get blown out or look like a completely different team from one half to the next. The big joke was that the team would eat a heavy meal of pasta and breadsticks at halftime. Danny Hope was a bit of an odd guy as well. Perhaps not in the PJ Fleck sense but just in some of the things he did. His obsession with kickers and long field goals made absolutely no sense to the average fan. His penchant to mismanage timeouts and the clock were infuriating. Plus, he loved to cause a stir in the media, specifically when Purdue played Michigan for some reason, rubbed many fans the wrong way. His team was notorious for getting dumb penalties specifically personal fouls. This showed a lack of discipline that would haunt Purdue for Hope’s entire tenure. In the end Danny Hope simply didn’t win enough games. All of that was enough to fire him but the question I’m sure you’re asking is what does this have to do with competence?
Well, Danny Hope didn’t seem to be able to juggle everything all at once. There was always something missing, someone who could make up for what Hope lacked. For that reason the team didn’t really seem to progress greatly from one year to the next. The Purdue team you saw in day 1 of the Danny Hope era was still making the same mistakes the team made in his final game as head coach. To me that speaks to a lack of competence in the job. A basic factor we should all have at our jobs. There were simply major blind spots in Hope’s ability to do the job that were never filled in by other people on staff or around him elsewhere in athletics. Maybe this wasn’t Hope’s fault. Perhaps he did try to hire better people, as has been reported, and was rebuffed due to funding but one thing is for sure, Hope couldn’t fix his errors.
After the firing of Hope, Purdue went out and got the exact opposite type of coach. Where Hope was loud and brash Darrel Hazell was stoic. Where Hope had a mustache Hazell was clean shaven. Where Hope always had a whistle around his neck Hazell wore that bastardization of a hat. Where Hope was loose on discipline Hazell demanded suits and ties and A Players Manuals. Danny Hope had a direct Purdue connection where Hazell did not. Hope came from small Eastern Kentucky whereas Hazell made his name at Ohio State. Which approach works? I don’t know for sure but neither worked at Purdue. So, where did Hazell fail?
Depending on who you trust and the amount of speculation you’re willing to engage in on the internet you can find any number of rumors regarding Hazell’s tenure at Purdue. I can’t say for sure which of these rumors are true and which are false but it’s 100% clear that what Hazell was doing didn’t work. You don’t lose that many games and get fired by Purdue mid-season if you’re on the upswing. One element I’ve seen in nearly all the stories about Hazell’s firing is that he intended to be in complete control of nearly everything down to a minuscule level. That caused different things to move slowly and get bogged down on his desk. That’s a recipe for disaster when so much of recruiting moves at lightning speed. Again, this seems like not knowing your limitations or, perhaps even worse, knowing them and simply not caring to correct them. There’s a certain level of self-awareness that is required to be the leader of any large organization and it just appeared that Hazell didn’t have that. He wasn’t competent enough to see those flaws and mitigate them.
When Purdue interviews the next set of coaching candidates I want there to be a frank discussion about the weaknesses each candidate has and what will be done to mitigate them. Perhaps being from an HR background has led me to this conclusion but there must be a way to discern this in the interview process. I know the question “What is your biggest weakness?” is often asked during interview processes but you and I both know that question is really a way for the candidate to pivot into something that isn’t really a weakness at all. The classic examples are “I work too hard” “I care too much” “I put my career ahead of family” “I’m my own worst critic”. While those may be true those aren’t going to be the things that ultimately cause problems for you in the long run. I want the interviewers to push back and actually find a genuine answer to that question. Everyone has one. To me if you can’t isolate a weakness of yours and how to mitigate it I don’t want you as Purdue’s next head football coach. I started this column talking about competence but perhaps what I’m looking for would best be characterized as self-awareness. Either way, Purdue’s next coach must be able to view himself objectively, recognize where he needs help, and surround himself with people who can do just that. I don’t think that’s too much to ask.