Purdue needs a new football coach! Gerad Parker is filling in for the remainder of this season, but it remains to be seen if he is the long term answer at the vacancy. Over the new few weeks and months Purdue will be looking to either promote him internally or to hire someone else. The new guy has a very long road ahead too. It is no secret that the Purdue job is a hard one, but there can be success there. There has been a recent commitment to the program from the powers that be and they are at least paying lip service towards further commitment. There is also that new Big Ten check that can go a very long way.
Before we begin here I want to stress that we have no inside information whatsoever here. The candidates we write about are merely the ones we favor, and we will be doing profiles on quite a few of them. Let’s start the process now with my personal favorite: PJ Fleck.
Current Job: Western Michigan head coach
Current Salary: $800,000/year guaranteed (currently in year 2 of 6-year deal)
Buyout: $600,000 after December 1, 2016
Coaching Record: 25-21 in 4th season (17-11 vs. MAC)
Age: 35 (36 on November 29)
Phillip John Fleck is the current coach at Western Michigan and possible crazy person. He has done some pretty silly things in his four years at WMU. He is famous for his “Row the Boat” motivation phrase, doing the Harlem Shake, painting his chest, and for infectious enthusiasm. He is a ball of energy that is constant motion according to the Detroit News:
He never stops. He’s always teaching, coaching, talking, explaining, pushing.
P.J. Fleck will do just about anything — and everything — to make his Western Michigan football program better.
How does he keep going?
When Fleck explains the source of his will to squeeze everything possibly out of every day, you get it.
He does it for his son Colt, who died shortly after birth on Feb. 9, 2011, because of a heart defect.
His players love him though:
“I still think he’s nuts,” quarterback Zach Terrill said. “But he’s awesome, just amazing to see his consistency. You’d think every once in a while he’d get tired, like, ‘How many energy drinks do you take? What’s your secret?’
“He’s just passionate and loves what he does, really passionate about us, helping mold young men who can be successful in life and do some special things.”
Honestly, in reading about him, he sounds exhausting. After having a coach where, at times, you questioned if he was even alive on the sidelines, he is also a breath of fresh air. There is little question that Purdue needs and inflection of energy. Fleck would bring it. I liken him to a younger Jim Harbaugh in terms of being tireless to make his program better. When his current players say he wants to make Western Michigan better can you imagine him bringing that same energy and attitude to Purdue?
And he has made Western Michigan better. There are a few things to be scared of. His first season at WMU mirrored Hazell’s first at Purdue in that he started 1-11. He then lost the 2014 season opener to Purdue. After that 1-12 start he has been an excellent 24-9 and 16-4 in the MAC. That includes his program’s first ever bowl in last year in the Bahamas Bowl over Middle Tennessee State. This year he also won at Northwestern and Illinois, notching more Big Ten wins in one season than Hazell ever had in a year.
He has been an excellent recruiter, too. Here is how his classes have stacked up to Purdue (Rivals Rankings):
Western Michigan Purdue
2014: 62 71
2015: 78 71
2016: 64 74
2017: 42 65
Bear in mind, that is in the MAC with facilities and resources that are below Purdue. His current class is ranked ahead of five Big Ten teams (Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Purdue, and Minnesota). He has had the best recruiting class in the MAC for three of the last four years and the fourth year it was a close second. He has regularly out-recruited the bottom of the Big Ten and it showed when they blew out Illinois in Champaign this season.
I know there is some hesitation in getting another coach from the MAC, but when you look at Fleck he has a tone of advantages over Hazell. First, he has four years of experience instead of two. His team that is currently undefeated and has the first national ranking in program history (No. 20 in the AP this week) were brought into the program by him. He completely built this team.
Oh, and you like balance? WMU is currently 6th in scoring at 44.4 points per game and 21st in scoring defense at 19.3 points per game. Not only do they score points, they play a little defense too so you don’t have to win games 45-42. Akron might be the best team in the MAC East and they talked a little trash by breaking some oars before WMU rolled in to their place on October 15th. The Broncos whupped their ass 41-0 and held them below 300 yards of offense. They have scored more than 40 points in five straight games and the only teams to hold them under 40 were Northwestern (a 22-21 win) and Illinois (a 34-10 beatdown). They have excellent run/pass balance too at 249.4 yards passing and 251.5 yards rushing per game. Jarvion Franklin is a stud with almost 3,200 yards rushing in his career as only a junior and 36 touchdowns.
Western Michigan is going to be heavily favored in its next three games against Ball State, Kent State, and Buffalo before hosting Toledo (6-1, 3-0) on November 25th. Win that and they would go to the MAC title game for a matchup with either Ohio or Akron again.
What I love about Fleck is his energy. We have never had any coach at Purdue that brings the energy he brings, and his players at Western Michigan love it. He didn’t inherit a talent rich MAC team and move it in the next level. He built it from 1-11 to possibly 12-0 in the span of one recruiting class. They could even be playing in a New Year’s Six bowl if they get a break such as Boise State losing.
Can Purdue land him, however? Fleck certainly looks like a coach that is taking off. Now that the tom Herman chatter has cooled fleck is one of the most talked about coaching candidates in America. A program like Purdue, a bottom feeder in a major conference looking for a boost, would seem like the next logical step. I don’t know if an LSU or Texas would take a gamble on such a young coach from the MAC given their histories, but if Fleck keeps winning and impressing, they might.
I would imagine to get Fleck Purdue would have to go for a Hazell-like contract, with some restructured bonuses instead of guaranteed money. Purdue is going to have to keep paying in that neighborhood, anyway. I would take a long, hard look at bringing his staff with him, too. His top two assistants (Kirk Ciarocca and Ed Pinkham) have been with him from day one at WMU and helped him build this.
Right now Purdue is a completely dead football program. You only need to see the performance on Saturday with the switch from Hazell to Parker that the energy and everything else around the program was at an all-time low. Compared to what we’re used to, Fleck might be like freebasing cocaine. Sure, it is an extreme example, but there is no question we need something as a boost. No one else comes close to bringing his energy level, and as long as he turns around the program we would love it.