As the calendar prepares to turn from March to April we are slowly saying goodbye to another basketball season and casting our eyes upon football. The Purdue spring game is in two weeks and honestly, I could not be less excited about this season. Really, is there a reason to? Darrell Hazell is a dismal 6-30 in his first 36 games as head coach. That is the worst mark of any Purdue coach that has lasted at least 36 games. Only five coaches in Purdue history have a worse career winning percentage:
Albert Berg - .000 - Coached and lost Purdue's first game in 1887 as his only game.
Patrick Higgins - .000 - Coached the 2013 Heart of Dallas Bowl in a one-game interim stint.
Myron E. Witham - .000 - Led Purdue to a 0-5 season in 1906, his only season.
Leight C. Turner - .000 - Led Purdue to a 0-5 season in 1907, his only season.
William Henry Dietz - .143 - Inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2012, he was 1-6 during his lone season as Purdue coach in 1921. he was inducted mostly because he was a Native American that had success coaching at a number of stops during an era where a non-white coach was rare.
Hazell is so bad that he is worse than the two coaches that are normally considered the worst long-term coaches in Purdue history. Jim Colletto has a career winning percentage of .341, but was still 21-42-3 in 66 games and was 11-25 in his first 36 games. Fred Akers was worse with a .284 winning percentage, but was still 12-31-1 and 11-24-1 in his first 36 games. Akers and Colletto were bad, but were twice as good as Hazell WITHOUT the benefit of playing an FCS team every year (Akers played Indiana State in 1990, but that is it).
On the surface, the 2016 season looks hopeless, and I maintain we are stuck with Hazell through 2017 as long as Morgan Burke's replacement is not picked by the end of November because there is no way Burke won't pass that buck onto his successor.
That's not what this post is about, however. This post is about hope, and I am going to give you 10 reasons why Purdue has hope for a drastic turnaround in 2016.
1. Markell Jones - The sophomore-to-be is a stud that could hold nearly every Purdue rushing record by the time he leaves. The Purdue running game overall was atrocious in 2015, but Jones was 8th in the league in yards per game at 72.9 and seventh in total yardage at 875. He was fourth in the league with 11 total touchdowns. Only Michigan's Jehu Chesson (12 TDs), Michigan State's LJ Scott (11) and Ohio State's J.T. Barrett (11) return as players in the league that scored 11 or more times. In short, markell is really, really damn good and should have a 1,000 yard season even with modest improvement from the Shoopfense.
2. John Shoop is Gone - Was Shoop the main reason for Hazell's failings? Darrell had better hope so. It is no secret that Shoop was an absolute disaster of an offensive coordinator. He attempted to make Rob Henry a pocket passer, Austin Appleby an option QB, and keep an undersized David Blough in the pocket. It was almost as if he was determined to not utilize the strengths of any offensive player. Already, Blough and Sindelar have raved about how much simpler and easier it is to run Terry Malone's offense. Purdue should have a better offense simply because it is hard to be worse without Shoop.
3. Randy Melvin is Back - A large reason Purdue's defense has struggled is due to subpar play up front. The pass rush was non-existent, leaving the back seven out to dry. Enter Melvin, who basically started the Den of Defensive Ends concept when at Purdue from 1997-99. Those teams had an absolutely nasty front four and were largely responsible for the turnaround under Joe Tiller. Purdue has a lot of experience returning up front, so if Melvin can work his magic he certainly has the pieces to work with.
4. A Deep Receiving Corps - No matter who wins the QB derby, he will have experienced receivers to throw to. DeAngelo Yancey, Cameron Posey. And Domonique Young are three decent senior receivers that can hopefully get open easier in a non-Shoopfense. Gregory Phillips, Anthony Mahoungou, Bilal Marshall, and Cole Herdman all have experience too. Someone should be able to get open and catch the football.
5. Ja'Whaun Bentley is healthy - After a decade in the wilderness Purdue finally got a real, live Big Ten caliber middle linebacker only to lose him to a torn ACL in the middle of last season. Bentley is back and is reportedly already doing very well in spring drills. He has the potential to be the best player on the defense and finally fill a gaping hole that Purdue has had for years compared to the rest of the Big Ten. Combined with that...
6. Purdue actually has real linebackers - Gone are the days of converted quarterbacks, safeties playing up, and walk-ons starting at the most important positions on the defense if you want to be competitive in the Big Ten. Purdue has as many as five real, live Big Ten linebackers in Bentley, Marcus Bailey, Jimmy Herman, Danny Ezechukwu, and Andy James Garcia. That's about five more than it has had since the 2003 season ended. Last season the group was banged up for most of the year, but this year, if they stay healthy, Purdue might have a chance.
7. Greg Hudson is gone - As is playing his top corners 10 yards off the receiver at the snap, I hope. Hudson's defenses weren't awful, at least for about a half to three quarters, but they were often left out to wilt thanks to zero production from the Shoopfense.
8. Seriously, no more Shoopfense - This is such a point of emphasis it deserves to be mentioned twice. We should check his office to make sure he is really gone because I am sure on the first attempt to leave his office he ran into the wall, on the second he couldn't find the door, and on his third he managed to get a box 3 yards short of the door before he had to call Joe Schopper over to punt.
9. David Blough - What can I say, I believe in the kid. He got the blessing of Brees before even setting foot on campus and his redshirt freshman year wasn't THAT bad when you consider the Shoop handicap. He threw for more TDs than INTs and had 1,574 yards with a 57.7% completion percentage. He seems like a natural leader too. Of course, this means nothing if he struggles and Elijah Sindelar is starting by the Big Ten season.
10. Can it really get worse? - The final reason is a copout, but we already have dismally low expectations for this team. They're going to be picked for a fourth straight last place Big Ten finish and anything more than three wins would honestly shock just about everyone. In fact, I am to the point where any win other than the season opener against eastern Kentucky would be a surprise. Purdue has been historically awful, bad-but-competitive, and back to awful in the last three seasons. We're basically running back much of the same team as last year with new coordinators and position coaches while hoping they were the issue. There are no savior recruits coming off of their HS graduation stages and into the locker room. When your expectations are this low exceeding them is a very pleasant surprise.
BONUS REASON - MORGAN BURKE IS GONE!!! - This is Morgan Burke's final football season, so maybe his replacement will actually make the necessary moves to improve the football program.