This weekend might be the final time that Doug Schreiber serves as the coach of Purdue baseball. After leading the program to its greatest heights in 2012 coach Schreiber has unfortunately seen the program now fall to its greatest depths. Purdue is definitely not a baseball school. With only two NCAA appearances and 103 years between Big Ten championships there is very little history to build on, which makes it all the more sad when people have been calling for Schreiber to be fired after this dismal season.
Schreiber took over as head coach in the spring of 1999 which happened to be when I was a freshman. Previous coach Steve Green had relatively middling results from 1992-98 after Dave Alexander (whom Alexander Field is named after) led Purdue to some pretty good seasons from 1978-92. Alexander took Purdue to its first, and for a long time only, NCAA Tournament in 1987 and established a program record for wins with 37 in 1986.
Schreiber's first season was an 8th place Big Ten finish at 24-30, 10-17, but came after Purdue had finished dead last in the conference in 1998. In season No. 2 Purdue came extremely close to making the NCAA Tournament with a 35-23 record. This included a series win at Vanderbilt, a win at No. 6 Alabama, and a four-game sweep of No. 25 Illinois at Illinois. The next season started even better, as Purdue upset No. 1 Rice on its home field to start the season. Purdue would go 32-24 and 19-7 in the Big Ten, losing the conference regular season title by a half game to Ohio State, mostly because of a snow-out game that was cancelled at Michigan State. Purdue won the other three games in that series. If not for an 0-2 showing in the Big Ten Tournament, Purdue likely would have made the NCAA Tournament.
Schreiber's teams would come close a few more times to breaking the lengthy Big Ten title drought, but because collegiate baseball was even more centered in the south and west before the days of the uniform start date and RPI bonus for winning road games they were always at a disadvantage. These days the Big Ten is becoming more of a power conference because of the investment in facilities and the uniform start date of late February that allows for more balanced scheduling. When Schreiber started it was not unusual for the Florida schools and other southern programs to start playing in January. Northern teams like Purdue either had to wait a few weeks to start and then play half the season on the road or start by traveling the south and west before even thinking of a home game in mid-March.
Because of this, the Big Ten was often a mid-major at best in college baseball. It would often only get the conference tournament champion into the NCAA Tournament and maybe one other team if they had played extremely well and got upset. In fact, the league was skewed towards getting the best team in every year because the tournament used to be hosted by the regular season champion.
Purdue would come close in 2005, 2008, and 2011. In 2005 Purdue was runner-up to Illinois at 17-11, but weather cancelled several games (including an entire 4-game series at Michigan State), allowing the Illini to win the league at 20-12. Purdue had the schedule strength that year by playing No. 11 Mississippi, No. 1 Texas, and No. 8 Rice, but it lost all of those games in a 1-12 start against a brutal slate and only finished 27-30 overall.
In 2006 Purdue won a game at No. 2 North Carolina and two at No. 16 Missouri, but went 31-27 and had the opposite problem by going 15-17 against the Big Ten. In 2008 the Boilers were 32-26 and won a program record 21 conference games to go 21-10, but were again denied by an excellent Michigan team that went 26-5 before beating Purdue in the championship game of the Big Ten Tournament at Michigan. In 2011 the seeds of Purdue's great 2012 team were planted. Purdue went 37-20 and were runners-up in the Big Ten by a game at 14-10 behind co-champs Michigan State an Illinois. The boilers had ranked wins over Connecticut and Louisville, but by going 1-5 against MSU and Illinois and getting knocked out in the Big Ten Tournament the NCAAs had to wait.
It all culminated in 2012, as the program had its best season ever in going 45-14, winning the Big Ten, and reaching the NCAA Tournament. Purdue hosted a regional (in Gary, thanks to the mismanagement of the construction of Alexander Field) , won its first NCAA game over Valparaiso, and were leading Kent State early before the bottom fell out and they were eliminated. I remember it specifically. Purdue was leading Kent State 2-1 in the bottom of the second with two out and no one on. A couple of singles, a walk, and a big two-run double later the Boilers were on their way to giving up five runs in an eventual 7-3 loss.
Purdue baseball has never been the same since. A dropped fly ball in the fourth inning the next day against Kentucky led to four runs in a 6-3 loss that eliminated the Boilers, and Purdue is 57-148 since. After years of being a regular in the Big Ten Tournament Purdue hasn't even come close to returning, culminating in this season's awful 7-43 record. Schreiber is Purdue's all-time winningest coach with 482 victories, but he should have hit 500 easily by now and he entered 2016 with a 475-467 record. He has been Purdue's coach for nearly 1,000 games, has led the program to its greatest heights, yet the bottom has fallen out since 2012.
It is hard to say what has gone wrong over the past few years. That 2012 team was excellent. Already two players have made the Majors with a third likely to do so sometime this year (Cameron Perkins). By comparison, Miami's 2001 National title winning team, one of the best ever at a blue blood program, only had one player ever make a Major League roster, and for only 9 at bats.
The 2012 team should have been a springboard. With the new Alexander Field opening as a fine gem to use in recruiting and results on the field trending upward, Purdue should be in a place much like Indiana is right now. In fact, they are a great program to look at to see where programs can diverge after success.
Before winning the Big Ten in 2013 Indiana hadn't won a conference title since 1949 (long drought). They had made the NCAA tournament only twice (1996 and 2009) before going on a great run in 2013 and reaching the College World Series after hosting a regional. Their 2013 team was a lot like our 2011 team in that they had a great regular season, but the pieces were in place for 2012 for us. Their 2013 team made the tournament a year early, got on a great run, and were a national seed in 2014 as they rolled through the Big Ten and were a threat to win the national title before they were upset in their home regional by Stanford.
Indiana was able to capitalize on their momentum and new facility (Bart Kaufman Field opened in 2013, the same year as Alexander Field) to win two Big Ten titles, possibly a third this season, and they have made three straight NCAA Tournaments with the potential for a fourth this year. Purdue... well, we have seen what has happened.
Part of it is the Big Ten simply getting a lot better the last five years in baseball. Last season a record five teams made the NCAA tournament. Schools are pumping money into baseball now because it is starting to be more of a source of revenue. College baseball is more televised than ever and the Big Ten, with its own network, has taken advantage by airing games all the time. You can see it in the improvements in facilities across the league. Purdue and Indiana have new parks, but Michigan, Northwestern, Illinois, Minnesota, Michigan State, and Ohio State have extensively renovated and improved their facilities. The league has improved, and Purdue fell behind big time when it lost so much from that 2012 team.
Part of it has to lie with Schreiber and the coaching staff, however. He recruited these guys all while Purdue was making that 2012 run. He had the new facility to show off. Even with bad teams the last few years attendance has been good and he is getting more home games than ever before. I can understand a dropoff in 2013 because it is very, very hard for northern teams to sustain success like a Florida, a Miami, or a Florida State. Just look at the dropoff this year for Illinois from 49-10-1, 21-1 and a national seed to 26-22, 10-11. Iowa did the same the same this year after a great 2015. We have seen it can be sustained, however. Just look at Indiana. To reach this low for Purdue, where it might just be the worst team in the country, is odd.
I don't know if coach Schreiber will be retained after this season. He has a track record of success from 1999-2012 to weigh against the struggled of 2013-16. The AD situation at Purdue is also a factor, and may shed light on what could happen in the fall with football it Burke's replacement is not found by then. Something has to happen though. The rest of the Big Ten is getting too good and Purdue has sunk too much into the program with Alexander Field to be this bad.