Yesterday Purdue locked up Matt Painter through 2022. It was an important three-year extension and is commonly done for coaches that have been at a school awhile (In Painter's case he just finished his 11th season at Purdue) simply to assure he can tell recruits "Yes, I am not going anywhere while you're on campus. With a very important recruiting class to lock down for 2017 he can now tell those players he is signed through the end of their college careers. That is a small, but important distinction in the world of recruiting, and it was even part of the logic that Morgan Burke was thinking last year when he spoke of a potential extension for even Darrell Hazell (because Hazell only has three years left on his deal). If you think Purdue recruiting is bad in football just throw in other coaches saying, "Well he only has 2 years left on his deal" after this season at potential recruits.
But Painter is still relatively young at age 45. He is entering the period of his coaching career where he will either finally "get it" and take Purdue to the next level or continue to level off. That is where most of the fear comes from and where the "culture of complacency" that people think Purdue has originates. people fear that Purdue has settled into "Good, but not great" once again, even though we are at a starting point for what could be a decent rise with the 2017 recruiting class. It is a class that will decide much about his legacy. Right now Purdue has four scholarships to use and a host of very, very good players in state to go after. Depending on what Caleb Swanigan, Vince Edwards, and Isaac Haas decide to do after the coming season he could have as many as seven scholarships to use too.
This hasn't stopped the vocal "Fire Painter" crowd from chiming in:
Six more years of no tourney or one and done. Unbelievable - even for Morgan Burke. One last kick when we're down.
Why? AJ Hammons graduated without a single tournament win and since the triplets fell apart or graduated we haven't done squat. He was a point guard yet can't recruit one.
How is it that Purdue can educate men who went to the moon but can't figure out how to field competitive athletic teams?
I refuse to donate to this program until Painter either dramatically improves his coaching/recruiting or leaves. His coaching in the last game of the season was at best unacceptable and at worst grounds for immediate firing.
Goodness gracious. Freaking Burke strikes again. So great to know we won't challenge in either basketball for at least 5 years. At this point, he should go ahead and give hazel a life contract. I guess the good news is that I'm going to save several hundred dollars in JPC dues and donations. SMDH
And yes, it goes on like that.
The fact is, Painter is a good coach. He is much, much, MUCH better than pretty much anyone else we can find on the open market right now. Yes, the Little Rock loss was an absolute collapse and ruined the previous five months with an awful five minute stretch of basketball. Let's look at a few facts, however:
- In terms of overall winning percentage coach Painter is 143rd all-time. This is not out of the current 343 Division I head coaches. This is among anyone who has ever coached the game of college basketball. Yes, he has never made a Final Four, but there are several coaches below him that have made Final Fours such as Kelvin Sampson, Rick Barnes, John Beilein, and Tom Crean. Painter is currently percentage points (65.42% to 65.55%) behind Gene Keady, who is held in ridiculously high regard by Purdue fans (except for that Final Four thing). Yes, he has flaws, but he has done absolutely nothing to warrant a firing to those that pay full attention.this is where the "body of work" trumps knee-jerk reactions. No AD in his right mind would fire Painter unless someone like "John Wooden in his prime" was a sure fire lock to replace him.
- Yes, Only March Matters in this game. I am as guilty of that thinking as anyone. Still, how many times have we seen where the NCAA Tournament itself can be blind luck. You take a bunch of 19-22 year old kids, stick them on a neutral floor in the blinder of pressure and wild momentum swings that the NCAA Tournament is, and hope for the best. There is a very good chance that we are not even having this discussion if Josh Hagins doesn't hit two fall-away threes, a wild circus shot, and Liz Soshi gets the luckiest bounce in the history of basketball. Yeah, Little Rock played its ass off in the comeback, but they also got a ton of fortuitous bounces, and I didn't even mention the two putbacks Purdue missed with about 3 minutes left that hit every part of the rim from 2 feet away but didn't fall. Remember: Purdue has been a No. 1 seed 3 times and never made the Final Four as on (and not even the Elite 8 as two of them), but has made a Final Four as a 6 seed (out of 12 in a region), an Elite 8 as a 6 seed, and a Sweet 16 as a 10. The NCAA Tournament is often a crapshoot where weird stuff happens. As Michigan State or Northern Iowa from this past year.
- Only five active coaches have won a Big Ten regular season title, which is still a huge deal in West Lafayette: Painter, Crean, Beilein, Thad Matta, and Tom Izzo. That's it. Half of the schools in the conference haven't won a title since 1982 (Technically Minnesota won in 1997, but it was vacated). It is really, really hard to win a Big Ten regular season title (unless, in the eyes of many Purdue fans, you have Indiana's 2015-16 schedule, in which case it is really easy to do and Indiana should be punished for not winning it twice), and Painter has done it once while coming damn close a few other times.
- He is a three-time Big Ten Coach of the Year, lest we keep listening to the "What have you done for me lately" crowd. The Big Ten has only named a Coach of the Year since 1974. Here is the complete list of those who have won at least three times: Bob Knight, Gene Keady, Thad Matta, Bo Ryan, Tom Izzo. That's it.
- The person that said Purdue isn't competitive is laughably incompetent. Counting his year at Southern Illinois Painter has made 9 of 12 NCAA Tournaments, won two conference championships, won two conference tournaments, made two Sweet 16s, won 25 games or more six of those 12 years, and finished in the top four of the Big Ten (only one of the nation's toughest basketball conferences) seven times in 11 years. It has taken three overtimes and a pair of furious comebacks for Purdue to lose its first round games the last two years for the first time in over two decades. To them, that isn't even competitive.
At minimum, Purdue is in a very, very good place under Painter. The minimum expectation each season is an NCAA Tournament appearance. Let's ask about 300 other schools in America if they would take that as a starting point. We know going into each season that at least a chance in the wild free-for-all that is the NCAA Tournament is the bare minimum the team should achieve. In Painter's first 11 seasons in West Lafayette you could really only say that his first one was the only year it was completely unreasonable to expect an NCAA berth.
What frustrates fans, me included, is that we want more. We want Painter to grow beyond being "Gene Keady 2.0", which is the direction he seems to be going. In Keady's first 11 seasons (1980-81 to 1990-91) Purdue won three Big Ten championships, but made just one Sweet 16. Like Painter he was 8 of 11 at taking Purdue to the NCAAs. Arguably his best team (1987-88) choked against Kansas State in the Sweet 16. Painter's best team (2009-10) made the Sweet 16 but had the horrible injury luck of Hummel.
It is all about March, however. Painter is perfectly fine leading up to March, just like Keady was. Purdue fans are upset because once the Boilers get outside of the Fortress of Noise that is Mackey Arena they don't play as well. I have seen it with my own eyes. If Purdue could play the NCAA tournament in Mackey it might never lose a game. The only team I have seen in the last 10 years that has come in to face a really good Purdue team that totally handled the crowd and shrugged it off was Duke in the 2008 ACC/Big Ten Challenge. Since then, when Purdue has been good Mackey has been a nightmare for opponents.
The thing is, it happens to everyone. Let's look at another coach that I think is a good coach who gets unfairly criticized (especially by Purdue fans): Tom Crean. Yes, I am going to defend the derisively named Clappy the Clown here, but Crean is a good coach on par (if not above) Painter. He has already won two Big Ten titles to Painter's one. He has made three Sweet 16s at Indiana to Painter's two. He is an excellent recruiter and this season he led Indiana to winning the Big Ten by two clear games. The "weak schedule" argument is such horsecrap too and reeks of people being sore losers. Indiana won the Big Ten because they were undefeated at home, Michigan State stumbled out of the gate, Iowa faded, Purdue blew some games, Wisconsin started slow under a midseason coaching change, and Maryland wildly underachieved. Indiana was the most consistent team all year and deserved the title. Even then, reverse Purdue's collapses against Iowa, at Michigan, and at Maryland, have A.J. Hammons be a split second earlier on the late goaltend, and Purdue is on top.
Indiana is an excellent team at home when it is good, just like so many other teams in America. Get them away from Assembly Hall, however, and things change. The same is true for Purdue away from Mackey. You can say the same for almost everyone. Good coaches are virtually unbeatable at home. The best coaches find ways to get their teams to respond in a cavernous Dome in April or even a half empty pro arena during a Thursday afternoon game.
Crean even has a Final Four, something Painter doesn't, and that is where the fundamental nature of the NCAA Tournament vs. regular season basketball comes through. Crean made a Final Four at Marquette because he had Dwyane Wade as one of the most gifted true scorers to ever play the game. Wade in his prime can carry a team simply by putting he is head down and getting to the rim to score when his team absolutely needs it. Crean has never had that at Indiana, which is why he has never gone beyond the Sweet 16. The closest thing Painter has had to that is E'Twaun Moore, and while Smooge was excellent, he is not Dwyane Wade.
That's what makes this recruiting cycle so critical for Painter. We know what he can do with what he has been getting. We know that an NCAA berth, at least challenging for a Big Ten title, and 20-25 wins each season are almost automatic. Can he get the guys that will move beyond that level? Can he ever get another guard that is like E'Twaun or better in terms of being "The Red Button", a term that hasn't been used around here in far too long. painter has no trouble getting really good players. He needs to get the one guy that will put a team on his back and simply refuse to lose. Think Chris Kramer in overtime against Texas A&M, only on a larger scale.
The last two years in the NCAA tournament have been among the most painful Purdue sports losses I have ever witnessed, with the Little Rock game quite possibly topping "The Fumble" if only because we were farther along in the season and it took, more than a single, shocking play to happen. I have to admit that it pretty much ruined my Purdue fandom across all fronts and has left me with a ton of negative emotions and questions directing why we even do this as fans of our teams.
What it didn't do, however, is prove that Matt Painter is an awful coach that needs an immediate firing. He has built Purdue into a team that is, proverbially, right there waiting for a breakthrough. It is terribly frustrating to see the George Masons and Wichita States make a run in March out of nowhere when Purdue works and slaves for months only to fall apart in five minutes like against Little Rock.
There is still time for Painter to grow, however. He has the base in place and the tools he needs. He is also a competitor. From what I have seen he is not afraid to keep working and improving. As we enter year 12 with a team that should be among the top 20 in America, a wealth of home grown talent for 2017, and the stability of him being in place with good results for 11 years we're already in an excellent place to start. I'd much rather be here than where Purdue basketball was when he came back. At the same time, I am not complacent and I am right to expect improvement, Big Ten titles, and Final Fours because the growth to this point has led to those expectations if growth is to continue.