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Goodbye, Morgan Burke

Finally, it is Morgan Burke’s last day.

Burke Conference

Please, turn your speakers all the way up and listen to this as you read.

We’ve made it, everyone. Today is Morgan Burke’s last day in office as Purdue athletic director. Mike Bobinski takes over tomorrow, ending the reign of error that has been Burke’s final few years. Burke will still hold a role within the Krannert School of Management as an instructor before his retirement, but effective tomorrow, Bobinski has the final say and not Burke.

Love him or hate him, Burke has been the only athletic director Purdue fans have known. He succeeded George King officially on January 1, 1993. Only three other athletic directors in the entire country have been in office longer than Burke (Chris Hill at Utah, Jeremy Foley at Florida, and Ron Wellman at Wake Forest). While that longevity can be a good thing, it has not been good for Purdue.

Burke has done some things right. Two of Purdue’s three National championships (1999 women’s basketball and 2010 women’s golf) occurred under his watch. Purdue made a Rose bowl, won four Big Ten men’s basketball championships, won six Big Ten women’s basketball championships, and there have been numerous facility improvements. Tennis, soccer, softball, and baseball are playing in beautiful new facilities. The golf complex and swimming & diving facilities are among the best in the country and have each host National Championship events. Mackey Arena had a nine figure renovation to extend the life of one of the best basketball arenas in America. The initial Ross-Ade renovation and pavilion are stellar.

That will be Burke’s positive legacy. He balanced the budget and built facilities. Unfortunately, there are too many Purdue fans grateful this day has come because of the way he has handled football. During his tenure Burke had to hire a football coach three times. The first time he hit a home run. Joe Tiller left Purdue as the most decorated coach in school history. Over time, however, it looks more and more like Burke got extremely lucky. Tiller was a good coach who caught lightning in a bottle by bringing the forward pass to the Big Ten. He himself got lucky by getting Drew Brees, one of the greatest quarterbacks in the history of football, to come to Purdue.

Tiller’s run from 1997-2004 was impressive, but even Tiller often clashed with Burke about how to run the program:

Morgan and I, we get along….. fine. My single biggest criticism of Morgan…is that he wasn’t a football guy. He didn’t have the skills or the background or the knowledge to evaluate what was going on in the football program.” – Joe Tiller from a 2015 appearance with Query and Schultz.

All you need to do is look at everything that has happened since about 2006 to see this. Tiller’s final few seasons weren’t great, but he was a successful coach that deserved better than 4-8 in his last year when his team was beset with QB injuries. He was possibly pushed out the door, and that is where Burke made his second hire.

The decision to bring in Danny Hope as a coach in waiting for a year really started the slide. Burke went the cheap route because it worked once before in the Gene Keady to Matt Painter transition. This time, it didn’t The Hope years were a step down from tiller, resulting in two mediocre bowl games after 6-6 seasons. Not only was Hope the cheap hire, so were his assistants and it showed.

Burke saw this and swung big with his replacement. It is safe to say he failed miserably. The Darrell Hazell era has been an unmitigated disaster so far and many of the Burke quotes have sounded like him playing the fiddle while Rome burned:

"But I'm pretty confident that the call we're going to have to make is to extend Darrell Hazell, not release him." – Morgan Burke in a March 2016 ESPN article.

That quote came after Hazell was 6-30 in his first three seasons, the worst winning percentage of any permanent Purdue head coach since William Henry Dietz in 1921 (and he was fired after one season for illegal recruiting).

Since 2006 it just seems as if Burke has been increasingly out of touch with the modern economics of college football. He has been praised for keeping the athletic department “in the black”, but that means very little when Purdue has a big fat lifeboat of Big Ten cash to do so. An article this summer from Penn Live was featured at this very blog painting the bleak picture. Purdue only made $1.5 million on football in 2014-15, and almost assuredly less in 2015-16. It is half as much profit as the men’s basketball program brought in in 2014-15.

This is for a Big Ten football program.

To show you out of touch Burke is, here is what he said just one week ago:

“Football is a $5 million opportunity,” Burke said. “We will get it. It’s a matter of how quickly we can get the fans back. The fans are there. We’ve disappointed them for three years. It’s on us to shut up and produce.”

He sees the ceiling at $5 million more. That’s it. Nevermind that said additional $5 million, if it dropped into the bank out of the sky tomorrow, would still have Purdue dead last in the Big Ten in football profit (Rutgers, in 13th, made $6.8 million in 2014-15 WITHOUT the benefit of a full big Ten media rights share).

It is my hope that Mike Bobinski sees beyond this. Football is more than a $5 million opportunity with a virtually empty stadium facing us on Saturday. Bobinski needs to see it as a $20 million opportunity. That would get Purdue up into the middle of the conference with Iowa, Wisconsin, and Michigan State in terms of football profit.

That will sadly be Burke’s final legacy. For all the good he did in building facilities Purdue football is at the bottom of college football, and it is college football that drives the modern college athletic program. Burke failed to see this. Even the $65 million football performance facility he is touting on the way out is a sign of his errors. Yes, it is a great facility, but it needed to be built in 2006, not in 2016. Instead of building it while Purdue was still semi-relevant and using it to stay there it is being built while Purdue is at the bottom as a last-ditch effort to save things. Even then, the proposed Ross-Ade renovations to merely bring the stadium into the same level as the rest of the conference have no specific date. His legacy in others sports has left many fans wanting as well.

So we say goodbye Morgan today. Even for the good he did, there are far too many saying “Good Riddance.”