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Purdue Finally Joins the Big Ten in Football

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Mike Bobinski has done wonders in his first nine months as Purdue athletic director

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NCAA Football: Iowa at Purdue Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

A few weeks ago my membership in John Purdue Club led to an invitation to Morgan Burke’s retirement party. It is scheduled for this Friday at the Birck Golf Complex and it will serve as the official sendoff for Purdue’s long-tenured athletic director. In what is his final act as athletic director, they are charging $25 per person (plus a cash bar) to attend the event. As much fun as it would be to go and heckle, I will not be attending.

This final act of Burke’s tenure, charging people for his own party, did not go over well on Twitter, but it was expected. It fits the narrative of penny pinching and short-sightedness that, thankfully, is over as evidenced this morning. I am not here to denigrate Burke further. My arms are tired from beating that dead horse. Instead I am here to praise his successor , Mike Bobinski, for finally pushing forward and committing necessary resources for the football program according to the Lafayette Journal & Courier:

Since athletic director Mike Bobinski hired Jeff Brohm in December, about $4 million in new resources have been funneled into the program.

More dollars invested in Brohm and his assistants compared to the last time Purdue had a new football coaching staff. More support personnel – recruiting, strength and conditioning, nutrition, sports performance, sports medicine and academics. More resources to bring the program up to par with its peers, especially in the Big Ten West Division.

Finally.

I have to say that it is a welcome relief to see a forward-thinking approach to this gigantic problem. There is little doubt that Purdue football has become a laughingstock not just in the Big Ten, but nationally. What really stands out is the last part of that excerpt. Bobinski has not come in with a money cannon and thrown cash at the problem like Phil Knight at Oregon. We don’t have those resources. Instead he has taken the resources at hand and done the most basic of improvements that everyone else in the conference is doing.

Think about that for a moment. This means that for the past several years Purdue has been trying to compete like a one-legged man in an ass-kicking contest when it comes to football. It has purposefully denied itself resources that the other programs in the conference take for granted. The results were pretty clear even without the obvious coaching deficiencies. In our latest podcast I tried to argue that coach Danny Hope and his four year era was not that bad. He was 22-27 in four years with a bowl win, and that was with Purdue committing even less than it did under Darrell Hazell.

And I am not just referring to coaching salaries. Hazell got paid a lot more than Hope and did a lot less. Strength and conditioning were often issues (second half fades, much?). Recruiting was an issue (look at our recruiting rankings). Sports performance and sports medicine (all the injuries during the 2010 season) were issues. These are little things behind the scenes that chipped away at the competitive ability of Purdue.

It is not just in football, either. As we have often said, a rising tide lifts all boats, and right now Purdue football is about as high as the Aral Sea. I have gone over the financials as they have been released and Purdue is making the least off of its football program in a conference that basically has a license to print money. Without the resources being properly allocated, that will stay the same and continue to hurt all varsity sports that Purdue sponsors.

That’s why it is critical that the $4 million investment be applied correctly. Yes, you need to spend money to make money. That is a refreshing change from previous years. It has to be spent correctly, however. By investing $4 million back into football and making a commitment to at least get it on par and competitive with the rest of the Big Ten there should, naturally, be a windfall back that can then assist other sports.

“There’s a baseline level of investment that needs to happen and there needs to be infrastructure and visible signs of commitment to success,” said Bobinski, who started his new job September “I think we have it for the first time in our history. I don’t think we’ve ever done it. That, to me, is the excitement of what’s possible. We are now in the game in a real way unlike any other time in our history.”

That is a very, VERY telling quote from Bobinski and a sign that he is not like his predecessor. Also, it sets fire to the thought Burke was just a mouthpiece for the President and Board of Trustees. If the issues really were higher Bobinski would be having many of the same problems allocating resources. Either Burke was lying about them or he was unable to sway those above him to commit more. Either way, he failed at his job. In just 9 months on the job Mike Bobinski has done more for the athletic department as a whole than Burke has done in nine years. Here is more:

“Try to appreciate and understand how Purdue has made an enhanced, renewed and probably unprecedented commitment to success,” Bobinski said. “I don’t know that we’ve given the previous coaches or whomever the opportunity to go for it.

“Even when things were good, we said, ‘it’s good as it is; why do more?’ That was a philosophy that probably came from the highest levels in the university. That is not the philosophy today nor is it one where money is falling from the sky and let’s see how fast you can spend it. We’re never going to do that. I don’t want to do that. I don’t believe in that.”

Wow. This makes me want to apologize to coach Hope because his four years seemed to coincide with the tightest of purse strings. In speaking with former players I have heard that Hope tried to champion more resources, better assistants, and basically the same support that 13 other schools in this conference get. I even had one tell me that he knew of his limitations, and that is why he wanted to open the checkbook for better assistants. Instead, he was let go and eventually blamed.

Maybe Hope wasn’t that bad. He still had a competitive team despite his own administration pushing against him. He still had the plethora of near-misses in his first year as well as the huge near-misses against Notre Dame and Ohio State in his final season. I am not saying he was the second coming of Bear Bryant, but he dealt with a lot more crap than he should have.

Thankfully, it sounds like coach Brohm is starting from day 1 with a lot more support than Hope or Hazell ever had:

In fact, Bobinski was prepared to invest more. He initially mapped out a structure of how the football organization would look but Brohm preferred fewer support personnel.

“We won’t be near the size of many others, and I really don’t want to be but you have to keep up in some regards,” Brohm said.

Still, Brohm has what other programs currently enjoy – and what previous Purdue coaches fought to secure. Quality control assistants, directors of player personal, player development, internal relations and a chief of staff, leaving Brohm to focus solely on the football aspect.

Not all the positions have been filled. The program will bring back a director of high school relations – a similar position was created in 2013 before Hazell’s first season. More quality control assistants are on the way.

“You tell me what you need from a recruiting perspective, how many analysts, how many we need in operations, player development and then we’ll do it,” Bobinski told Brohm. “Jeff had actually wanted less than I put in the plan. He didn’t want people on top of people on top of people.

This is just wonderful to hear. Brohm is being given resources, but he wants to use them wisely. This goes beyond implementing a new offensive scheme or coaching up the talent he has. Both Brohm and Bobinski see that an entirely new structure needs to be built intelligently behind the scenes for long term success. I think that is where Burke failed dating all the way back to Tiller’s first years.

Tiller came in and during the first four years made a meteoric rise to the top of the Big Ten. He went 33-16 in those first four seasons by changing everything on the field and maximizing the result with the talent he had (also, the luck of getting one of the best quarterbacks in human history helped a ton). The structure behind him, however, was never built properly. Tiller himself complained about it. Purdue rode the wave of those first four seasons for the next four because it brought in more talent, but then there were stumbles.

Once that wave petered out the cracks in the unstable foundation began to show. Because that investment behind the scenes did not happen from 1997-2004, Purdue fell way behind the rest of the conference. From 2004-2012 there was a slow decline as a result, and the disastrous Hazell hire combined with the lack of commitment led us to now.

Thankfully though, that investment is being made. It is going to be a very long road back. I think we are only just now realizing how far behind the pack we are. One need only look to the south to see it. Indiana made many of the basic commitments that the rest of the conference, Purdue excluded, has made. They ahve invested in recruiting, strength and conditioning, stadium improvements, and all the behind-the-scenes parts that are becoming more and more important. Even as historically the worst major conference program in America those commitments have at least gotten them to be competitive and at a bare minimum level of success. They have made consecutive bowl games for the first time in over two decades and are enjoying a level of success over Purdue not seen since the Truman administration.

That is only embarrassing for Purdue and shows how far we have fallen. When we are looking at the modest success that Indiana has had the last few seasons and we are envious of it that should have alarm bells ringing throughout the athletic department. To Indiana’s credit, however, it is success and their program is seeing some real growth for the first time in decades.

That growth has paid dividends across its other sports as well. Look at the baseball team with four NCAA appearances in five years and the Big Ten’s only berth in the College World Series in the last 30 years. Look at its swimming and diving program, with a representative that won multiple gold medals in Rio. Look at its once moribund women’s basketball team, which showed real improvement this season.

There is no reason that Purdue cannot invest in its football program as much as Indiana has. There is no reason that Purdue cannot reap similar benefits from said investment at minimum. They are an example of how said investment can pay off and at least get you back to the level of being competitive. Once there, it is time to tackle the next problem of being excellent.

Right now, Purdue is not even at that level, and it will take time to get there. This basic structure will probably take a couple of years to yield real, tangible results. Yes, if coach Brohm is some kind of Tiller-esque miracle worker and he gets Purdue into a bowl game in year one that will accelerate things, but at least we are finally seeing the necessary work being done behind the scenes.