November 25, 2012
Higgins ready for opportunity
Patrick Higgins has been a head coach before, serving as a boss in consecutive years in the early 90s at a Division III program and a then prep school.
He feels, however, that those experiences are completely irrelevant now, and probably with good reason. As a 29-year old head coach at William Penn University in 1992, Higgins had only one other full-time assistant; a year later at St. Andrews Prep in Savannah, Ga., he had a roster of only 13 players.
"So there's not a lot to draw on," said Higgins, Purdue's interim head coach for the bowl game following Sunday's dismissal of Danny Hope. "But the thing I can say is that the coaches I've had the great opportunity to work under, you learn something from each. So that process is good. And I feel I'm ready to accept this challenge and we feel as a staff we can make this work."
Higgins has been on an accelerated path the last month, preceding Sunday's announcements. Only four weeks ago, his sole responsibility was as the Boilermakers' wide receiver coach, where he's serving at Purdue in his second season. But following a severe back injury to offensive coordinator Gary Nord prior to the Week 10 game vs. Iowa, Higgins took over offensive play-calling duties. He's done that the last three weeks, as Nord's been able only to observe practices and meetings, but hasn't been integral in game planning.
And now, Higgins is in charge of all aspects of the Boilermaker program through the end of the bowl game, most likely either the Dec. 28 Meineke Car Care Bowl or the New Year's Day Heart of Dallas Bowl.
"I'm unfortunate because I was unfortunate to be put in a situation of being interim offensive coordinator, now I get the unfortunate role of being an interim head coach," Higgins said. "We're going to do the best job possible. Our coaching staff is committed to these young men. We're going to do everything possible, so that their bowl experience is going to be very memorable."
Higgins, a former offensive coordinator at UTEP, will have a few pressing issues as he gets to work Monday morning, such as setting separate calendars based on either bowl, plus meeting with sports performance, academics and training staffs.
Higgins, who has been lauded by many, including quarterback Robert Marve, for his organization and attention to detail will put those traits to use in the next month, first with those non-game planning-type responsibilities, then with preparing to play a game.
"That (organization) will be tested, but it's a good test and we look forward to it as a staff," he said. "It's an opportunity. Not a lot of kids get to go to a bowl game two years in a row. So it's an honor for these kids to have achieved that goal, especially with where they were three weeks ago."
Purdue, which was 3-6 following a five-game midseason losing streak, has rebounded in the last three weeks. Higgins had taken over as the play-caller, and Marve was in his second game back as the starter. The two seemed to have formed a bond since then.
"When I came in, Coach Higgins came in at OC, we kind of had to feel each other out," Purdue's QB said after Purdue's 56-35 win over Indiana Saturday. "And today we were rolling."
Purdue's staff will be short-handed. Not only is Hope not involved in the bowl game, but Nord is limited, as well. Sunday night, athletic director Morgan Burke said Nord would be a "senior advisor." He's unlikely to be able to take a more active role, due to a back injury that has left him on crutches the last month.
"We're men down, but we're OK," Higgins said. "That just tests your character. Once we heard the news we got together and were very saddened that Danny was let go, but we know we have a job ahead and we're professional. And we're in this business because we love the kids, we love to teach and we love the challenge and we love to compete. We accept that, and even if there's two of us, we'll give everything we have."
Higgins understands Purdue's in a transition. A new coach will be hired in the coming weeks, perhaps sooner - Burke said Higgins would coach through the bowl, regardless if a new head coach was hired sooner - but in the interim Purdue has a game ahead.
"Instead of a challenge, you look at it as an opportunity," Higgins said. "Our coaching staff is committed to the process of taking this team and putting our best product on the field for the bowl game. Our kids deserve our best effort and that's what they're going to get.
"They're going to have fun, play with passion, because they really have nothing to lose. What's the worst thing that can happen to them? It probably already has happened to them. The bowl experience is a great experience, and these kids get to experience it two years in a row, why not go have fun?"
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