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November 25, 2012
Morgan Burke never questioned Danny Hope's work ethic, character or commitment to Purdue.
But during Hope's four-year tenure as head football coach, the Boilermakers simply did not win enough (22-27, 13-19 Big Ten) and gradually lost some of the fan base.
That led Burke to a "heart-wrenching" decision to fire Hope on Sunday.
"This was obviously a day that wasn't fun, but it's also a day where we have to understand and be accountable for what our expectations were," Burke said. "We came into the year feeling we would be an improved football team. I think we were. We said we wanted to reduce the variability of our play so we were more consistent against all teams in the league and we wanted to move up a rung on the ladder. We clearly did not do that.
"? We've had success in the last four and a half years under Danny's leadership, every phase of the program he's articulated. I guess what I'm telling the fans is, look, we know we haven't been as a consistent our play and performance as we expect to be and as we want to be. I felt at this point in time a change in the leadership was probably the right thing to do."
After consulting others, Burke opted not to allow Hope to coach in Purdue's bowl game. That destination and opponent will be announced next week.
Without Hope, wide receivers coach Patrick Higgins was moved to interim head coach. Higgins also has been interim offensive coordinator while Gary Nord is recovering from a severe back injury. Burke said he spoke with Nord before making the decision to move Higgins into the interim head coach role and said that Nord will be an "senior advisor" to Higgins.
Even if Purdue does hire a new head coach before the bowl game, which likely will either be on Dec. 28 in Houston or Jan. 1 in Dallas, Higgins still will coach the team at the game, Burke said.
The rest of Purdue's coaching staff will stay on board until the bowl game as well, Burke said.
But Hope is no more - after taking a $600,000 buyout in addition to any bonuses he's entitled to after the season concludes.
Burke said there wasn't a "tipping point" in the season but there certainly was concern after the Boilermakers stumbled to start Big Ten play. Purdue started the season 3-1, the only loss a narrow one at Notre Dame. But then, returning to Ross-Ade Stadium for league play, the Boilermakers suffered back-to-back blowout losses at home to Michigan and Wisconsin, starting a five-game losing streak.
In those five games, Purdue was outscored 189-86.
"I don't know that there was a specific day of the week when it came to mind (to make a change) - when it became clear to me no matter how hard one was working it was going to be difficult to reverse the image and the view of the program," Burke said. "As the season progressed, it became increasingly clear to me that we were probably going to have to make a change."
But Purdue wasn't only losing games.
It also seemed to continue to lose support from its fans.
Burke said the program has gone from about 54,000 average paid attendance in 2007 to 37,000 in 2012. He acknowledged attendance started to drop before Hope's arrival, but he couldn't watch it continue to plunge.
"You have to pay attention to the fan base. It's not the only driver, but you have to pay attention to that," Burke said. "We can't do what we need to do resource-wise with losing a third of the fan base.
"I don't care whether it's Purdue or Michigan or Penn State, you lose your fan base, this is a consumer-driven organization, we're self-supporting. Losing $3 million in revenue opportunities, it's a big deal. I quite frankly think Danny was making inroads, but we didn't win enough games."
Now, the search begins to find someone who can re-energize the fans.
Burke said he won't hire a search firm to find the candidates.
He will lean on for people with considerate football knowledge for guidance during the search: Colts GM Ryan Grigson, Texans GM Rick Smith and former Colts president Bill Polian.
He'd like to have someone with head coaching experience - though it's not a "must" - and one who is offensive-minded. He'd like to see a coach who has a similar scheme to the one Purdue already has in place - he doesn't want to waste time adjusting to new schemes, he said.
Purdue ties won't be a prerequisite, but Burke said they could be the "tiebreaker."
He wouldn't give a timeline on how quickly a new coach would be hired, but the process could move faster if Burke is willing to open the pocketbook.
And he says he is.
Hope often grumbled about compensation for him and his staff. His salary, a minimum of $950,000 in 2012, was among the worst in the Big Ten and on a national level, and his assistant coaches also weren't paid as much as others in the league.
Burke said the lower compensation package for Hope wasn't because of the administration's unwillingness to invest in football. He said he based the package on other people who were similarly situation - a coach moving into a Big Ten job for the first time.
"I don't think there's any resource commitment question," he said.
When asked what Purdue is willing to commit monetarily for a new coach and staff, Burke said, "We know in the Big Ten and nationally what you have to do is compete. We're prepared to do that."
And so the search moves forward for a coach who can lead Purdue back to among the Big Ten's most competitive teams.
That was what many thought could happen this season with a roster stacked with returning players with starting experience and a Leaders Division without two of its top programs bowl eligible.
But it fell short.
"Make no bones about it, we want to go back to Pasadena," Burke said. "That's what it's about. We've got to put ourselves in a position to do that. The infrastructure that has been built I think will be very attractive."
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