Weekly Word: The painful gift and the big money
Today, GoldandBlack.com continues a new weekly feature. We're calling it the Weekly Word.
Why? Because it has words, it's posted weekly and we're just that unimaginative. (Actual feedback from Week 1: Definitely like the content, but a new name would be useful.)
Anyway, here are some random thoughts for the week, most of which will be Purdue-related.
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Painful Gift: A little more than a year before winning the national championship this year, Virginia became the first-ever No. 1 seed to ever lose to a 16 in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
Perhaps you heard, but maybe not because the story really flew under the radar. It didn't get a lot of play.
Nevertheless, despite the media showing no interest in the topic, the Cavaliers repeatedly mentioned their loss to Maryland-Baltimore County this March, as the "painful gift" their coach, Tony Bennett, referred to it as.
Part of extracting the gift from the pain, though, was inflicting pain on others, and that's now Purdue's role in this whole story. The Boilermakers were one of the many obstacles Virginia improbably and fortuitously overcome on its redemption-story path.
Now, there's a distinction to be drawn here. Virginia lost to a 16 seed, then opened the following season No. 5 in the preseason AP poll. Purdue now may not be No. 5 in its conference in the preseason poll. Virginia was no plucky underdog here.
Nevertheless, Matt Painter seems to want his team to adopt the Cavaliers' approach, to embrace the nature of their demise the year before and grow from it, as Virginia players said they did and certainly looked like they did as they escaped desperate situation after desperate situation.
At Purdue's postseason banquet last week, Painter said the loss to Virginia, the one where the Boilermakers led with a millisecond left to play, that same millisecond away from the Final Four, should be Purdue's "painful gift," even if its personnel this season changes unlike anything Virginia experienced from last season to this one.
Not all of it, though.
Leadership might be a strength for Purdue next season, a list topped by juniors-to-be Matt Haarms and Nojel Eastern.
Haarms got right to work.
"It's just dealing with defeat like that, staying classy in a defeat like that, and then it becomes making it a learning experience for next year," Haarms said. "I can't read minds, but I know that I'm hungry for next season. I know that every single one of us that were in that locker room after that loss felt it. I told our seniors, 'Thank you for being there for us, doing so much for us, for being our leaders. Everyone else, I told them, 'Hey, we're coming back. I promise you.' I truly believe that."
That's ambitious. No one will predict Purdue to get within a cuticle of the Final Four next season. That being said, this season reminded of the importance of never saying never, that anything is indeed possible, because no one would have ever predicted this team to get within a cuticle of the Final Four, either, and it did.
And the program should be better off for it.
That's the view, at least, of athletic director Mike Bobinski, the guy who took the job a couple years ago, believing Purdue to just need a couple of "breakthrough" moments to fall its way, then saw a bunch of them come soon after, as if there was simply a button to be pushed and only he knew about it.
He hopes Purdue's NCAA Tournament run, including the victory that came in defeat, can be "transformational."
"Where everything that happens from that point forward happens on a higher plane, and the people who are part of it see themselves differently, carry themselves differently and they expect more from themselves moving forward," Bobinski told the banquet crowd. "... I believe we experienced those sort of transformational moments and I can't wait to see what's to come."
Stepping Up: Friday, Purdue's Board of Trustees approved Jeff Brohm's new contract and when the third-year coach signs it, this university, when it comes to athletics, will officially be in the deep in the pool.
The numbers will be significant, unprecedented in Purdue's history and probably wildest dreams alike, a bold move by a university run by a man who's sought to build a legacy as a champion of cost-cutting in higher education.
A bold move, but a prudent and necessary one.
It had little choice.
Purdue invested in Brohm for a return, and that return to the point has been significant, yet still not fully realized. This isn't about wins and losses — not about what's been, but will be — but so much more. It's about engagement and experience, revenue and relevance, all of which has a nice ring to it.
Anyway, this isn't just paying for wins and touchdowns and occupied seats in Ross-Ade Stadium.
It's about paying for Rondale Moore and his starpower, all made possible by Brohm's ability to A) attract such players and B) help make stars stars. It's about paying for recruits, in the permissible manner, of course.
Brohm has turned Purdue into a recruiting force relative to its place in the college football food chain, or relative to any place in the college football food chain for that matter. That's been as significant as anything else that has happened.
Purdue couldn't let all the air out of this balloon now. It had to come at this heavy, and it did, and now one can reasonably figure West Lafayette to not just be a stop-over in a coaching star's ascent. It might be an extended stay, an actual era, a process that will have time to be seen through to the very end, however you want to define "end," to a day when Purdue is winning big, Purdue is fun to watch, Purdue is playing in front of 60,000-some people every time it takes the Ross-Ade Stadium field, and recruiting classes like last year's are more rule than exception, with one's soul left squarely intact.
(Note: We do not know the exact terms of the contract at this point.)
That's the vision, the intended return on investment.
This contract is security, an investment, but also a firewall built around said investment. This isn't just about fending off Louisville, but rather fending off everyone. If you've ever met Jeff Brohm, you know he's not going to run out tomorrow and buy a helicopter, though he probably could. He's not driven singularly by money. But money is a hell of a retention tool, and Purdue just laid down a haymaker of a trump card. It didn't bring a gun to a knife fight; it brought a grenade launcher.
This changes things. Compensation inevitably changes how coaches are perceived, and now 6-6 becomes the floor, not the ceiling, and Brohm will be fine with that, because I'm sure he sees things the same way. The construction project is not yet complete, but it's well along now.
It also should change perception in other ways. If people are paying attention, and didn't already notice, Purdue has made a statement about its commitment to playing high-end college football and all those folks who just assumed Brohm would leave for Louisville might be wise to take notice for when whoever it may be opens next.
Has Purdue stuck its neck out here a bit?
I'm sure it has.
Is it worth it?
The safe bet is that it will be.
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