The train may have left the station early, but so far that hasn’t done much to bring the coaching search at Purdue to an end.
There have been names kicked around for more than a month now after Darrell Hazell was fired in the middle of the season following one of the least successful tenures in recent memory in the Big Ten. But so far nobody has truly emerged as the odds-on favorite to take on the enormous rebuild with the Boilermakers.
Certainly there are positive aspects of the job, starting with the simple fact that it’s in the Big Ten, the salary is likely going to be appealing and reasonably competitive and the program has proven in the past that it has the potential to be a winner. But getting back to that level of annual postseason trips or pushing for a division title is obviously not going to be a simple task in a league that might now be the toughest in the country, which makes it imperative that athletic director Mike Bobinski get this hire correct.
So, where will the Boilermakers turn? Here’s a closer look at the two key names on the short list and what they might bring if Bobinski can strike a deal.
Western Michigan coach P.J. Fleck
Record: 29-21 with the Broncos, competing for the Mid-American Conference championship and a potential New Year’s Six bid on Friday
Pros: The tireless, relentless 35-year-old Fleck has proven he will pull out all the stops to both motivate his team and generate publicity, and both of those traits would be invaluable for a program like Purdue. In terms of firing up his team, his gimmicks seem to endear him to his players and allow him to get the most out of the talent he has on hand, which at Purdue is never going to match up on paper with the league’s powerhouses. And externally, the Boilermakers have recently barely even been an afterthought in the Big Ten landscape both with recruits or in the race for headlines as the gap has widened between them and the top of the conference. If Fleck is up for the challenge, he surely could provide a boost in those areas right away.
Cons: There is no denying Fleck’s ability to run a program, and at Western Michigan he has proven he can turn one around as well. After enduring a one-win season in his first year with the Broncos, he hasn’t won less than eight -- and currently has an unbeaten squad poised to potentially make some MAC history. There doesn’t appear to be a real downside for Purdue, which means the biggest challenge might be landing Fleck if bigger programs come calling for him. The real question might be: Could the Boilermakers have had him a year ago if they hadn’t dragged their feet on firing Hazell?
Former LSU coach Les Miles
Record: 142-55, including 114 wins at LSU and a national championship
Pros: Thanks in part to his quirky news conferences and his taste for munching grass, Miles became a beloved figure in college football over the years. And his track record of success certainly didn’t hurt either, because he was almost always in the spotlight with the Tigers in the rough-and-tumble SEC West. Miles was working in a fertile recruiting ground, but there can’t really be any question about his ability to connect with elite talent and then motivate them to play for him as they matured into NFL prospects. That part of the job description is much simpler at LSU, obviously, but a top-notch recruiter and a national-title winner is rarely going to be in a spot to wind up on Purdue’s sideline.
Cons: For somebody with an offensive background, the biggest mystery towards the end of his LSU tenure was how a team stocked with so much talent could struggle at times to simply move the chains and put points on the board. Time after time, the Tigers failed to either identify or properly develop quarterbacks capable of leading the attack, and that was probably the final straw that led to his dismissal. Interestingly enough, LSU even turned to a Purdue transfer at the most important position on the field with Danny Etling finishing the year as its starter, which is simultaneously an indictment of an SEC contender and a reminder that the alma mater of Drew Brees is still a draw for talented high school passers. Can Miles adapt and evolve enough offensively to compete in a Big Ten that is getting tougher every year?