Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
The Big Ten's only new head coach enters the league with an air of mystery around him and his team. Danny Hope knows Purdue, having coached the Boilermakers' offensive line under Joe Tiller from 1997-2001 and again last year as the head coach in-waiting. But the Big Ten doesn't really know him. He comes from off-the-radar Eastern Kentucky, an FCS program that experienced pretty good success in his five seasons at the helm (35-22).
Hope made some news in February when he signed a recruiting class that included 14 players from Florida and none from Indiana. He inherits a team replacing most of its skill players on offense, but loaded in the secondary. He also brings in two new coordinators in Gary Nord (offense) and Donn Landholm (defense).
So what's the deal at Purdue? I sat down with Hope last week to find out.
Outside the program, there's a lot of curiosity, not knowing exactly what to expect from this team. Do you understand that? Is it just part of the deal with all the new things?
Danny Hope: I'm indifferent to it. It doesn't have anything to do with what we're doing getting ready to play. I'm indifferent about the perception on the outside, the preseason rankings, the expectations, any of that. We know where we're at as a football team. We're a very close football team, and we communicate on a regular basis. We know what our expectation levels are for the season. We're focused on us and not necessarily what's on the peripheral.
Is there any curiosity on your part? Now Joey [Elliott] will be in a major role. Now Keith [Smith] may be the No. 1 wide receiver, or another guy might be in a bigger role than he's ever been before. Are you interested to see how they'll react?
DH: We don't have a choice on how to react to that. We're going to get ready to play and we're going to play well with the players we have. We have a lot of confidence in them. It's the same thing every year. There's always new guys coming onto the scene. I don't care where you're at. We have a few more than others, but it's no different. It's business as usual, in reality.
Joey seems to have the mental makeup you want as a quarterback in knowing the game and the knowledge. What area on the field has he made the most progress?
DH: Right now as a football team, we're becoming more sure every day. Sure about our assignments and our alignments and everything it takes to be a winning football team. I see that with him as well. He's getting the ball out of his hand faster, but a lot of it has to do with the receivers are running sharper routes now. It's a cumulative effect, but he's getting better. I like the way he's getting the ball out of his hand, playing faster.
This program's known for passing the ball, but everyone is talking about the running back position this offseason. What have you seen from that group and the depth you have there?
DH: The seniors coming on strong have really impacted our whole running back pool. Frank Halliburton's a fine football player. He's a 250-pound back. They're a very aggressive group, and that's not always the case with running backs. They run hard, they finish their runs, they block hard, they have a great work ethic. We have three or four guys at the running back spot that could be starters for us. With Frank coming on strong and Jaycen Taylor coming back and looking like he can make a difference to our football team, it has really enhanced our stable of running backs. That's good for the running game, but it's good for the passing game, too. We're a multiple formation offense, and we have more playmakers right now than we had this time last year and way more playmakers than what we had in the spring.
Is that partly because of the older guys or the freshmen being in there, too?
DH: It's the new guys, and the older guys getting their chance. Frank Halliburton, a year ago, he was a big back. Now he's a really good big back. He's a playmaker. He's a really good receiver out of the backfield. [Ralph] Bolden is really fast. Ralph's probably a 10.5 100-meter guy. He's had several times the last couple weeks where he's ran off and left everybody else in the defense from a footrace standpoint. He wasn't really ready to play [last year, due to injury]. And then obviously Jaycen Taylor coming back, he wasn't there last year, and he's a playmaker. And then we added some more speed and skill on the pe
rimeter from a receiving standpoint. Four of our top eight receivers were not with us in the spring, and they're all athletic guys, long jumpers and track guys.
Do you expect to be more multiple on offense than Purdue has been in the past?
DH: They've been awful multiple. I've been around Purdue and Purdue offense, and they've had a million great plays in the last 12 years. But I like the potential of our running backs, I like the potential of our tight ends and we're much better at receiver than we were in the spring. And we're a team that throws the ball, so yes, we'll be multiple.
The guys on defense said when Donn came in, he didn't change the terminology there. You mentioned how Purdue's always been multiple on offense. Are people going to notice major scheme changes when you take the field?
DH: Here's what most people don't realize. There's a play-calling system in every offense and every defense, and the system hasn't change. I don't want to ever be in a situation where the coordinator leaves and I don't understand the system, where we can't keep that intact and continue moving on without those coordinators. I've been a head coach before and had a system and one time got outside of the system when the coordinator left and next thing I know, I wasn't quite exactly what we had in and didn't have in. So we have a certain system in, and the play-caller can pick anything out of that system, any plays he wants, as long as they can be manufactured within the system. I took the Purdue offense to Eastern Kentucky, put it in verbatim, and then a couple years later, some of that was the Purdue offense and some was some other stuff. And there were some signs of that here when I came back here [in 2008]. It wasn't exactly the Purdue offense that I had in place after I left here after the 2001 season. Coach Nord has the liberty to call any of the plays he wants, as long as they fit within the system. He's a creative coach and does a great job of keeping the defense off balance. I think our fans will really enjoy his play-calling. I sure do in practice.
How important is your freshman class toward what you want to accomplish this season?
DH: Really important because of the need we had at wide receiver and also the depth at linebacker. We had two freshman linebackers come in at mid-year with [Dwayne] Beckford and [Antwon] Higgs, which has been huge. They've been through a spring ball and a summer and now camp. And then with the receiver position, we're eight receivers shy off the depth chart from a year ago. Those new guys, they're the guys now. It's been a lot of growth and a lot of effort. It's coming together. It really is.