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Purdue fulfills Keady's wishes

If Purdue didn't agree to hire Matt Painter as Gene Keady's eventual successor, then Keady was ready to walk.

He would have skipped out on his 25th anniversary season, his last in West Lafayette, Ind.

It was that simple.

Keady wasn't going to budge, and Purdue buckled to his demands by landing Painter, the Southern Illinois head coach.

It was an interesting game of cat-and-mouse between Keady and Purdue athletic director Morgan Burke over the past three weeks. Keady interviewed at the University of San Francisco for the second time in a decade. He considered leaving once because of his desire to live in a warmer climate. He was gone this time because of his anger over what appeared to be a lack of commitment by the administration.

In the end, Keady couldn't leave in a lurch the school he has given his life to for two-plus decades. If Burke was willing to go with Keady's selection, a coach who proved his worth for a Big Ten job this season by leading Southern Illinois to a Missouri Valley title and an NCAA berth, then Keady could finish his Purdue career without regrets.

And, more than anything, the Boilermakers will be able to avoid a Tom Davis-like freefall on the recruiting trail. This should act as a smooth transition from Keady to Painter much in the same way the Jud Heathcote-to-Tom Izzo baton passing worked at Michigan State. Davis was a lame duck at Iowa, and that occurred just when Kirk Hinrich, Nick Collison and Kyle Korver were up for the taking in the state. Iowa didn't get any of them as the recruiting suffered before Steve Alford came aboard. Iowa is still trying to recover.

Purdue couldn't afford a lame-duck Keady for his final year. But it almost occurred.

"I was about to go to San Francisco,'' Keady said. "I was reeling at the Final Four. Those three days in San Antonio were really bad. I was going back and forth. My wife told me, 'You don't want to go to San Francisco.' She said she could read my body language. But when I went to San Antonio, I thought I was going to go to San Francisco (after the Final Four).

"Bill (Hogan, the USF athletic director) is a great guy, but at the same token I didn't want to leave Purdue without doing things right."

Keady said his honesty about the USF opening helped him orchestrate the Painter hire. It wasn't his final call; Burke and the upper administration at Purdue had to obviously sign off on the hire.

"In the final analysis, I couldn't cut loose the Purdue family,'' Keady said.

Keady, 67, said he wasn't sure he wanted to coach more than one season and didn't want to be unfair to Hogan and leave him short of a five-year commitment.

But Keady stopped short of saying he would retire at the end of the 2004-05 season.

"I never said that,'' Keady said.

Keady said the lame-duck situation wouldn't have appealed to him. He might have just walked if he couldn't pass the baton to Painter or Bruce Weber, now the coach at Illinois.

"It would be dumb to stay here and be a lame duck,'' Keady said. "Now (Matt) can go out and recruit and I can coach the players.''

Weber said he was approached about being the apprentice to Keady two or three years ago while he was the coach at Southern Illinois. Weber was Keady's assistant at Purdue for 18 seasons before leaving for SIU for a five-year stint.

"But when they talked to me about it, coach (Keady) wasn't close to retiring,'' Weber said. "I wasn't going to do that for two or three years. If it were a one-year deal, then it was possible.''

That's exactly the scenario for Painter. One year back as an assistant is more palatable than waiting two or three years.

"The major factor will be recruiting,'' said Weber, who was Painter's boss at SIU before Painter took over for him last season when he left for Illinois. "You didn't even have to negatively recruit (against Purdue). It was just there and they were getting behind with the juniors.''

Weber said he hopes Painter and Keady would make this a smooth transition. But it could be tenuous once Painter sees that he's not the boss after serving in that role for one season at SIU. Weber said Painter played for Keady, but hasn't worked for him -- and there is a difference.

"Michigan State did this, but Tom was already on the staff and knew he would be the head coach at the end of the season,'' Weber said.

But it wasn't entirely smooth sailing once the baton was passed. Heathcote said it was easier to know Izzo would take over for him when it was announced before his final season. But then once Izzo took over, the first few seasons were a struggle.

"That's why I moved to Spokane,'' said Heathcote of moving back to his Washington roots to be closer to his daughters in Seattle. "I didn't want to be the retired coach in East Lansing. But when Tom lost a few games early to schools like Detroit and UIC, they were all over him.

"But then he got to the Sweet 16, and three straight Final Fours, and a national championship. It wasn't all peaches and cream, but it has worked out.

"Continuity is the key. You can't miss a recruiting season. There is always an adjustment when there is a coaching change. This will help with the transition (from Keady to Painter).''

Painter sacrificed a year of head coaching to get a better gig in a season. Long term it was the right move for Painter, for Purdue and ultimately for Keady to leave gracefully without his program being ruined in a lame-duck year.

The onus is on Painter to keep the Purdue tradition going strong. He has a better chance with one season on Purdue's bench then if he got the job next spring after Keady's contract runs out.

Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com. His Weekly Word on college basketball is updated Fridays throughout the year.