The Boilers opened the season talking Rose Bowl. They're ending it as one of the nation's biggest underachievers. They're 0-5 in the Big Ten with four blowout losses (including one to lowly Minnesota) and one choke job to Ohio State. Yahoo! Sports columnist Pat Forde has Hope as one of five coaching “goners” by the end of the season.
Athletic director Morgan Burke has been silent except to release a statement that said, in essence, let's see how the season plays out.
As for explaining Purdue's collapse, Hope said, “It's baffling in some ways, but I think it's a combination of a lot of things. A lot of it might be poor management on my part. What they can handle and what I think they can handle might not be the same thing at times.”
Injuries to key players such as defensive tackle Kawann Short, defensive linemen Bruce Gaston and Ryan Russell, cornerback Ricardo Allen, receiver O.J. Ross and return specialist Raheem Mostert have contributed to the problem.
"I think a lot of it has to do with where we're at from a physicality standpoint," Hope said. "We've had a lot of guys that have been banged up, and their level of performance has dropped off.”
Hope is a straight shooter and a player's coach. He makes his points in practice and meetings, not with sideline tirades.
“If we're not successful in our performance on game day, I'm the one who ought to be ripped,” he said. “I'm the one who trained them.”
In fact, Hope is getting ripped, mostly by unhappy fans, who use Twitter, message boards and his weekly radio show to vent venom.
"Obviously the fans have a reason to be disappointed — we're very, very disappointed — but I don't let someone who demonstrates himself in a small way set me back a whole lot," Hope said. "Certainly, I wouldn't let someone that has that small character take my happiness away, I assure you that. It wouldn't be worth it, so it would be beneath me."
Still, angry fans can affect a team's performance.
“You lose and you lose ugly, and then the fans turn on you and doubt creeps in a little bit,” Hope said. “Then maybe a guy doesn't play as well, and a few guys get injured and pretty soon you're not as good as you should be.
“It's hard to hold all that together. Then the competition picks up and you get more guys injured, you lose some more and things become tough.”
The players aren't immune to public criticism, although quarterback Robert Marve said it's irrelevant.
“I truly don't care. I play as hard as I can. That's all I can do. I have fun playing the game. It doesn't bother me. It shouldn't bother the team.”
In case it does, Hope had addressed it with the players.
“A lot of people who are judgmental to the players are people who never really have enough substance to come close to accomplishing what the players have in their athletic lives,” he said. “Consider the source. That's the message we send to our team. We want to focus on winning and having a successful season and being winners. It's hard to focus on that if you're focused on losers on the outside looking in.”
This is, by far, Hope's most talented team. But did he, and all the experts, over-estimate that talent?
Hope said compared to traditional Big Ten powers, Purdue is “always going to be challenged from a talent standpoint,” which is true, but not so much this season, when the conference is the weakest it's been in memory.
Still, Hope said that, “At any point in time, a very talented Purdue football team may or may not be as talented as a very talented Ohio State football team, a very talented Michigan football team may be or a very talented Wisconsin or Penn State football team, and that's who we've been playing as of late."
Perhaps, but the bottom line is, there is no buzz around the program. Enthusiasm is reserved for Matt Painter's basketball team, which even with a youthful squad figures to deliver a strong Big Ten showing and make yet another NCAA tourney appearance.
Last Saturday's announced crowd for the Penn State game of 40,098 was just over half that if you're counting actual bodies, which you can bet athletic director Morgan Burke is. He's a smart guy. Football drives the athletic department and when you can't come close to filling a 60,000-seat stadium, that's a major problem even if you were 6-3 instead of 3-6.
Hope is a good guy, a passionate guy, a guy who loves the sport and Purdue. His recruiting emphasis on speed, which means hitting SEC country hard, is exactly the right approach.
But in the end, coaches have to win. Hope's four-year record is 19-27 with three losing seasons. That was not what anyone expected when Hope was hired to replace Joe Tiller, the winningest coach in school history.
Like we said, don't expect a happy ending.