WEST LAFAYETTE -- Purdue interim head football coach Patrick Higgins jokes about his uncertain future. He has a job -- for now. He has a Heart of Dallas Bowl responsibility that ends Jan. 1.
After that, nobody knows.
So how do you balance team preparation with, well …
“It's a job hunt, right?” he says. “It's OK. You can say it. We've all been through it before. Many are going through it right now.”
Higgins was the receivers coach under Danny Hope. When Hope was fired in late November, the staff was maintained to get the Boilers (6-6) ready to face Oklahoma State (7-5) at Dallas' historic Cotton Bowl.
New coach Darrell Hazell is interviewing for a new staff. He's looking at his Kent State assistant coaches, as well as current Boiler assistants and others across the country. Hazell has more than $2 million to spend on assistant salaries, and the goal is to spend well and get the best staff possible.
Higgins and the rest of the current assistants can't control that, but they can control their approach.
“We've got a bunch of guys on this staff who are professionals,” he says. “They've done it a long time. They realize how to segment.
“What it boils down to is we're in it for the kids. We want these kids to have the best bowl experience possible. The Good Lord will take us where He takes us. We'll all land somewhere, as we have in the past.
“This is a once in a lifetime experience to play in the Cotton Bowl. It's unique venue. We'll get to go to Dallas and enjoy the time there. We want to make it the best experience for them, get them ready to play, put on a good showing on New Year's Day, which we expect to do.”
Purdue hasn't played since beating Indiana on Nov. 24. The 38-day layoff provides plenty of time to fine tune the game plan, and, perhaps, add a few unexpected wrinkles.
“Of course, we'll have a few surprises,” Higgins says with a smile. “You've got to. Heck, maybe a trick play ever other play.”
Still, Purdue figures to go with much of what worked to win its final three regular season games.
“The more wrinkles you add, the more you take away from what you do best,” Higgins says. “You might put in a wrinkle here or there, but you stay true to what you do well. The more time you take away from practicing what you do well, that becomes what you don't do well.”
And yet, this is, in many ways, a nothing-to-lose opportunity.
“You can do a little more because the risk-reward factor is not as great as it is in the regular season,” Higgins says. “We'll try to do some things new, but still stay true to what got us here. It's based on execution and not turning the ball over.”
What got the Boilers to Dallas, Higgins adds, was better execution.
“We tried to develop a running game and put people in the best position to succeed. Be very efficient in the passing game.
“I know we were much more efficient in those last three games. The look of things was crisper and better organized. That's what the feel was. That's the general consensus. We'll continue on that course.”
As for the long lay off, Higgins says the key is to approach it like running a marathon rather than a sprint.
“You start training slow, get to your peak, then taper off. That gets you ready for the game.
“We want them eager to play. We don't want to lose the game (in practice). We want them sharp and crisp, having fun and being focused, so when they get to the game, it's like, 'Man, I can't wait to hit somebody,' rather than, 'We've been banging so hard in practice, I just want to get through this and go home.'”