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Purdue athletic director wants action, not words

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For more on college sports, follow Pete DiPrimio via Twitter at www.twitter.com/pdiprimio

Burke sees progress in football, basketball

Wednesday, June 18, 2014 - 11:34 am

Morgan Burke is a bottom-line guy, a big-picture athletic director focused on getting Purdue's football and basketball programs back into postseason mode.

And on a steamy late afternoon at the Fort Wayne Country Club, with more than 200 fans gathered for autographs, insight and more at the final Purdue Coaches Caravan of the off-season, he offered this assessment:

“I think we ought to keep our mouths shut and play. I think building unreasonably low or high expectations is kind of silly. We think we've made progress in both sports. We think people on Aug. 30 will see it.”

For the record, the Boilers will host Western Michigan (1-11 last year) on Aug. 30 to open Year Two of the Darrell Hazell coaching era. That's the first of four non-conference games that are far more Gold-and-Black friendly than last year's confidence destroyer. Yes, Notre Dame (9-4) is still in the picture -- on Sept. 13 at Indianapolis's Lucas Oil Stadium rather than Notre Dame Stadium -- but this time there is also Central Michigan (6-6) and Southern Illinois (7-5) at home.

Last year, Purdue opened at Cincinnati (and got hammered by a team that finished 9-4), and hosted a very strong Northern Illinois team (12-2) along with Notre Dame and Indiana State. Add a Big Ten schedule that included Big Ten champ Michigan State, Ohio State, Wisconsin and Nebraska, combined with overwhelming youth (including a true freshman starting at quarterback in Danny Etling) and you have the major reasons for the 1-11 record.

Basketball, meanwhile, suffered its second straight losing season, with a late collapse producing a last-place Big Ten finish.

There are plenty of reasons to expect a basketball renaissance -- including the impact of former Fort Wayne standouts Rapheal Davis and Bryson Scott -- as well as a football improvement.

While Morgan wasn't about to put numbers to the expectations, he did provide perspective.

“We think we've got a very capable (freshman class) coming in (for football). (Basketball coach Matt Painter) has five (freshmen) coming in.

“Last year in football 51 percent of the kids who played were first- or second-year players. That's an unusual mix, but they earned the right to play.

“Our expectations were -- we felt we were a .500 club when Darrell came. We took a dip. Now the question is, are you a .500 club? Are you better than that? Are you worse than that? We'll find out on Aug. 30.”

Hazell was hired to return the Boilers to the Big Ten-contending ways they enjoyed under coach Joe Tiller. That had slipped under former coach Danny Hope, and with it the fan support crucial to success.

While last year's struggles didn't inspire enthusiasm, Burke saw spring reasons for hope.

“I'm not bashful. I saw how well they did in the spring. I noticed thing maybe a casual fan wouldn't notice, because I'm around every day. They'd notice it if they had the same access.

“I see the level of consistency in all aspects of their lives, the willingness to do the community service, the superior performance they did on grades. We had 47 of these kids above 3.0 (grade point average) this semester. The attention to detail that Darrell preaches is starting to happen. That will manifest itself on the field down the road. I feel good about it.

“You've got three good young quarterbacks (Etling, Austin Appleby and true freshman David Blough). We're not where we've been in the past (with quarterbacks). Poor Coach Hope, every year he turned around he had a new quarterback because somebody was hurt. Rob Henry went down. Robert Marve went down.

“We have a little more returning veterans. The schedule is probably not at the same level. Clearly last year was a top-5 RPI schedule. All those things come into play.”

And then, as fans lined up for autographs and conversation, Morgan offered one last thought:

“We need to keep our mouths shut and play.”