WEST LAFAYETTE – Did Purdue coach Danny Hope save his job?
All signs say no.
For now, in the wake of Saturday's 56-35 Old Oaken Bucket win over Indiana and a second straight bowl opportunity, nothing is sure, but uncertainty.
A four-year record of 22-27, with three non-winning regular seasons, can do that. So can speculation Purdue officials have made third-party contact with potential coaches and have raised more than $4 million for a new coach and staff.
“I'm real concerned about it,” junior cornerback Ricardo Allen said. “No matter what happened, he never wavered or slowed down. He kept going. He never lost his composure. He never came in with his head down like he was about to lose his job.”
Allen is a three-year starter from Florida who reflects Hope's SEC-country recruiting designed to upgrade team speed and athleticism.
“He's done a great job,” Allen said. “The whole team will go to bat for him. We'll try to keep him here as long as we can.”
Player support included the offensive line lifting Hope onto their shoulders after Saturday's victory and carrying him in front of the student section to sing the school fight song, “Hail Purdue.”
“That was a special moment,” Hope said. “I never had it happen before.
“There was a point in time all we had was what was in that locker room. It was us. They did a great job of locking arms and keeping the outside away. Fighting for each other.
“The rivalry is huge. The Bucket is huge. But we won for ourselves and our team. Three to four weeks ago no one believed in us. We did it for ourselves.
“I'm very proud to keep the Bucket in West Lafayette. That's where it belongs. We should put the zip code beside it and keep it there. It's about our team.”
Purdue (6-6) rallied from a seven-point halftime deficit to beat its biggest rival at Ross-Ade Stadium and set itself up for a bid to the Jan. 1 Heart of Texas Bowl in Dallas, the Dec.28 Meienke Car Care Bowl in Houston or, less likely, the Dec. 29 Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl in Phoenix, but that took second to speculation about Hope's future.
Athletic director Morgan Burke declined media requests for interviews. An announcement could come as early as today, although it might be delayed by a bowl announcement. Hope said he hasn't talked to Burke about his situation.
"I've been on the hot seat for about four years, ever since I got here," Hope said. "Sometimes when the sledding gets rough, we'll have some dialogue, but not in a while."
Quarterback Robert Marve didn't want to talk about speculation.
“I don't like to get into that stuff too much,” he said. “I'm a player. I just play.
“We had a rough season. That wasn't on him. Now we've bounced back.
“Whatever the program wants to do is whatever it wants to do. I'm behind Coach Hope 100 percent. He's been a great mentor to me.”
Hope bore the burden of replacing Joe Tiller, the winningest coach in school history. Last year the Boilers had their first winning record under Hope, going 7-6 with a win in the Little Caesar's Pizza Bowl. This season they were considered a Big Ten favorite before a five-game losing streak, including four blowout defeats, ruined those hopes.
Does Hope expect to be back?
“I don't have any idea. Either way I'll be OK. I've learned to live life on a hot seat at Purdue. Any time you have a contract that has some weak spots in it ...
“I didn't have a lot of leverage when I came here. It's not that strong of a contract from a buyout standpoint ($600,000) or compensation standpoint (a Big Ten-low $950,000 this season). Any time you have a contract like that, you can be on the hot seat on a regular basis.
“I'd love to be back next year, but I'll be fine either way.”
As far as making a second straight bowl game after a 3-6 start, Hope said, “This was a huge step for our program. To come away with back-to-back (Bucket) wins … There were a lot of great things we were able to put together.”
Hope has been under fire for much of his tenure. Attendance has plunged (Saturday's official crowd was 42,638 in a stadium that seats 62,000), and fan apathy rivals fan anger with demands for a coaching change.
“I always do my best,” he said. “I've never had any second guessing about my effort and my commitment. I've committed my life to Purdue football for the last 4.5 years. Sometimes it wasn't reciprocated from many others on the outside. My loyalty will always be to Purdue football. It's just that plain and simple.”
Who were the “others?”
“Everyone else but (the team),” Hope said. “I worked 85 to 100 hours a week, 50 weeks a year for 4.5 years trying to return this program to national prominence. We were a long ways away in many areas. What it took was elbow grease and commitment to get us back to where we are, in postseason play for back-to-back seasons and made improvements in every phase of the program.”
Purdue won its last three games, but they all came against teams (Iowa, Illinois, IU) with losing records.
Hope said he doesn't have any regrets.
“I wish we had won more games. I don't know what we could have done any different. The end result is we found a way.”
The Boilers were in trouble against IU (4-8) until a 21-0 burst in the first 11 minutes of the third quarter to take control they never lost.
Marve was 20-for-29 for 348 yards, four touchdowns and an interception. Running back Akeem Shavers had 126 yards rushing and a touchdown, plus 99 receiving yards and a touchdown.
IU quarterback Cam Coffman was 31-for-53 for 348 yards, one touchdown and three interceptions. Tailback Stephen Houston rushed for 158 yards and three TDs.
The game's beginning reflected Purdue's self-destructive season. Shavers' 71-yard touchdown run was wiped out by a holding call on the game's opening possession. IU's 51-yard TD run by Stephen Houston was penalty free. The Hoosiers led 7-0 three minutes into the game.
The Boilers came right back with a 77-yard TD drive, the last 14 on tailback Brandon Cottom's run. That tied it at 7-7 midway through the first quarter.
Marve's 8-yard TD pass to Antavian Edison capped a 59-yard drive and made it 14-7 at the end of the first quarter.
Consecutive Houston TD runs gave IU a 21-14 halftime lead. The second TD was set up by Greg Heban's 70-yard interception return off a deflected Marve pass just as the Boilers seemed poise for their own go-ahead touchdown.
The Boilers set an instant third-quarter tone. They forced a quick IU punt, then capitalized on the Hoosiers' short punt for a touchdown. The big plays were a 31-yard pass to fullback Kurt Freytag and the 19-yard TD pass to receiver O.J. Ross, who broke a couple of tackles to finish the play. That tied the score at 21-12 four minutes into the second half.
IU was driving when cornerback Frankie Williams intercepted a badly overthrown Coffman pass. Williams returned it 33 yards, then Marve hit tight end Crosby Wright with a career-long 58-yard reception to set up Rob Henry's 1-yard QB sneak to make it 28-21.
Purdue linebacker Will Lucas forced and recovered a fumble by IU tailback D'Angelo Roberts. That led to another Boiler touchdown on Henry's 25-yard screen pass to Gary Bush for a 35-21 lead.
IU came right back. Coffman's long pass to Kofi Hughes set up Coffman's QB sneak for a TD to make it 35-28. Then he hit receiver Cody Latimer for 6-yard TD pass and a 35-35 tie with 12:14 left.
Purdue botched the kickoff to get the ball on its 1-yard line, then drove 99 yards for the TD. Marve hit Shavers with a 73-yard throwback screen pass for the touchdown. Following a Coffman interception, Marve hit Shavers with a 26-yard TD pass and a 49-35 score. Shavers added a 1-yard TD run with 6:14 left to clinch the victory.
“We made great progress as a program in every phase,” Hope said. “We started off strong, had some setbacks in the middle of the year, but we finished the season very strong. Not many teams can bounce back from 3-6. Most people in our shoes don't make it in the end, but we did.”