The Bucket stays. Danny Hope will not.
A day after his Purdue Boilermakers whipped Indiana 56-35 to keep the Old Oaken Bucket in West Lafayette and secure a sixth win and second straight bowl berth, Hope was fired Sunday as Purdue’s head football coach. A 22-27 record in four seasons as Joe Tiller’s successor at Purdue, plus a 6-6 record and 3-5 Big Ten finish this fall for a veteran team that was expected to contend for the top spot in the Leaders Division, was deemed insufficient by the Purdue administration.
Patrick Higgins, the team’s wide receivers coach, will serve as interim coach in whatever bowl game Purdue plays. Athletic director Morgan Burke said in a teleconference Sunday evening he expects to know where that will be by next weekend.
“This is a great opportunity for this football team to carry on the work that Coach Hope started four years ago, and also to give these seniors the experience they deserve,” Higgins said Sunday.
As for Hope, he leaves with a $600,000 buyout after coming to Purdue from Eastern Kentucky in 2008 as Tiller’s successor-in-waiting. His best season in West Lafayette was 2011, when Purdue went 7-6 and beat Western Michigan in the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl. He was given a given a two-year contract extension in December that runs through the 2016 season.
“Danny Hope is a good man who did a good job for Purdue. I never questioned his character and his work ethic,” Burke said Sunday. “I have a lot of respect for Danny Hope. When you make a decision like this, it’s gut-wrenching.”
But dwindling attendance combined with a lack of headway on the field was apparently the deal-breaker.
That seemed especially apparent this fall, when Purdue lost its first five Big Ten games and was outscored 189-86 in those losses. Consecutive victories over weak Iowa, Illinois and Indiana teams to end the season proved too little, too late for Hope, whose team led top-ranked and unbeaten Notre Dame late in a 20-17 defeat in September and pushed unbeaten Ohio State to overtime in Columbus in October, but otherwise showed little of its expected promise.
That was reflected in the empty seats that began showing up in increasing numbers as the season wore on. Burke said Sunday that since Hope took over from Tiller in 2009, Purdue had lost “a third of the fan base,” with paid attendance sliding from 54,000 in 2007-08 to right around 37,000 this season.
“We can’t do what we need to do resourcewise with losing a third of our fan base,” he said. “This is a consumer-driven organization. If you lose roughly $3 million in revenue opportunities, it’s a big deal. I think Danny was making inroads in that area, but unfortunately he didn’t win enough.”
Burke placed no timeline Sunday on just when that change will come, saying only that he expected Purdue to launch a “nationwide search” for a coach with an offensive philosophy that would fit “Quarterback U.,” and that the school would put together a competitive monetary package. He said he expects to lean heavily on Colts general manager Ryan Grigson, Houston Texas GM Rick Smith and former Colts GM Bill Polian for input.
“I make no bones about it: We want to go back to Pasadena. That’s what it’s all about,” he said. “We know in the Big Ten and know nationally what you have to do to compete. And we’re prepared to do that.”