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Morgan Burke seeks successful finish to long tenure as Purdue athletic director

Purdue athletic director Morgan Burke on football coach Darrell Hazell: "I'm pretty confident that the call we're going to have to make is to extend Darrell Hazell, not release him." Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Morgan Burke never planned on becoming Purdue's athletic director. He certainly never expected to hold that job for 23 years.

But somehow the former steel company executive became the dean of Big Ten athletic directors and one of the longest-tenured leaders in college sports. Burke announced last month that he will step down in the summer of 2017, giving the school plenty of time to find his successor.

"I’m going to pass the baton in a way that’s good for Purdue," Burke told ESPN.com. "I don’t have a big ego in this thing. I'm going to do what’s right for the university, because I want to go back into the stands. That's where I came from."

Before he rides into the sunset, however, Burke might have one more major issue to deal with: the state of the football program.

Head coach Darrell Hazell is just 6-30 after three seasons, including a 2-22 Big Ten record. A critical fourth season awaits, and if things don't improve, Purdue might not have the luxury of waiting for the next athletic director to make a change. That could create an awkward situation where Burke has to hire a new coach on his way out the door.

Burke acknowledges that the lack of success in football "has put an awful lot of pressure" on the entire athletic department. But he remains confident that good times are around the bend.

"I think it's going to turn," he said. "We have 36 kids back out of the 44 who were on the two-deep last year, and most of them were in their first or second year of eligibility. The culture of this team internally has really shifted.

"It will be kind of fun to see whether I’m right or if some of the pundits are right, but I’m confident in Darrell."

Burke pointed to Duke, where David Cutcliffe endured four straight losing seasons before turning things around. Of course, the Blue Devils were in much more dire straits before Cutcliffe arrived than Purdue was before Hazell; Burke fired coach Danny Hope following a 6-6 season in 2012.

Hope had been the handpicked coach-in-waiting under Joe Tiller, much like Matt Painter was identified early to succeed Gene Keady in men's basketball. With so much time until Burke steps down, a similar situation could develop for the athletic director's job. And if that's the case, Burke might not be alone in making the call on the football coaching situation.

"I’m big on succession plans," Burke said. "If we could get somebody in early, that person certainly could take the lever and I'd be there to support them in any way I can. The good news is, I think our president, our board of trustees chairman -- who played football here -- and I are all in tune with were the program is right now.

"But I'm pretty confident that the call we're going to have to make is to extend Darrell Hazell, not release him."

The recent problems in football are just a part of Burke's tenure, which began on Jan. 1, 1993. He said Purdue had "a substandard facility issue" when he took over the job. During his time, the school has done renovations to both Mackey Arena and Ross-Ade Stadium, as well as building a pool, a tennis facility and a golf complex, among many other upgrades.

"The next person coming in is not going to have [the] same burden," he said. "They won't have to remake the entire physical base."

Burke has also witnessed several sea changes in college sports, including massive conference realignment and the explosion of both revenue and media. Some things trouble him, like what he calls the overemphasis of youth sports and the escalating salaries of coaches and administrators.

"I’m a marketplace guy," he said, "but the compensation is out of control. It's creating some interesting reverberations with the faculty, with donors, with other colleagues on campus. People are entitled to get what the market bears, but at what point does that disparity get so large that it becomes a dysfunctional situation?"

Those are issues that Burke's successor will likely have to tackle. Burke plans on teaching at the Purdue business school and cheering on the Boilermakers from the grandstands after next summer. And if someone else needs him, like perhaps the new athletic director or maybe even the College Football Playoff selection committee? Well, he has been unexpectedly drafted into service before.

"If I thought I could add some value to any of those things, I would be happy to do it," he said. "I'm not going to just go sit on a porch somewhere."