Hope or change?
That appears to be the decision for Purdue athletic director Morgan Burke, and evidence seems to be pointing to the latter. The Boilermakers have lost five straight games, four of them in blowout fashion, to drop head coach Danny Hope's career record to 19-27. One published report has said Burke has already put out back-channel feelers to potential replacements for Hope.
Asked about that on Tuesday's Big Ten coaches' teleconference, Hope said, "That's news to me." But he understands that the temperature is reaching boiling temperatures under his seat.
Hope said he will block out the criticisms and continue to concentrate on coaching the Boilers (3-6, 0-5 Big Ten), who can still go to a bowl game if they win their final three games, starting this week at Iowa.
"I'm not going to let a disgruntled fan or any one person take my spirit away or take away from what it is that we're here to do, and that's to coach football and have fun and to win," Hope said at his weekly news conference. "Obviously, the fans have a reason to be disappointed. We're very, very disappointed. But I don't let someone that demonstrates themselves in a small way set me back a whole lot, if you will. I certainly wouldn't let someone that has small character take my happiness away."
One big question remains: How did this happen? This was supposed to be Hope's best team in West Lafayette, and Purdue started off well, going 3-1 and playing Notre Dame to the wire on the road. Then things collapsed with blowout losses at home to Michigan and Wisconsin. The Boilers nearly upset Ohio State on the road but blew a late lead to lose in overtime. The last two games have brought double-digit losses to Minnesota and Penn State. Hope called it "surprising and baffling" but offered some reasons why the team has failed to perform."
"I think a lot of it has to do with where we're at from a physicality standpoint," he said. "We've had a lot of guys that have been banged up, and their level of performance has dropped off.
"I think Ryan Russell is a great defensive end, and I think when the season started off, he may have been one of the best defensive ends in the Big Ten potentially. ... He's had some injuries, and he has sucked it up and played injured on Saturdays, and we appreciate that effort, but he hasn't been as effective as he was earlier in the season. The same is true with Bruce Gaston and the same is true with Kawann Short and the same is true with Ricardo Allen, and O.J. Ross has been out of the equation and Raheem Mostert has been out of the equation, and those are our very best players."
Hope said some of the negativity also started to snowball for his team.
"You lose and you lose ugly, and then the fans turn on you in some ways and then doubt creeps in it a little bit," he said. "And maybe a guy doesn't play as well and then a few guys get injured and pretty soon you're not as good as you should be or as good as you were.
"It's hard to kind of hold all that together. And then the competition picks up and you get more guys injured and you lose some more and things become tough around you. "
But Hope isn't deflecting blame and says that "if we're not successful, then ... I'm the one that ought to be ripped. I'm the one that trained them."
Purdue fans are doing plenty of ripping on their head coach these days. It's up to Burke to decide whether Hope or change is the best course of action going forward.