- Brian Bennett, ESPN Staff Writer
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Purdue interim coach Patrick Higgins has given his players some unusual assignments before they start their bowl practices.
Higgins has asked every member of the team to answer a few questions such as: What is the most important thing in your life? What things do you want to do before you die? What do you want on your tombstone? What's your favorite animal? Players had to answer in front of the whole team, as well as make some drawings.
"At first it seemed kind of kiddie," offensive lineman Trevor Foy told ESPN.com. "But when everyone is going up there, all the players and even the coaches, it's really cool."
This may seem like an odd time of year for such get-to-know-you tactics. But it might be just what the Boilermakers need after a tumultuous few weeks.
Head coach Danny Hope was fired on Nov. 25, one day after Purdue finished a 6-6 regular season. Higgins was named the interim coach for the team's Heart of Dallas Bowl game matchup against Oklahoma State. Higgins had been the Boilers' wide receivers coach, but he took over play-calling duties for the final three games when offensive coordinator Gary Nord was sidelined by a back injury. The school tabbed Darrell Hazell as its next head coach last week, but because Hazell will coach Kent State in its bowl game, he has only briefly met with his future players.
With all of that transition, a little team bonding seems like a good idea.
"Everyone handle stress differently, so it's great to come together on common ground and get to know each other a little better," defensive end Ryan Russell told ESPN.com. "We can't control what happened to the coaches, but this is about us and about the seniors. So it's great to put the focus back on the players a little bit when the media and everybody else has been taking it out of our hands."
Purdue has already shown the ability to rally together and block out the turmoil. The Boilers were 3-6 after losing to Penn State 34-9 at home on Nov. 3, their fifth straight loss. Rumors of Hope's firing were swirling, and except for a crushing overtime defeat at Ohio State, every loss had come by at least 16 points.
This hardly looked like a bowl team at that time. Yet it won its final three games, at Iowa, at Illinois and in the finale at home against rival Indiana, to clinch a postseason bid for the second straight year.
"It was all about us, the coaches and the players," Foy said. "You can't listen to the media and fans. We had to tune all that out and realize we're here for each other. That was basically the attitude we took, from the [Penn State] game on."
Russell said the players were hopeful that winning those final three games would save Hope's job. Those who had been recruited by Hope, like Russell and Foy, were hurt when it did not.
Now they'll gear up to play for Higgins, who hadn't interacted closely with many members of the team as receivers coach. But he earned respect by serving as offensive coordinator for those final three victories.
"That really made it easy for guys to accept him," Foy said. "Coach Higgins is real positive guy. He does a good job of keeping everybody together and focused."
In a few weeks, Hazell will take over the program. He introduced himself to the players before last week's introductory news conference but has been splitting his time between coaching Kent State and recruiting for Purdue. Russell said he researched what Hazell did at Kent State and watched that news conference and came away impressed.
"He's saying all the right things and you can definitely see the determination in his eyes," Russell said. "I'm ready to start a new era, and I'm going to help battle with him. With no head coach, you kind of feel like you failed. So to have someone step in and believe in you and say he wants to be captain of the ship, that's definitely a great feeling."
Having three head coaches and two offensive coordinators in a short amount of time has taken Purdue on an emotional ride. Maybe coming together and getting to know each other a little better can make that journey more enjoyable.
Purdue interim coach Patrick Higgins has given his players some unusual assignments before they start their bowl practices.Higgins has asked every member of the team to answer a few questions such as: What is the most important thing in your life?