Monday, October 17, 2016

That guy in Kalamazoo

I know what time it is now in West Lafayette, with Darrell Hazell sent packing and Ross-Ade Stadium a massive echo chamber on Saturday afternoons.

It's time to slip the oars in the oarlocks and row, baby.

This would be a reference the young coach everyone is calling the Row the Boat guy, 36-year-old P.J. Fleck. Up in Kalamazoo, he's been busy bringing a football program back from the dead, and right now he's got the Western Michigan Broncos sitting fat and happy at 7-0. They've beaten not one but two Big Ten schools this year (Northwestern and Illinois). They've risen the way a dead football program is supposed to rise, by slow increments, fueled by a revitalized recruiting apparatus that is beating out all those schools that used to beat out it for talent.

Check out the timeline: Under Fleck, the Broncos went 1-11 their first season. Then they went 8-5. Then they went 8-5 again and won the first bowl game in the program's history. Now they're 7-0 and ranked 24th in the country.

And, yes, Purdue fans (at least the less observant ones) will observe that another MAC hotshot is the last thing the program needs, because Hazell failed so miserably. When new athletic director Mike Bobinski let him go after a 49-35 home loss to Iowa Saturday, Hazell was 9-33 in 3 1/2 seasons. That's the worst winning percentage for a Purdue football coach in 95 years.

More to the point, people have stopped caring about Purdue football. Average attendance in Ross-Ade this fall is 32,078, roughly half what the stadium holds. And of those 32,078, most are there out of inertia, not because anything is happening on the field to excite them.

Now comes people like me talking up another MAC guy. And so the reaction ("No more nobodies from the MAC") is perhaps understandable.

Of course, this ignores the nobody from the MAC who's coaching at Ohio State these days (Urban Meyer, Bowling Green). It ignores that other nobody from the MAC who's coaching at Alabama (Nick Saban, Toledo). And it ignores a couple of other nobodies from the MAC who, shall we say, went on to somewhat notable Big Ten careers (Woody Hayes and Bo Schembechler, Miami).

Couple of points here:

1. Fleck is not Hazell.

 Hazell parlayed one stellar season at Kent State with his predecessor's players into the Purdue job. Fleck has built Western into a power on his own hook. Big difference.

2. Fleck is not Hazell, Part Deux.

Unlike the understated Hazell, he's a boundless ball of energy, the guy who came up with a silly slogan ("Row the Boat") and turned it into mantra gold. Everybody in Kalamazoo is Rowing the Boat now. It, and the enthusiasm of the man who came up with it, has become infectious. And isn't that exactly what Purdue needs at the moment?

3. Les Miles is not coming to West Lafayette.

 A lot of people are talking this up, but I can't see it. Coaches who've been where Les Miles has been do not usually take steps backward, which is what going from LSU to Purdue would be. They especially don't do it when so many better jobs (Texas, Oregon, Auburn) seem destined to come open. Purdue, right now, is a cash-strapped program with limited resources that, absent Joe Tiller's 11 years, hasn't been much good since the 1970s. They weren't even all that good with, ahem, non-MAC nobodies such as one-time Texas coach Fred Akers at the wheel.

And speaking of the '70s, Miles offense comes directly from there. It's a plodding, run-heavy offense. While perhaps suitable to the Big Ten, it's not suitable to Purdue, the cradle of quarterbacks. Or so it would seem.

So there you have it. The Blob could be dead wrong about all of the above, of course. And it could especially be wrong about the guy in Kalamazoo.

All those better programs destined to come open, for instance?

Something tells me that, while some Purdue fans talk about nobodies from the MAC, those programs might not have a problem hiring this particular nobody.

Which would be the best endorsement of him yet.

No comments:

Post a Comment