Leon Burtnett was hard-nosed on the field, but likable off of it...and while he might be a football genius, he's far from a clinical genius. He was a bit of a nutty professor, if nothing else. His "junk defense" earned him the job in the wake of Jim Young's premature departure...And while he had limited success in the form of a bowl game and one really exciting team under his watch at Purdue, his 21-34-1 record as Purdue's head football coach was nothing to write home about.
Fred Akers was a bit of a splash, as a hire. But, the former UT coach had just come off of his worst season at Texas, when hired by Purdue. He won a ton of games at UT; was 60-19-1 while in Austin...but the cloud of NCAA violations and the subsequent final, lousy season did him in. He had a Texas drawl and swagger to match, and his team also had that swagger. Black unis from head-to-toe is what many Purdue fans remember about Akers' thumbprint on the program...I remember a bunch of blackeyes on the program...problems off the field and a dismall 12-31-1 record.
After Akers, Purdue wanted to clean the program up, so they hired a long-time OL coach, and former aOSU OC, Jim Colletto. Aker's swagger was gone and a lunchpail mentality entered the program...but football simply wasn't much fun during this era. Purdue gave Colletto a ton of time to implement his plan, install his run-first offense. Purdue had some NFL talent pass through the program during Colletto's years- mostly in the trenches on either side of the ball...but his most noteworthy player, of course, was Mike Alstott. There wasn't a QB that stood out during Colletto's era...and I think many Purdue fans struggled with that as much as the losing. But as a student during that time, I struggled with his whining. Colletto's post-game comments were nearly as maddening as what happened on the field as he'd constantly complain about guys lining up incorrectly as the culprit for that week's loss. Oh yeah, he also had two ties in one season...and one of those, versus Iowa I believe, could have easily ended in victory for Purdue...but helped Colletto to his one non-losing season; a 5-4-2 season. Nice. Colletto's teams were forgettable, but his 38-80-4 record is tough to expunge from my memory.
The brightest days of my life as a Purdue fan...by A LOT...were those in which Joe Tiller was the head coach. Tiller wasn't the first choice for Burke, but he was the right fit and the right guy for the job. He did more with less, in less time than any coach in the modern era of college football. He took a bunch of players that didn't believe they could win and made them a bowl team year after year after year... Tiller was funny and a bit cagey. He gave great answers to questions, but sometimes seemed to hate talking to people...and in his last few seasons at Purdue, he seemed to dislike a lot about the job. Sadly, a brilliant run from '97 to '04 is a bit tarnished due to the last four seasons of his time at Purdue. Purdue went from a team that could beat anybody to a team that could only beat bad or mediocre teams. The offense that Tiller brought to the Big Ten, that really turned the conference on its ear had become ho-hum...and while Purdue lit up scoreboards v. MAC opponents and IU, they were no longer competitive against ranked foes. All of that said, many of Tiller's seasons felt magical...especially for someone like me who only really remembered one winning season before Tiller's hire.
But, I wasn't excited about Tiller being hired until I met him in person. When I was an RA at Tarkington Hall, Tiller came to talk to the boys of Tark in the Spring of '97. Someone asked Tiller about the importance of getting the team prepared to play and possibly beat Notre Dame the next fall. He responded, "I'll have to check if the guys have to squat when they pee, if they're not up for that one." As I said, the guy was funny, and even when he wasn't answering questions directly, he was entertaining.
Tiller was 87-62 at Purdue...and is Purdue's winningest head coach after taking the record from "Fat" Jack Mollenkopf.
Next up, of course, is Danny Hope. I'm not going to talk about his era too much because we've done that waaaaaaaaaay too much on this site the past few years. But one thing I will share is an account from a friend of mine- He says that back when Hope was on Tiller's staff, he'd see him pacing the halls around/in Mollenkopf. He said he'd always kind of be muttering something under his breath and always looked a bit crazed...and continued that when you saw him coming, you'd make sure to get out of his way because he was always moving at a fast pace and seemed frantic (kinda like his offenses at the end of close games).
Details and order clearly weren't Hope's highest priority...and his teams showed it. Costly penalties, bad decisions in crunch time and teams that looked ill-prepared became the norm during his four seasons at Purdue. His 22-27 record, a winning percentage of .375 isn't as bad as a few other coaches on this list, but that sure as hell doesn't make it good...especially when you taken into account the fact that unlike Burtnett, Akers and Colletto, he had a D-IAA each season to help nudge that record up.
Morgan Burke made an awful hire when he chose to listen to Tiller and hire Danny Hope; we've talked about that a few times too. That hire had the potential to burn down much of what Burke had built as Purdue's AD. Purdue's athletic department was simply hemorrhaging money during home game Saturdays the last few years. Ticket sales were way down and morale was as well...But in what might be Burke's last big hire as AD, he got it right when he listened to a committee who told him to pick Darrell Hazell.
Before the Hazell hire, Burke looked like he was chasing Butch Jones...after Jones removed himself from consideration, it looked like Purdue might be in trouble. After the Hazell hire and Jones' theatrics while flirting with other schools, it was clear that Purdue had the right guy.
If you've ever met a CEO of a big company who's really good at their job, you've probably witnessed what I have- you can tell within a few seconds that this guy demands respect...and you want to follow him. This is Darrell Hazell.
While CEO types are comfortable and effective in front of large rooms, the greats are extremely engaging in one-on-one situations as well...Purdue football's CEO has this skill. While Tiller as a good communicator, Hazell has been succinct and crystal clear in his belief that Purdue will win with the parts that are in place, will alter schemes and plans to use the talent they have and will do things the right way the first time.
A great CEO gives off confidence that he can do any job within the company...but allows his people to go out and do what they were hired to do. Haze is already done this with his recruiting strategy by allowing players and coaches to be accessible to the media.
One thing that all good CEOs do is yield results. There are only a few that we can see at this point- he shored up the recruiting class last Spring, has helped raise money for the athletic department and has helped season ticket sales go up a bit. BUT, his success as coach and CEO will be measured by his wins and the manner by which he wins at Purdue. In this case of course, the verdict is still out.
J and I will discuss this in the next few months, but we have a disagreement on just how much success Hazell will have in his first season at Purdue. But we are unified in our belief that he will prove to be a great hire for our fair Alma Mater, regardless with whom he's being compared.