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Purdue fires Hope; Higgins to coach bowl game

The Purdue football program is moving in a new direction.

WBAA’s Sam Klemet reports on the firing of the Boilermakers’ head coach.

Following Purdue’s win Saturday over rival Indiana, Danny Hope said he had no regrets about his time coaching the Boilermakers except...

"the fact that we didn't win more games," he said.  "I don't know what I would have done any different.  In the end we found a way and that's what matters."

Hope and his team found a way to win three straight games, retain the Old Oaken Bucket, and earn a bowl berth for the second straight year.

But, in the end it didn’t matter enough.

Yesterday, Purdue Athletics Director Morgan Burke announced Hope’s firing after four years in West Lafayette.

"We came into the year feeling that we would be an improved football team and I think that we were.  We said we wanted to reduce the variability of our play so that we were more consistent against all teams in the league and that we wanted to move up a rung on the ladder," said Burke. 

"We clearly did not do that."

Hope was hired to replace Joe Tiller, Purdue’s all-time winningest coach.

Throughout his tenure, Hope’s teams battled injuries to key players, but coming into this season, the Boilermakers were mostly healthy and loaded with veteran experience which led to expectations of a possible trip to the Big Ten Championship game.

The lights dimmed on those goals after an 0-5 start in the conference season, including three blowout losses at home to Michigan, Wisconsin, and Penn State, and that ultimately led to Burke’s decision to switch directions.

"Danny didn't have a lot of luck.  The injury bug that hit him with all the ACL's and the like and then having to take a program that started to dip and bring it back out, (that's) not easy," said Burke.  "The attendance started to fall off when Joe (Tiller) was here.  It's not Danny's making, but we haven't excited the fan base."

And an unexcited fan base means less money for one of the University’s top revenue generators.  Burke points to the empty seats at Ross-Ade Stadium week after week as one of the reasons he chose to let Hope go.

"This is a consumer driven organization. We are self-supporting. If you lose roughly $3-million a year in revenue opportunities, it's a big deal," Burke said.  "I quite frankly think Danny was making end roads, but we didn't win enough games."

Hope went 22-27 while manning the Boilermakers’ sidelines and was just 13-19 in conference games. 

But, despite his losing record, players such as quarterback Robert Marve and defensive tackle Kawann Short believed the program was moving in the right director under his leadership.

"I know personally I wouldn't be in the position I am in without coach Hope.  I couldn't have come back from my ACL." said Marve.  "He's given me so many opportunities bouncing back, so I think he is a heck of a guy."

"Each year we got better," said Short,  "not saying with the wins, or whatever, but, on and off the field, individual guys doing a lot of things for the program, period.

And to some extent Burke, agrees.

"Announcements like this are not happy announcement," he said. "I take some personal responsibility for the changes we made four-and-a-half years ago and I don't feel bad about it.  I think that under coach Hope's leadership we did make improvements on every phase of the program."

But, Burke and many Purdue fans needed more tangible signs of success – wins.  And back-to-back six loss seasons didn’t reflect the type of progress needed in West Lafayette.

Hope will receive a $600,000 buyout from his contract that runs through 2016.  He also will receive a bonus for getting Purdue to a bowl.  How much that is won’t be known until the Boilermakers find out where they will play which should happen within the week.

Wherever they go, wide receivers coach Patrick Higgins will serve as interim coach and offensive coordinator Gary Nord will be a senior advisor.

Higgins says his top priority is to keep his team focused over the next several weeks and end the year as winners.

"This is a great opportunity for this football team to carry on the work that coach Hope started here four years ago," he said. "So, we want to make sure that we can do everything possible that their experience is memorable and also life lesson for them to learn how to handle difficulties. And, that is our main focus for the next month."

The search for Hope’s permanent replacement will span across the country.  Burke says having previous connections to Purdue will be a tie-breaker but not a prerequisite as long as the hire re-energizes the Purdue fan base and puts the team in a position to return to the Rose Bowl.

"I make no bones about it.  We want to go back to Pasadena," he said.  "That's what it's about, so, we've got to put ourselves in a position to do that."

There is no timeline for when Purdue will hire its next football coach. Burke says President-elect Mitch Daniels likely will not have an active role in the process, but acting-President Tim Sands will.