By CLIFF BRUNT
Now that Morgan Burke has hired Darrell Hazell as Purdue’s new football coach, the pressure is on Morgan Burke.
By all indications, this is an excellent hire. Hazell was a top assistant under Jim Tressel at Ohio State, then he went on to become head coach at Kent State. He has the Golden Flashes ranked No. 25 nationally heading into the GoDaddy.com Bowl Jan. 6 against Arkansas State. They just missed a BCS bowl.
He seems to have it all. He’s been a successful head coach, he’s familiar with the Big Ten and he’s been around championship-caliber teams and coaches for years. He’s 48 years old, so he’s been around long enough to know something, but he’s not too old to adjust and learn new things. He could be around for a long, long time. Purdue has got some buzz going. It’s a great start.
There’s one more thing I’ll address.
Because I’m black and I haven’t seen a head coach who looks anything like me since I started covering the Big Ten in 2005 (there hasn’t been one in the conference since 2002), my antenna is up. Hazell is Purdue’s first black head coach in football or basketball. Fair or not, people are watching.
Not just Hazell. You, Morgan Burke. They’re watching to see if you get this right.
Time after time, I’ve seen black men get head coaching jobs at the BCS level but be given little chance to really succeed. We’ve seen intelligent, capable black men like Tony Samuel (a former Purdue assistant) settle for dead end jobs and never get elevated to a degree that matches his ability. We’ve seen guys like Tyrone Willingham get the best of jobs at Notre Dame, only to be fired and watch his successor get treated better. Most have ended up at smaller schools with limited support while the top jobs have gone to white coaches.
There has been improvement in that regard the past few years. I’m glad to see former Boilermaker Kevin Sumlin doing well at Texas A&M. I see him as the perfect example of hiring a black coach being done right. He’s been hired at a top-tier school, treated like a top-tier coach and he’s getting top-tier results. Stanford coach David Shaw has gotten the same. Charlie Strong at Louisville is a prospect and seems destined to someday coach at a traditional power.
The key to Sumlin, Shaw and Strong’s success (that’s a lot of S names) is that their schools are clearly behind them. They have what they need. Turns out, with equal opportunity and support, black coaches can win at the highest level.
With that being said, Morgan Burke, please give the brother a chance. Don’t just make the hire, put him in position to win.
And I’m not saying this just because he’s black. I’m saying this because Danny Hope hit the athletic department with a haymaker on his way out the door that leaves me worried. Remember this stunner during Hope’s final Tuesday presser?
“Well, I think you take any facility that’s football related and you look at it that’s not an A+, then you make it an A+, and we have some facilities here that are A+. Our indoor facility is an A+. Our new practice fields are outstanding. There’s some other areas, I won’t earmark them now, but there’s other areas of our program from a facilities standpoint that are not an A+ yet. There’s still some below average and they’re not sufficient enough. Obviously from a compensation standpoint we’re way behind from assistant coaches’ salaries. We’re probably $300,000 or $400,000 behind pool-wise next to last. We’re 12th in the Big Ten, hundreds of thousands of dollars, $300,000 or $400,000, and that really affects the program in a lot of ways. I feel like it had an adverse effect on Coach Tiller’s regime at the end. He wasn’t able to retain a lot of his top coaches. He’s a Hall of Fame football coach, and in the end he had some struggles maintaining the program at the level he would have liked to, and I think the fact that he couldn’t retain top coaches was a major factor in that. But it’s huge in the hiring process. You minimize or you limit the pool, the pool size. It’s difficult to hire coordinators when the assistant coaches don’t pay very much, are your assistant coaches going to stay or do they want to have to train people on an annual basis as coaches move in and out of the program. You can look and see where we’re at, and I’ve got files of information to show guys where we’re at. We’re a long ways away.”
Hope’s comments fall right at Burke’s feet. No matter who you hire, you have to support him with facilities and dollars to pay his assistants. Say what you want about Hope, but what he said that day was refreshingly honest and revealed real problems. Upgrades are needed. Cash is needed to pay the staff.
Burke told me this summer he’s already thinking about putting capstones at the end of his career. If he does this right, he cements his legacy. He already gets credit for Joe Tiller, Matt Painter and Sharon Versyp. He loses some points for Hope, though Hope had some major hills to climb.
This choice, though, is special. Bottom line? Morgan Burke, this is probably the last major coaching hire you’ll make, and your commitment level will determine whether it’s a good one or not. You have a chance not only to rescue Purdue football, but to be remembered for having vision and taking a risk that others in the Big Ten haven’t been willing to take in a decade.
For your sake, for Purdue’s sake and for all the brothers trying to get jobs down the road, Do the Right Thing. Help a brother out.
Follow Cliff Brunt on Twitter: www.twitter.com/cliffbrunt_isl.