By CLIFF BRUNT
Darrell Hazell, perhaps without even realizing it, said a mouthful on Big Ten Media Day Wednesday in Chicago.
Purdue’s first-year coach was asked about the quarterback situation. Here is his reply:
“We have a nice quarterback battle going on. We have a senior in Rob Henry, and Danny Etling, a true freshman that came in. Competed extremely hard. A third guy that can get himself back in the mix with Austin Appleby. But we’ll give them equal reps. One guy will run with the ones in one group, in one drill, and the next drill the other guy will run with the ones. And in about two weeks after we start practice, we’ll make a decision and have that guy have ownership of our football team going into our first game.”
Here is Part A about what stands out: “And in about two weeks after we start practice, we’ll make a decision and have that guy have ownership of our football team going into our first game.”
(continued below the video)
Spring game highlights from Big Ten Network:
Therein lies a major difference between this era and the Danny Hope era — Hazell wants a definite starter. He wants stability. No uncertainty. No musical chairs. No wondering who will be on the field on the next possession, no buzz in the press box when one of the guys starts warming up. No wondering if the guy who threw the last interception will ever be seen or heard from again.
One guy, with ownership of the football team heading into the opener.
This is quite a shift. In Hope’s defense, injuries played a major role in his decisions over the past few years. But so did indecision at times and stubbornness at others, to the point in which the whole situation stifled his team’s progress.
Hazell not only needs to give his starter ownership, he has to make sure that person appreciates it. Robert Marve seemingly “owned” last year’s team from the start, but Hope gave the reins to Caleb TerBush. TerBush inexplicably got himself suspended for the opener and Marve played lights out in his place, but Hope gave the starting job right back to TerBush, the kind of move that can alienate a team. Hope even went back and forth against Notre Dame when Marve was playing better. By the time Hope finally went with Marve as the full-time starter, the season was essentially over and so was Hope’s career at Purdue.
The other notable thing about Hazell’s comments was his transparency about the decision-making process. It was sometimes hard to tell exactly how Hope made his choices. He seemed to prefer it that way, something that bugged the fanbase.
So, very quickly, we get two central themes from Hazell — he values clear leadership and transparency. Either Hazell is aware of the way similar situations were handled in the past, or he’s just a completely different guy than Hope.
With all that in mind, Hazell has to handle this situation with care.
Remember, Henry started seven games in 2010 in place of the injured Marve. In his first start, he led Purdue to a road win against a ranked Northwestern squad. He passed for 996 yards and ran for 547. He threw for 252 yards and three touchdowns against Indiana. He was voted a captain by his teammates in 2011 and entered the season as the starter before tearing the ACL in his right knee a week before the season opener.
Last season, Henry played sparingly, passing for 216 yards and running for 74. Though he played little, the respect for him remained.
Considering Henry’s experience, athletic ability and love from his teammates, it is impressive that the freshmen are even in the mix. For one of them to be the starter, it needs to be clear that he gives the team its best chance to win. In the spring game, Henry went 6 for 9 for 75 yards, with an 8-yard touchdown strike to sophomore Shane Mikesky. Etling was 5 for 7 for 54 yards with one interception. Appleby struggled. ISL’s Craig Dragash covered the spring game and said Henry looked like the clear starter. Something major will probably need to happen for Etling to take over. Hopefully, for Henry’s sake, not an injury.
One thing is certain — at least we’ll know what’s going on.