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Sure, Purdue could try to hire Les Miles. Or they could do what’s actually worked for them before

Hiring creative outsiders can work at Purdue. Hiring coaches who’ll play traditional Big Ten football hasn’t.

AdvoCare V100 Texas Bowl - LSU v Texas Tech Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images

In 1986, Texas fired head coach Fred Akers. Eleven days later, Purdue snatched him up.

Akers had to replace a legend in Austin — three-time title winner Darrell K. Royal — and pulled off four top-10 finishes in his first seven years there. In early 1984, his eighth year, Texas reached No. 1 following a stomping of No. 4 Penn State. The Longhorns remained unbeaten into November but lost four of their last five. Texas went 14-14 over his final 28 games before his firing.

The Boilermakers chose him over former Purdue and eventual Ohio State offensive coordinator Jim Colletto. Former Maryland head coach Bobby Ross had withdrawn his name from consideration, saying he didn't want to take on a long-term rebuild. (He went to Georgia Tech, where he won a national title in 1990.)

It didn't go well. Akers found recruiting more difficult in West Lafayette and couldn't find creative answers to make up the difference. He inherited a program that had averaged four wins over the previous six seasons, and he averaged three. He was let go following a 2-9 1990 and replaced by ... Colletto, who averaged 3.3 wins per year.

Purdue has been wrecked by a lack of creativity and vision for years.

You can maybe blame Jack Mollenkopf, an assistant who was promoted to head coach in 1956, for that. Purdue has 10 top-15 finishes all-time, and he was responsible for five of them. He recruited stars like Bob Griese, Leroy Keyes, and Mike Phipps, and won a lot of games.

Since he retired, Purdue has been stuck in a loop, mostly choosing head coaches from three buckets: former Purdue assistant, former Ohio State assistant, or failing/failed head coach.

  • Mollenkopf assistant Bob DeMoss succeeded him but went 13-18 in three years.
  • Alex Agase replaced DeMoss after nine years at Northwestern, where he went 32-58-1. He went 18-25-1 in West Lafayette.
  • Jim Young replaced Agase after four years as Arizona's head coach. He’d been a rousing success for three years (26-7) but had fallen to 5-6 the year before his hire. He had three excellent years at Purdue but fell to 5-6 in his fifth season and resigned.
  • Leon Burtnett, Young's defensive coordinator, succeeded him and won 21 games in five years, setting a messy table for Akers.

The trend has continued since Joe Tiller's 2008 retirement. Purdue hired former Tiller offensive line coach Danny Hope, who had averaged seven wins per year at Eastern Kentucky.

Then, determining that Hope's 5.5 wins per season were insufficient, the Boilermakers hired former Ohio State associate head coach Darrell Hazell after a single good season at Kent State.

Purdue v Michigan State
Darrell Hazell won just nine games in West Lafayette.
Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Hazell was let go on Sunday after going 9-33 (3-24 in Big Ten play) over three and a half seasons. He wasn’t given much of a hiring budget, he made uninspiring hires, and his recruiting was drastically substandard.

When Hazell was hired in 2013, I expressed concern about his upside. The bright spots on his résumé were colored by either luck (Kent State had a lot of it during its 11-win 2012 campaign) or Ohio State’s resources, which he wasn't going to have in West Lafayette. It was the safest possible hire, and it failed.

You can’t play it safe at Purdue. You have to take a risk.

Since Mollenkopf, Purdue has made two good hires in nine tries. Even acknowledging how much of a crapshoot hiring a head coach is, that’s a dreadful success rate.

It is perhaps telling that the two good hires had the fewest ties to either Purdue or the Big Ten.

Young served as Bo Schembechler’s first Michigan defensive coordinator for four years, so he was pretty B1G, but his four years at Arizona, then a mid-major, had included dramatic offense. His 1975 squad ranked ninth in the nation in scoring and featured one of the country’s best passing games.

Illinois Fighting Illini v Purdue Boilermakers
Joe Tiller was drastically more successful than any other post-Mollenkopf Purdue coach.
Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

Tiller, by far the school’s best hire in 50 years, came from Wyoming. Tiller had Purdue ties — four years as Burtnett’s defensive coordinator — but had flipped to offense following his move out west. He spent time as offensive coordinator at both Wyoming and Washington State and crafted a devastating, early version of the spread offense. His Cowboys scared the hell out of eventual national champion Nebraska in mid-1994, then went 10-2 in 1996.

Under the outsider Tiller, the Boilermakers finished ranked five times in seven years and reached the Rose Bowl in 2000. Purdue has bowled just 13 times in 35 years — 10 times in 12 years under Tiller and three in 23 under anyone else.

If you want to read this piece as a long explanation for why hiring Les Miles would be a bad idea, feel free.

From the moment Hazell was fired, the internet began to rumble about this connection.

In theory, it could make sense. The recently fired LSU coach would bring plenty of experience, and as a former Schembechler lineman and line coach, he has Big Ten ties.

Miles would probably mean a high floor. He would improve recruiting, albeit to probably only a top-35 level (most schools have clear ceilings from a recruiting perspective), and he would install his vision of sound football. He would pull off some crazy finishes and fun upsets. Handing him the reins to a job with lower expectations could give us high odds of fun Miles moments.

With Miles, Purdue could probably pull off some seven- or eight-win seasons. He might raise the Boilermakers’ profile and help the school get its act together to make a better hire down the road.

Then again, he could also end up like Akers. Lord knows there are plenty of similarities between Akers in 1986 and Miles in 2016.

Of course, “he might fail” probably applies to just about anybody, especially at 2-for-9 Purdue.

If the 62-year-old Miles feels the itch to keep coaching instead of fulfilling his destiny as a television personality, he might find opportunities better than Purdue. But he also might not. He is 62, and he did only win 12 of his final 20 games at LSU despite recruiting at a level he would be hard-pressed to replicate anywhere else.

Still, it would be a pretty safe hire, and because of Purdue’s iffy recruiting potential, it probably wouldn’t be a hire with significant upside.

It would be like most Purdue hires, in other words.

But if the Boilermakers wanted to tune more closely into the style of hire that has actually worked for them ...

... they should look at someone who brings a lot more offensive creativity (and more than two years of FBS head coaching experience) to the table. Who qualifies? Not many.

  • Jeff Brohm, Western Kentucky. The third-year WKU coach took what Bobby Petrino began to establish and took it much further. He could be in far greater demand soon, though.
  • Willie Fritz, Tulane. Fritz is in only his first year at Tulane but brings two decades of head coaching experience from Division II, FCS, and FBS. He’s also crafted a modern version of the spread option.
  • Ken Niumatalolo, Navy. He gave consideration to the BYU job last year but stayed with Navy. It might not be possible to pull him away from Annapolis at this point, but if you are looking to bring something unique (and find a guy who can win without elite recruiting), you should give him a call.
  • Bobby Wilder, Old Dominion. The 52-year-old led the Monarchs to the FCS playoffs twice and has overseen the school’s move to FBS. They are 9-9 in parts of three seasons in C-USA; considering they are FBS newbies, that’s pretty impressive. And with experience, his offenses can wing the ball around awfully well.
  • Troy Calhoun, Air Force. The 50-year-old has won at least eight games in six of nine seasons in Colorado Springs and will probably do so again this year. He has showed interest in other jobs, and he has fielded both tricky option offenses and salty defenses.
  • Scott Satterfield, Appalachian State. Satterfield is 43 and has his Mountaineers positioned for a Sun Belt title run. He is in his fourth year as ASU head coach, and his team is 22-9 since moving to FBS. The Mountaineers have a run-first identity that is not particularly risky or creative but is effective.
  • Blake Anderson, Arkansas State. Anderson has put together a speedy roster and a fun offense and is in his third year on the job. The Red Wolves started 2016 terribly but are 2-0 in Sun Belt play and have won 11 games in a row in-conference.

Choosing offensive upside over a Big Ten template has served Purdue well before. Playing it safe has not worked (and neither has mining Ohio State, which Purdue’s reportedly considering again); new athletic director Mike Bobinski should keep that in mind.

(Bobinski came from Georgia Tech, where he didn’t appear to have a wonderful relationship with option whiz Paul Johnson. But we’ll overlook that for now.)