Danny Hope didn't bite at the landmine question. He chose discretion over, well, foolhardiness. He's been here before, coaching at the end of some Purdue football fans' patience, then won enough big games to fight another day.
Athletic director Morgan Burke released a statement about the program in the wake of the Boilers' 0-4 Big Ten start, three blowout losses and an overall record of 3-5. That's a huge disappointment for a team expected to contend for a conference championship.
Burke said, “Everyone around our football program has high expectations for the 2012 season. We have worked very hard over the past four years to improve our personnel, facilities and every phase of our program, which is evident. Our student-athletes, alumni, fans, coaching staff and administration all expect to see the program move forward and take a step up the postseason ladder.
“Currently, our performance has kept us from reaching our goals. But we have a third of the season left to play, and our focus is to achieve that consistency over the remaining four games. We need to press forward, converting potential into results, and having fun playing Boilermaker football.”
In other words, the evaluation will come after the season.
What was Hope's reaction?
“I read it, but didn't pay a whole lot of attention to it, or didn't try to read between the lines any,” he said. “I think it's a pretty generic statement and similar to the one that was posed this time last year.
“Our focus is to prepare our team for a game this Saturday.”
Saturday's opponent is Penn State, which is 5-3 and 3-1 in its new coaching era under Bill O'Brien. It had overcome an 0-2 start to win five straight games before losing to Ohio State 35-23 last Saturday.
“They are a very good team,” Hope said. “They're a team that plays inspired football. They've played themselves into great shape because they go hard from snap to whistle. They really get after it.”
Last year Purdue was 4-5 before winning three of its last four games, including an overtime thriller over Ohio State and a Little Caesars Pizza Bowl win over Western Michigan. That seemed to suggest the Boilers had arrived under Hope. Instead, they've floundered, leaving people to wonder if this is a tough-minded team.
“Not at times,” Hope said. “At times, we have been. People can loosen around you, and that's when you have to become more mentally and physically tough. Everyone has to tighten his grip and not let the outside creep its way in. Never waver. Don't let doubt creep into your mind. There might be a couple of times during games where things didn't go our way and we wavered and let doubt creep in.”
Doubt was everywhere in last Saturday's 44-28 loss at Minnesota. Sunday's team meetings, Hope said, were designed to “re-identify some leaders on our team.”
“We earmarked some areas that we needed to put those cards on the table to make sure our team was aware and acknowledging. We had to identify some things that were obvious to me and the coaches and not up to standard. Identify those and put our heads together to find out what we have to do to play much better.”
What can the Boilers do to end their four-game losing streak?
“You want to stop any negative momentum or downward spiral,” Hope said. “You hope you surround yourself with the right coaches and players who can do something besides just being ordinary when you're going through tough times. This is a time for extraordinary people.”
Purdue has to win three of its last four games to become bowl eligible. After Penn State it plays at Iowa (4-4) and at Illinois (2-6), and hosts Indiana (3-5).
“I believe we have extraordinary people to still manufacture a good season,” Hope said. “We can still win seven regular season games. I believe there are only 25 times in Purdue history where we've won seven or more games. There's still a lot to play for.”