We're in Day 7 of the official Purdue football coaching search and here's what we know:
1) Cincinnati coach Butch Jones is, if you believe the buzz, the No. 1 choice.
2) We are not under consideration.
3) Whoever the new coach is, no matter how brilliant an offensive mind he has, he'd better get the defense up to at least mid-Big Ten caliber.
Jones is the hot choice and with jobs open all over the country -- Tennessee, Auburn, Purdue, and Colorado are among the biggest -- he could have his pick.
For now it looks like Purdue and Colorado are the main contenders. Or, Jones could stay in Cincinnati and get a nice raise (athletic director Whit Babcock is reportedly reworking his contract).
Jones is reportedly set to talk to Purdue officials today. He might be talking to them as you read this. Reports are he'll talk to Colorado officials on Monday.
Boilers athletic director Morgan Burke has indicated the school will pay a competitive salary for a new coach and his assistants. That figures to be between $4 and $5 million, probably closer to $5 million. Jones basically mades $1.6 million a year, and can earn more via bonuses. He has a $1.4 million buyout before Jan. 1. Cincinnati assistant coaches made a combined $1.85 million this season.
Colorado is reportedly prepared to pay between $2 and $2.5 million a year. Purdue would almost certainly match that.
Like Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly, Jones has won everywhere he's been. He had a three-year record at Central Michigan (after replacing Kelly) of 27-13 with a pair of Mid-American Conference titles while playing in two bowl games. One of those was a loss to Purdue in the 2007 Motor city Bowl.
His overall record, including this year's 9-3 mark, is 50-27. Cincinnati beat Connecticut 34-17 on Saturday to earn a share of the Big East title with Louisville, Rutgers and Syracuse. It's projected to meet North Carolina State in the Belke Bowl in Charlotte, N.C. on Dec. 27.
Purdue, by the way, is projected to face Iowa State in the Jan. 1 Heart of Dallas Bowl, although the Dec. 28 Meineke Car Care Bowl remains a possibility. Bowl bids will go out later today.
Jones was the offensive coordinator under Kelly at Central Michigan and the offensive coordinator at West Virginia under Rich Rodriguez. In other words, he has an extensive offensive background, much of it in a spread, no-huddle, fast-paced format. His teams have averaged at least 27 points every year, at least 29.5 points in four of the last five years, while maximizing dual-threat quarterbacks adept at running and throwing.
Why is that important? Because Burke made offense a priority in last week's press conference announcing the coaching search.
"We are an offensive-minded program,” he said. “That's where we've made our mark over the years and I don't see us changing. We're certainly not going to move into a coach that has a dramatically different scheme. Because we built this team to play a certain kind of football, and we've seen other institutions who have made a coaching change and then they change their style of play and it took two or three years to adjust. We're not going to do that. We've got talent in this program."
That talent includes the defense, and it has to become more of a force. Former coach Joe Tiller's best teams played outstanding defense along with scoreboard-busting spread offense. The new coach has to have a similar emphasis. Jones has shown that.
Cincinnati allows 17.2 points a game, which ranks No. 13 nationally. Twice in the previous four years Jones' defenses have ranked in the top-20 nationally in points allowed (17th at 18.9 points in 2009, and 20th at 20.3 points in 2011). That 2011 team also ranked No. 6 nationally in rushing defense (allowing 96 yards) and leading the nation in tackles for loss.
One of the reasons for Tiller's instant success, beyond the introduction of the spread offense to the previously run-dominated Big Ten, was bringing in most of his staff from Wyoming. That made for a smooth transition and a fast start.
Jones did the same thing when he went from Central Michigan to Cincinnati. That includes offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian and co-defensive coordinators Steve Stripling (a former Indiana University assistant coach) and John Jancek.
Jones also has strong recruiting connections in the state of Indiana. While he'll
have to hit southern states such as Florida and Georgia hard for speed (Hope made that a point of emphasis), he needs to maximize the state and Midwest talent pool.
Does he want to stay in the collapsing Big East, which is becoming more and more irrelevant on a national football scene? Does he want to move to the Pac-12 with Colorado, once a national power, now a league patsy? The Buffaloes have a gorgeous campus (right on the edge of the Rocky Mountains), but just OK facilities.
Finally, whoever the new coach he, he has to create a buzz and excitement around the program. Some of that will come naturally from being a new coach and getting the honeymoon benefit. And yes, people like to see points scored and passing yards generated from a school with such a strong tradition of good quarterbacks (from Len Dawon to Bob Griese to Drew Brees to Kyle Orton, and more).
Bottom line is the coach has to win and, occasionally, contend for a Big Ten title and a Rose Bowl berth.
Sure, that will be tough, especially if Urban Meyer builds a dynasty at Ohio State. But as Tiller showed, you can consistently win at West Lafayette.
You just have to get the right guy.