In a perfect world, you’d toss Mike Leach into a 3-D printer, solder off the politically incorrect bits, throw on a Purdue cap and let fly.
Among the viable non-cloning options, there’s a lot to love in P.J. Fleck, a.k.a. Jim Harbaugh Lite — a man who will not only suit up at age 35 and bang heads with his Western Michigan walk-ons, but rope in Sylvester Stallone to then present said walk-ons with a full ride:
Fleck is F-U-N, all caps, a word that hasn’t been associated with Purdue football since — when, 2007?
That same Harbaugh was the best man at the wedding of South Florida coach Willie Taggart, another mid-major riser. Chris Klieman has grabbed two national titles in two years at North Dakota State and his Bison spent the third week in September pushing Iowa around in a 23-21 win at Kinnick Stadium.
But it’s Cornhuskers-Boilermakers week, a rivalry months in the making, and what’s the headline the hot-takers on the radio can’t stop yapping about?
247Sports: Bo Pelini to Purdue? It makes a lot of sense
A lot? Meh.
Now we’ll admit it: We miss the big lug. We miss the blank stares. We miss the complete lack of remorse.
We miss the heading-into-locker-room-after-the-game interviews because they were frank and unpredictable. We miss the heading-into-the-locker-room-at-halftime interviews even more, because they were potential train wrecks.
We miss the cat.
We miss the crazy.
Because if you sign on with Pelini, the Cornhuskers’ firecracker of a coach from 2008-14, you don’t get to pick the cut. You get the whole damn cow.
There’s no sanitized, politically correct version. No filter.
If you sail the S.S. Bo, you don’t get to cherry-pick the experience. You have to take all of it — the good, the bad, and the loopy.
If you’re Purdue athletic director Mike Bobinski, you have to live with more f-bombs than an episode of “Luke Cage.” You have to live with moments such as last Nov. 14, when Pelini’s Youngstown State Penguins hosted Missouri Valley Conference rival and defending FCS champion North Dakota State.
The hosts blew a 14-point lead in the fourth quarter, which was bad enough. But during the game-winning Bison drive, after a costly pass interference call, Pelini went after the zebras with a series of his patented NC-17 hail storms. He was flagged for two unsportsmanlike penalties — which meant that, when the Penguins got the ball back with half a minute left to play, the drive started from their own 4-yard line. The Bison held on and escaped with a 27-24 win.
“They didn’t like the way I was talking to them,” the Youngstown coach told reporters. “Because I told them … well, I’m not going to get into it.”
Take him or leave him, baby.
Pelini averaged nearly 10 wins with the Huskers. The locals liked that. They liked the tough talk, the tough teams, the take-no-crap-from-anybody approach.
He also averaged four losses, most of them to bluebloods. Pelini was 26-25 versus teams with winning records. After a 33-0 win over Arizona in the 2009 Holiday Bowl, he declared that the Huskers were “back and we’re here to stay.”
Then his teams gave up 70 and 59 to Wisconsin in 2012 and ’14, respectively. Melvin Gordon rushed for a then-FBS record 408 yards in that last one, and if not for the NFL draft, he might still be running. From 2011-14, the Huskers, while ranked, lost seven games by 17 points or more.
Those parts, the locals didn’t like nearly as much.
At any rate, the 247Sports piece says a source indicated Bo “would definitely be interested” in talking to Purdue about replacing Darrell Hazell, and why not? After Hazell won nine times in 42 tries with the Boilers — Pelini’s Huskers outscored the former Boilers coach 79-21 in two league meetings, both Big Red routs — the bar in West Lafayette has rarely been lower, the money never better.
The piece then starts laying the case on a little thick. OK, a lot thick:
Pelini is a strong in-game coach and manages players well. The recipe to win at Purdue is similar to Nebraska where it’s tough to recruit and it’s more about picking the right guys, developing and building a winning culture. While in Lincoln, Pelini won with average talent with good players sprinkled in.
“Bo is a disciplinary guy, players love him, they’re going to play hard for him,” the source said. “He brings a culture.”
This is the right time for a guy like Pelini at Purdue as the school invests ($)60 million to rebuild its football facilities. Another coach in the Big Ten said when the Boilermakers are done they’ll have the best facilities in the conference. The West Lafayette program will never beat out the likes of Michigan and Ohio State for a top target in the Midwest but Pelini has proven at Nebraska he can win recruiting battles for the next-tier. Another source told 247Sports that Pelini got better as a recruiter each passing year.
Yada, yada, yada. As a tactician, Pelini isn’t Hazell — and that’s a good thing — but neither is he the second coming of Tom Landry. His players liked him, granted, and the whole us-against-the-universe bit played well more often than not. Heck, it might even float at Purdue, of whom the universe usually doesn’t give a flip.
.@PurdueSports Do you offer a competitive benefits package
— Fake Bo Pelini (@FauxPelini) October 16, 2016
As the A.D. at Xavier, Bobinski hired Thad Matta, Sean Miller and Chris Mack to keep a basketball beast humming along; At Georgia Tech, he snatched up Memphis’ Josh Pastner. Historically speaking, Purdue’s new engine-driver is a no-nonsense sort who prefers young climbers to the combustible wild card.
Which means the smart money’s still on Fleck. And if the Boilers wanted a fiery option with Cornhuskers ties, they’d be safer throwing a bone at Scott Frost.