INDIANAPOLIS — A strong finish for Purdue wasn’t enough to save Danny Hope’s job.
One day after Purdue retained the Old Oaken Bucket and became bowl-eligible for the second straight season, athletic director Morgan Burke announced that Hope had been fired. The school has called a 6:30 p.m. news conference to make it official.
Hope went 22-27 in four mostly injury-ravaged seasons. He ended the school’s three-year bowl drought last season and brought Purdue its first bowl title since 2007 by winning the Little Caesars Bowl in Detroit and was given a two-year contract extension in December that runs through the 2016 season.
Last year’s late-season success raised expectations inside and outside the program — expectations that fell flat this season and resulted in too many empty seats in the stands.
The move was not a big surprise.
Speculation had been swirling about Hope’s future in West Lafayette since mid-October when the Boilermakers began a five-game losing streak with blowout losses at home to Michigan and Wisconsin.
The rumors grew so loud by Oct. 29 that Burke took the unusual step of issuing a statement that essentially said he would wait until the end of the season before making a decision.
Hope was aware of the talk, too.
“I don’t have any idea. But either way, I’m going to be OK,” he said when asked about returning next season after Saturday’s 56-35 victory Saturday over archrival Indiana. “Like I said, I’ve learned to live life on the hot seat here at Purdue. Any time that you have a contract that has some weak spots in it, I didn’t have a lot of leverage when I came here. I don’t have that strong of a contract from a buyout standpoint or a compensation standpoint, any time you’re dealing with a contract like that, you can be on the hot seat on a regular basis.”
The buyout was only $600,000 and declined by $100,000 each successive year.
Players also had a sense the move was coming.
After Saturday’s win, Hope hugged his wife and one of his players before leading the team in singing the school’s fight song in front of the student section. Afterward, two players hoisted Hope their shoulders briefly before posing with the trophy that is awarded annually to the winner of the Indiana-Purdue game.
“It was really a special moment. I’ve never had that happen before,” Hope said of being lifted up by his players. “We’re a very close football team, a very close football family and there was a point in time this season probably all the way up till about 20 minutes ago, all we had was what was in that locker room — us — and we did a great job of locking arms and keeping the down side away and really believing in each other.”
During postgame interviews, players expressed support for their head coach, none more emphatically than sixth-year quarterback Robert Marve. He thanked Hope for giving him multiple second chances and allowing him to play this season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee.
Defensive tackle Kawann Short, who is projected to be a first-round pick in April’s NFL draft, also credited Hope for helping with his development as a player.
But Hope and his players opened this season by talking about reaching the Big Ten title game in Indianapolis, putting the program back on the national map and possibly returning to a New Year’s Day bowl game.
When that didn’t happen, it sealed Hope’s fate.
“I’ve worked 85 to 100 hours a week, 50 weeks a year for the last 4 1/2 years to try and return this program to national prominence and we’re a long ways away in many phases of our program and what it took was elbow grease and commitment to get us back to where we are right now, where we’re in postseason play back-to-back and we’ve made improvements in every phase of the program. It’s just that plain and simple.”
Purdue went 5-7 under Hope in 2009, then 4-8 in an injury-plagued 2010, finished strong last year to go 7-6 and won their last three this year to get to 6-6. It’s the first time since 2006 that Purdue closed the Big Ten season on a three-game winning streak.
Hope is 57-49 in his head coaching career, which began at his alma mater, Eastern Kentucky.