Why Purdue needs to do whatever it can to hire P.J. Fleck
If Purdue wanted to get this hire right, it went to work immediately after ending its relationship with Darrell Hazell. Newly hired Purdue athletic director Mike Bobinski probably had a contingency plan in place already.
In all likelihood, it doesn’t involve Les Miles. It should start and end with Western Michigan coach P.J. Fleck.
He’s currently leading a 7-0 team and next to Tom Herman, there might not be a more attractive coach expected to be on the move than him. With jobs like LSU, Texas and maybe even Notre Dame potentially coming open, Fleck could end up having bigger and better suitors than Purdue.
Is Fleck too good for Purdue? Probably. Still, the Boilers need to swing for the fences for someone who would be a home-run hire.
It might sound crazy to some for Purdue to throw a bunch of money at a MAC coach on the rise. Isn’t that what the Boilers did with Hazell four years ago? Hazell actually went 11-3 (8-0 in the MAC) in his second season at Kent State and cashed in after two years as a head coach. Fleck is on his way to possibly an 11 or 12-win season in his fourth year at WMU.
But Fleck is far from a typical one-year wonder in the MAC. He’s been called “Jim Harbaugh Light” by some. His personality is different, but his sayings and techniques resonate with college kids.
His “Row the Boat” phrase has taken the college football world by storm. By season’s end, you could be hearing those three words repeated throughout a New Year’s Six game. The success this year already made Fleck an attractive name. The fact that he came into Illinois and beat both B1G schools certainly helped that cause.
Some already dubbed Fleck “B1G Coach of the Year.”
Fleck would certainly fit right in. Besides having midwestern roots, one expert called him “Jim Harbaugh Light.”
Like Harbaugh, Fleck knows how to turn around a program. It’s easy to forget that three years ago, WMU was 1-11 and one of the worst FBS teams. Purdue is in need of major repairs, and Fleck would be the right guy to establish his culture. You could argue that would make him a more attractive candidate than Les Miles — that’s not happening — because he actually has experience building a program from the ground up.
Also important, Fleck has the energy. At 35 years old, he’s the second youngest FBS coach. Purdue obviously isn’t Michigan, where a proven coach like Harbaugh can inherit a wealth of talent and flip it in one year. It’s a complete gut job in West Lafayette.
So why would Fleck even be interested?
Well, there’s no guarantee that he is. But he’s still a MAC coach with MAC resources. He’s the highest-paid MAC coach in MAC history making $800,000 this year. That’s peanuts compared to what he could make at Purdue.
Lovie Smith just got $21 million from Illinois, which was in similar shape as Purdue is now. Keep in mind that the Boilers will benefit greatly from the annual B1G money, which is expected to be in the $53 million range in the next fours. Who knows how much Purdue will would offer, but $4 million per year would be a starting point for a coach of Fleck’s caliber.
Could a high-powered target offer Fleck more? Sure, but there’s no guarantee he’s their top target. The coaching pool always gets more crowded as the season progresses. That’s not to say that Fleck’s case will weaken, but he’ll have more competition than he does right now.
Some of that competition could be Michigan or Ohio State assistants, according to USA Today.
Pretty much every assistant at Ohio State and some at Michigan are likely to be candidates for Purdue, I’m told.
— Dan Wolken (@DanWolken) October 16, 2016
That’s natural, especially after Maryland and Rutgers used that strategy to make their hires. There’s nothing wrong with having secondary options, but Fleck still needs to be target No. 1.
There’s no guarantee that an assistant is capable of running his own program. Even the best assistants — Lane Kiffin — can struggle as the lead man. Can they succeed? Sure, but Fleck is a more-proven commodity.
There likely wouldn’t be much convincing needed of Fleck’s credentials. His fire, his culture and his rebuilding efforts all prove those. Yes, he’ll have interest from Power Five programs that are better than Purdue. The Boilers would probably have to make a high-ball offer to even get Fleck to consider coming to West Lafayette.
But if you’re Purdue, what do you have to lose? Fleck is a $25 million investment worth making. At the very least, it’s a $25 million investment worth offering.