May 8, 2009

By Adam Caparell

With the responsibilities of a new, more stressful job staring him in the face, Danny Hope could have taken it easy in 2008.

Coach the offensive line, fulfill his recruiting duties and soak up as much information as possible from the departing Joe Tiller before taking over as the 34th head coach in Purdue history.

Seemed easy enough from an outsider’s perspective.

But for the Boilermakers’ hand-selected coach-in-waiting, 2008 was anything but a breeze. If anything, last year was a little frustrating, and very stressful, as Hope had to play by somebody else’s rules, knowing full well that it was only a matter of time before some of those rules changed.

When Purdue announced that Hope would take over for the retiring Tiller at the end of the 2009 season, it set up the potential of an awkward final season for Tiller and Hope, who had just returned to the school after a stint at Eastern Kentucky. How much weight would Tiller, a lame duck, carry?  Would Hope stick his neck where he shouldn’t? Would there be divisions among the players? Could they really co-exist knowing Tiller had one foot out the door and Hope had one foot in his office?

If there were any off-the-field issues, it was kept in-house because Hope fulfilled the role of loyal assistant perfectly, waiting patiently for his turn to run the show. And that wasn’t always easy.

“The toughest thing to deal with is being on everyone else’s agenda,” Hope said.  “You’re on the head coach’s itinerary, the offensive coordinators agenda and recruiting. You’re on everyone else’s agenda and then obviously you have to have an agenda on your own because you have lots of work to do and some areas of the program where you can make progress in while you’re in place.”

Hope isn’t a novice when it comes to being a head coach so he was chomping at the bit to get back into it. He spent the past five years as the lead man at Eastern Kentucky before returning to work under Tiller yet again. Hope and Tiller go back a ways having worked together at Wyoming when Tiller was leading the Cowboys and then Tiller brought Hope with him to Purdue when he took over the Boilermakers in 1997.

So Hope knows Purdue and what it takes to make it a winner again. After a 4-8 campaign last year, the powers that be in West Lafayette hope Hope is the man to bring the Boilermakers back to respectability.

And while Hope is in the process of putting his stamp on the program, don’t expect many wide-ranging changes, especially on offense. The Boilermakers won under Tiller using the spread offense and throwing the ball as much as any Big Ten school and Hope’s a big proponent of the spread. Tiller brought the scheme to the conference over a decade ago and got pretty good results. Purdue won at least eight games six times under Tiller – including the 2000 Big Ten title – and the Boilermakers plan on remaining true to form. 

“We’ll certainly be in the shotgun quite a bit and spread the field and throw the football, Purdue identifies with that,” Hope said. “We think that gives us the best chance to win.”

Even with a new offensive coordinator in Gary Nord and quarterback in fifth-year senior Joey Elliott, it’s going to be the same old Purdue. For the most part, at least.

“A few wrinkles have been picked up since I left Purdue,” Hope said.

But all scheming aside, Hope liked what he saw out of Elliott this spring. And considering Elliott actually was competing with Curtis Painter last year for the starting nod, Hope isn’t too worried about handing over the offense. Elliott is getting healthy after missing most of last year with shoulder issues and he’s gradually regaining arm strength.

Elliott will be pushed during the summer by freshman Caleb TerBush, but it is Elliott’s job to lose. Hope was very encouraged by what he has seen from Elliott and the offense as a whole. He just needs to find some reliable receivers who can catch Elliott’s passes and grasp some of those new plays.

While the changes that a new head coach brings will be relatively minimized at Purdue, that will not be the case at Boston College.

Longtime assistant Frank Spaziani took over when Jeff Jagodzinski’s flirtations with the NFL were deemed intolerable and the 61-year old former defensive coordinator, who presided over some rather impressive BC defenses, has decided things need to change on offense. 

So Spaziani first had to find himself an offensive coordinator he could trust. He eventually turned to Gary Tranquill, formerly of North Carolina. 

“I was elated he accepted the responsibility,” Spaziani said. “What we need is a guy of his experience that can coach coaches, and he’s just a good pillow to have. We have a lot of young players and it’s imperative that we have someone of his caliber over there. It’s a great fit for us.”

Tranquill will be in charge of changing the Eagles from a pass-happy offense to one that resembles more of a pro-style set. Expect to see more two back looks from the Eagles and a greater commitment to the run. Jagodzinksi instituted a zone-blocking scheme when he arrived on Chestnut Hill – he also had his offensive lineman lose weight – and the results didn’t exactly set the ACC on fire.

But in the end, your offense is only as good as your quarterback, and that quandary won’t be settled until August. Dominique Davis, Justin Tuggle, and Codi Boek are all vying for the starting nod with Davis the early clubhouse leader. At some point, Spaziani will make the biggest decision of his brief tenure as BC head coach in choosing a starter for the first game. It’s just one of the many new responsibilities he’ll be undertaking.

No longer in the shadows, Spaziani is now the face of the program, the man the media runs to first, the man who is the master recruiter and fundraiser. As the head coach, you take on more of a CEO’s approach and actually step away, to a degree, from the coaching life you’ve known for so many years.

“Other than practices here in spring, I miss the Xs and Os of it,” Spaziani said. “The other aspect of it, like I said earlier, I’m energized by what needs to be done and where we have to go and moving this program forward. And some of the stuff I think I handle somewhat decently so it’s been fine.”

Spaziani already sounds like a grizzled head coach, mostly because he’s trying to put a positive spin on whatever he can. But his new responsibilities apparently suit him quite well. Despite their many differences, that’s one thing Spaziani and Hope have in common.