On March 31st of 2011, it was hard to imagine anyone calling for Matt Painter’s dismissal.
Purdue had made runs to the NCAA Tournament in five consecutive seasons and was about to make it six. Painter had the Boilermakers sustaining success in the ever-changing Big Ten.
It was on this day where Painter was locked in for eight more years at his alma mater, that following a brief flirtation with Missouri. Then, everything was looking up for the promising head coach. Now, that success seems like three decades ago, not three years ago.
It’s the same coach, philosophies and beliefs. But the program’s culture isn’t the same for these Boilermakers. This team hasn’t embraced the work ethic associated with Purdue’s basketball program.
Success in West Lafayette stems from a blue-collar demeanor—perfecting the little details of the game, cleaning the floor for loose balls, but above all, dedicating to defense. It takes extra hours in the gym, then execution of the scouting report in games.
Painter has tried to put his players in position to win. Yet, he’s become Charlie Brown’s teacher over the past two years. The Boilermakers’ efforts are often lethargic. On several occasions, the players have admitted not being ready to play or failing to follow the coach’s instructions.
Building a winning program is no easy task, but it’s something Painter accomplished in his first seven seasons as head coach. He took the values instilled as a player and assistant for Gene Keady, learned from coaching mentors like Tom Reiter and Bruce Weber, and developed his own unique approach.
Players like Robbie Hummel, E’Twaun Moore and JaJuan Johnson bought in with what the coach was preaching, backing it with each practice and game. The Boilermakers won a pair of Big Ten titles and saw NCAA Tournament success.
Where did these victories go, and who’s to blame? The answer is Painter.
This two-year lull Purdue has fallen into can be tagged to recruiting misses—not a lack of talent, but rather a flawed culture. Painter has been the first one to admit this. His notable line from a frustrating 2013 offseason was that the program needed players to register on the “give-a-damn meter.” It just hasn’t happened yet.
There was shuffling of the roster, with three departures and two fifth-year arrivals joining a talented freshman class. But the negative principles remained in the program.
Painter isn’t going to be fired after this season, and he certainly doesn’t deserve to be. His success as a head coach speaks for itself. But the burden of the blame falls on his shoulders. The players’ falters become the head coach’s problem.
That eight-year extension was a bold commitment to Painter’s future at Purdue. He earned the chance to bring the Boilermakers out of this hole.
But with each loss and crushing blow to the beleaguered Boilermakers, Painter’s seat will get hotter.