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PURDUE PULLS AN ILLINOIS

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THAT'S TWO FEWER WORDS THAN THE BABY SHOES STORY. YOUR MOVE, HEMINGWAY

JCOnline

In light of the shocking but hey-maybe-it's-not-such-a-bad-idea news that new Illinois AD Josh Whitman fired just-had-the-interim-tag-removed head coach Bill Cubit in favor of former Chicago Bears and Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Lovie Smith, a reckoning seems due in the Big Ten West.

The power balance in the Big Ten has leaned heavily toward the East Division in the first two years of its existence. Money has flowed toward coaching, with stalwart Mark Dantonio joined by high-priced mercenaries such as Urban Meyer and Jim Harbaugh. Meanwhile, the West's hiring criteria have trended toward the "you're not afraid of Barry Alvarez" or "people don't think you're as much of an asshole as the last guy" or "well, you already work here".

No longer. Illinois, long content to mail in football seasons and collect an unearned share of the conference's television largesse, has fired a high-priced shot across the bow of their division. Will it work? That's yet to be seen. One division rival, however, has already taken note.

We take you now to their press conference, just starting:

MORGAN BURKE, PURDUE ATHLETIC DIRECTOR: Thank you all for coming today. I understand there's been a lot of surprise and confusion around the program since the news broke that we had fired Darrell Hazell. I want to thank Coach Hazell for his years of service to Purdue University, and stress that this was not a decision we made lightly. After much deep and difficult consideration, however, we have decided that it is time for this university and program to move in a different direction.

REPORTER: Has a replacement been identified? You're well past the hiring season for coaches.

BURKE: In fact, we have, and I'd like to introduce him today, but first I'd like to explain our search process and rationale. You see, there's always the temptation to stick to the college ranks, hire the next hot coach out of the mid-majors - but that's what we did last time, and we ended up winning six games in four years. Lovie Smith's hiring at Illinois was a wake-up call. For a program like ours to stand out - to fans and recruits, but also on the field - we need to make a splash. We can grab some headlines by going outside the box and hiring someone with a proven NFL track record.

REPORTER: It's June Jones, isn't it? You made us all come out here for June Jones.

BURKE: A big name.

REPORTER: Charlie Weis? Now I'm mad it's not June Jones.

BURKE: Someone who's won consistently.

REPORTER: Jon Gruden?

BURKE: Someone who's shown fearlessness and innovation.

REPORTER, pulling out phone to check: Shit, did the 49ers fire Chip Kelly already?

BURKE: Someone who'll lead us not just on the field, but develop the unique culture and image this program has lacked since Joe Tiller's retirement.

REPORTER: Oh, hell. It's Schiano, isn't it.

BURKE: Someone who isn't worried about what the press says about him.

REPORTER: I'd say if you hire him I'm going to switch to restaurant reviewing.

BURKE: Someone who can expand our borders, and give us a pipeline to fertile recruiting grounds like Florida.

REPORTER: I will leave town right now if you're about to tell me I've got to spend three years covering Greg Schiano. I have remote start. My car is already running.

BURKE: Someone who's not Greg Schiano.

[a sigh of relief throughout the room]

REPORTER: Okay, Morgan, out with it. You're telling me there's someone out there with a lengthy, proven record of success in the NFL. Someone who's innovative and entertaining. Someone who isn't afraid to build a new culture around a program. You're telling me this person is available for a program like Purdue to hire, and wouldn't mind living in a place like West Lafayette?

BURKE: [looks toward door] It's time.

DOOR: [flies open]