By Nathan Hutchinson
Register Sports Editor
MADISON COUNTY —
Danny Hope was part of a national championship football team during his playing days at Eastern Kentucky University and he later served as the head coach at his alma mater (2003-2007).
He met his wife, Sally, while attending EKU and his son, Chaz, also played for the Colonels.
Hope has tremendous connection to the school and its tradition-rich football program.
But, next week, Hope will be on the opposite sideline as the Colonels take the field for their season opener.
Hope, a former EKU offensive lineman, is now the head coach at Purdue. The Boilermakers will take on the Colonels next Saturday in West Lafayette, Ind.
It will mark just the second time in his coaching career that Hope has coached against his alma mater (1985 as a graduate assistant at Louisville).
Hope took a few moments Friday to talk to the Richmond Register about the season opener, his favorite memories of EKU and the outlook for this year’s Colonels.
NH: With your connections to the school, has enough time passed since you left to make this game a little less emotional for you?
DH: The game is not about me. It’s about Purdue versus EKU. Anytime you are going against (your alma mater), I think that’s exciting. When I was a player I really want to get after it to earn the respect of my teammates. I really thought that was important. Honestly, I want my team to play well so that the people where I came from (EKU) can see that I am doing a good job here. I want to make a good impression.
NH: You joined the staff at Purdue five years ago. So, you won’t be coaching against of your former players next Saturday. Does that make any difference?
DH: I do know some of the players. I recruited some of them. I’ve know Patrick Ford since he was just a boy. Me and his dad played together and we are good friends. We recruited Aaron Adams hard. So, that creates some distance, obviously.
NH: You were the head coach at EKU for five years. What were some of your favorite memories of that time?
DH: A lot of things. One of the big things was bonding with the members of the Worn Cleat Club, the former players. With the intimate fan base we have at EKU, I made a lot of friends who are really strong fans. Guys like Bill Berge, who just passed away, and Big Frank. Just great people and friends who were really close to the program. The guys we refer to as The Real Colonels.
DH: I was really proud of the work we got down and the progress we made with the program. We put our heart and soul into it. All the great academic progress we made and returning the program to the playoffs.
DH: There were some signature wins. The win against Western Kentucky (in 2006). That was the fifth-largest crowd in the history of the school. It had been a long time since the fans stormed the field. That was a big day for our program. That re-energized our program a lot.
DH: The whole experience was a dream come true.
NH: Give me a quick scouting report on this year’s Colonels.
DH: EKU has a lot of good players. They have a very good offensive line, a very strong line. They have a big tight end. He’s a big target. They’ve got big wide receivers who are good players and have great potential. They’ve got an All-American running back (Matt Denham) coming back that had more than 1,500 yards last year. They’ve got one of the top punters in the nation (Jordan Berry). He’s got a cannon for a leg. The defense has a lot of speed. They have the potential to bring a lot of pressure and do a lot of things up front if they want. I think they have an outstanding football team, talent-wise and experience-wise.
NH: In the three years you’ve been head coach at Purdue, the program has had its share of ups and downs. But, to get to a bowl game last year and get a win, you must feel like the program is heading in the right direction.
DH: We are excited about the momentum from last season. We’ve had some signature wins (against Ohio State and Michigan), but we fell a bit short in 2009 and 2010 and didn’t qualify for postseason play. So, to get to a bowl game last year was huge for our team and our players. We have some momentum behind us right now. The fan base is becoming re-energized. We have more talent and depth on our team right now than we’ve had in a while. I think everyone is excited about the upcoming season.