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BoilerUpload – Matt Painter – The Coach That Doesn’t Care


I’ve been at a lot of these now. And I know, I know, that title up there. It looks inflammatory. But Matt Painter really did say it after another heart breaking Purdue loss. That’s what I’ve seen a lot of – heartbreaking Purdue losses. St. Peter’s in Philadelphia for instance. I was there, up in the nosebleed media section, unable to understand how this little school could play so big. I was in Louisville, too, right on the court. The free throw. The pass. The floater. Those are heart breaking, I should say. This loss? Well it certainly had a story. After all, a few years ago, you’d have to be a fiction writer if you were coming up with these two narratives. Not sure which one would have seemed sillier five years ago.

Purdue a #1 team in the nation?

Rutgers beating a #1 team?

Preposterous. But here we are. It wasn’t only a real life story, a work of dramatic non-fiction, but it now has a sequel. Two seasons in a row.

Not sure it qualifies as heart breaking though. Matt Painter would agree, I’m pretty sure.

But back to that title. There’s something funny running around in my mind about Matt Painter. A lot of college basketball coaches are boring in front of the mics. Coach speak is called coach speak because, you know, but Matt Painter, he speaks another language.

Most great coaches are recognized and appreciated for their winning. Matt Painter’s done a hell of a lot of winning at Purdue. His team is #1 in the nation again.

But I’m never more impressed with Matt Painter than after he loses.

So back to that quote, “I don’t care what you think.”

He said it to me, and you, and anyone else you can think of, but not really, you know? It’s an anecdote and by that mean he’s definitely talking to us, but he’s said a whole lot more than that because Painter always has a point.

“I don’t care what you think.”

Before I was writing about Purdue sports full time, I was bartending in Lafayette at the Local Bar. I’m not being cute. That was the name, it’s on fourth street, just a bit outside of downtime.

I’m 34. It’s a stretch to remember a Gene Keady coached game. I was there when they named the court after him and I didn’t really get it. Not like I do now.

But Matt Painter? Yeah, I’ve been around for everyone of his games whether in person or behind the bar or on my couch or – you get my point. Can’t remember the last one I missed. So, back to the bartending. A lot of those games happened when I was working.

What I’m trying to say is I’m familiar with what people say, the stuff Painter doesn’t care about. What another media person called outside noise. You’ve heard it, too. You’ve probably said some of it, that stuff. I know I have.

A media person is asking him about it, this stuff, but he calls it something a little more poignant – outside noise. Painter’s respond is a lot, and it’s too good to not share.

“Yeah, but there’s always gonna be noise if you wanna listen.

I think that’s the key. Like who’s listening? I have a choice to listen or not listen. You guys can say whatever you want and other people can say that – I don’t care what you think. Like people will say things and they’ll be like well if you guys do this or you should play this guy or whatever – if you listen to those people you’ll be sitting with those people. I promise you that.

You have to please what’s best for Purdue and that stinks sometimes because I want that individual player to play more and do better. You know what I mean? That stinks. I hate that as a head coach.”

You guys can say whatever you want and other people can say that – I don’t care what you think. Like people will say things and they’ll be like well if you guys do this or you should play this guy or whatever – if you listen to those people you’ll be sitting with those people.  

I hope you watch the video at the bottom of Painter after the game because this is the part where he looks earnest in a way that is almost startling. This isn’t lip service. This is the part that haunts him and you can see it in his eyes. Anyways, back to his words which tell the story, too:

“I loved being an assistant coach because I never felt that burden. I hate that burden. But I’m not going to go away from that. I’m still gonna do what’s best for Purdue.

But our society and how everything is with information stinks – for them, not for me. This is my job. This is what I do. So when someone ridicules or says something, a lot of times it’s right. Like hey man, your team wasn’t very tough tonight. That’s my fault. But when they’re 19, 20, 21, it affects them. It affects them and you really gotta coach them so that hopefully doesn’t affect them as much.”

Purdue exists in a strange place in college basketball and it’s all Matt Painter’s fault.

Purdue is #1 in the nation. It’s the second straight season they’ve gotten there, but they haven’t gotten there, that one place that’s evaded Matt Painter and evaded Purdue’s coach before him, Gene Keady, who was also his coach.

They exist in a place of in between, a great program, but one that’s only known disappointment.

And because of this I’m going back to other losses because, like I said, Matt Painter has a quality about him that makes you believe in him, even after defeat.

Trigger Warning: St. Peter’s content incoming…

It’s Philadelphia. It was the destined bracket. The easiest path you could imagine. There Purdue is with an unheard of school ahead of them. They’ve got Jaden Ivey and Trevion Williams and all that talent.

But Cinderella happens and midnight doesn’t strike in the Sweet Sixteen. Not for St. Peter’s. Instead, again, Purdue has to leave the ball early.

Painter is asked about it, the weight of the Final Four, just minutes after losing to St. Peters. The thing he hasn’t done.

“It weighs on you… It eats at you, man,” and I think we can all hear the heavy depth of that man as it leaves Painter’s lips. “You work hard to do things and to work and represent your school. To put yourself in a position to do well. It’s so hard to get in position to do well. These guys won 29 games and you feel awful. You know we put ourselves in a position to win the Big Ten Championship. We didn’t. We put ourselves in position in the championship game in the tournament. We didn’t. You know we get to this point right here and you don’t move forward.

It’s also – anybody can have a good team. We have a good program. Our guys graduate. You know we’re successful. We have the most Big Ten Championships of any school in the Big Ten.

We just haven’t gotten over that hurdle. We just haven’t gotten that push to where we haven’t been to a Final Four in 42 years. So, yeah, I think about it all the time. But it’s not going to stop me from driving to get there. Getting in this position again and you know try and get over that hurdle. It’s what our players serve, our fans deserve.”

  “It weighs on you… It eats at you, man.”   

So in the grand scheme of things, in 42 years of losses, what is a loss to Rutgers in January? How does Painter right the ship of a team that’s still, quite possibly, the best team in college basketball even if the polls do their things and move up and down?

“Worry about the next one. It’s ten weeks. You guys look at it, you guys follow it, but you don’t live it.

You can get yourself on a roller coaster if you want. I’m not a big fan of roller coasters. You gotta get back to what you do well. We gotta take better shots. We’ve gotta get some perimeter guys that are consistent shooters. That’d be a great start for us but, if you go and you take good shots and you miss them, I’m cool with it. I really am. I think a lot of people that pick at you as a coach don’t know shit when it comes to that. When you’ve got guys that can shoot – you’ve got to believe in them – I believe in our guys. There’s not anybody out there shooting threes that I don’t believe in. They’ve proven they can make them, but we’re not right now.

But who are you? Like I thought our Davidson game was a fabulous win. 3 for 25 from three, but when the ball was loose it was ours. Our name was on all those rebounds. Our name was on all those loose balls. And tonight, I would say they were a little bit better. The possession was even, but I thought they got there quicker to some balls tonight than we were. And we just can’t let that happen.”

Process over results

I’ve lost track of how many players have told me this exact quote this season. Mason Gillis did talking about his shot, and Brandon Newman about everything, and Smith, and so on and so forth. They don’t get worried about their missed shots, or one game, or one practice. Purdue has an identity. Matt Painter has made sure of it and grown it and made this team into a bunch of 19, 20, 21-year old men reciting an old man’s learnings. Matt Painter’s not old, okay, but he’s been around a while.

A strange thing happens when you hang around these old, but not old people, who speak like they’ve seen it all before because they have seen it all before. You start listening and then you start believing them. So maybe I’m indoctrinated now, too.

But Purdue was always going to lose a game. They lost one at home, and that’s surprising. But they weren’t ever going to go undefeated. Teams don’t do that anymore. Ask Gonzaga. Ask Duke. Teams Purdue beat before they were supposed to.

So when Painter is talking to us he’s saying the same thing. This is part of the process.

Part of the disappointment of losing games like these as fans is that it feels a little bit like you’re validating the old you, the one that was concerned about the team. Four weeks at #1 starts to make believers out of the most agnostic of us. Fandom is a strange, emotional roller coaster, and the only thing worse than the drop is getting off the ride altogether.

So Purdue fans might languish this loss as validation for concern, but I’m still revisiting old media sessions after losses with Matt Painter. See, another thing about people who’ve seen everything, they tend to see the future, too.

Maybe Matt Painter didn’t see this coming, or maybe he did. He doesn’t seem like a coach surprised with his team’s success. He seems like a coach who saw it coming last year after that St. Peters loss.

“I’m excited. I feel bad for these guys here but I like the guys that return on our team. I like the guys that are sitting out. We’ve got players that are sitting out that can play. And we’ve got guys that are coming.”

They’re here, and one loss in January won’t get rid of them.


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