Dienhart: Purdue tabs Jeff Brohm, a home run hire tasked with saving program
Say “Hello” to Jeff Brohm, the coach tasked with saving Purdue football. And, make no mistake about it: Boilermaker football needs to be saved. The program has fallen on hard times, winning just nine games the last four seasons. The good news for Boilermaker fans: This looks like a home run hire.
Brohm brings a much-needed injection of hope. He is a proven head coach with an offensive background, which seemingly makes him exactly what Purdue needs to become relevant again. The Boilermakers are known for being the “cradle of quarterbacks,” producing the likes of Drew Brees, Kyle Orton, Jim Everett, Mark Herrmann, Bob Griese and Len Dawson, among others. When Purdue has had success, it has been quarterback-centric, and Brohm’s background dovetails perfectly with that heritage.
A product of Louisville, Kentucky, Brohm is a former Louisville Cardinal quarterbacking great who also played in the NFL. The 45-year-old Brohm spent the last three years constructing a strong offense built around quarterback play at Western Kentucky, posting a 30-10 mark with C-USA titles each of the last two years and three bowl bids. The 10-3 Hilltoppers beat Louisiana Tech 58-44 Saturday to win the C-USA title game, notching 656 yards. Western Kentucky ranks No. 7 in the nation in total offense (517.4 ypg), No. 5 in passing (336.8 ypg) and No. 2 in scoring (45.1 ppg).
The situation Brohm walks into isn’t totally bleak. The job has some appeal. Purdue is a top academic institution whose degree is valued. And the school plays in the Big Ten West, which is a winnable division that lacks the heavyweights of the Big Ten East. And the school also is in the midst of building a $60 million football complex, while also pledging more resources for football support staff.
Still, myriad challenges loom for Brohm, who has worked for the likes of Howard Schnellenberger and Bobby Petrino. He inherits a talent-poor roster that must be bolstered. Line play on both sides of the ball is atrocious and must be priority No. 1. Brohm’s recruiting ties in the south will no doubt help procure talent, but he also needs to be focused on the Midwest. It also will be critical for Brohm to build a good staff. And next year’s schedule is very unforgiving, beginning with a season-opening game vs. Louisville in Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis on Sept. 2. There also are games vs. MAC title game participant Ohio along with trips to Missouri, Wisconsin and Iowa and visits from Michigan and Nebraska.
Purdue A.D. Mike Bobinski, who has been on the job since September, hopes Brohm is the man to rescue an athletic department that is floundering thanks largely to an inept football program. Others believed to be have been considered for the job were former LSU coach Les Miles, Louisiana Tech’s Skip Holtz, Air Force’s Troy Calhoun, Western Michigan’s P.J. Fleck, former Jaguars offensive coordinator Greg Olson and Illinois State’s Brock Spack, among others. But in the end, Purdue tabbed Brohm, who also looked at Baylor and Cincinnati.
It’s hoped Brohm, who also has been offensive coordinator at Louisville and UAB and quarterbacks coach at Illinois under Ron Zook in his career, can have the same impact that Joe Tiller did upon his hiring in 1997. Tiller showed you can win big at Purdue, as he took the program to 10 bowls in 12 seasons with a Big Ten title and Rose Bowl appearance in the 2000 season. And he did it with a prolific offense. Tiller retired as Purdue’s all-time winningest coach with an 87-62 overall mark and 53-43 Big Ten record. His arrival was a boon to the athletic department and resulted in a Ross-Ade Stadium renovation in the early 2000s.
But Purdue has been on a downward trajectory since Tiller’s last season in 2008, when Purdue went 4-8 overall and 2-6 in the Big Ten. The Boilermakers have had one winning season—7-6 in 2011—since 2007.
Purdue is coming off another dreary season, losing seven in a row to cap a 3-9 mark (1-8 Big Ten) with a loss at Indiana. It was the Boilermakers’ fourth defeat in a row to the Hoosiers, the first time IU has won four in a row vs. Purdue since 1944-47. More sadness: Purdue hasn’t been to a bowl since 2012 under Danny Hope
How bad has it been the last four years? Purdue has a 9-39 overall record and a 3-30 Big Ten mark. And four of the victories have been vs. FCS foes: Indiana State twice, Southern Illinois and Eastern Kentucky. Darrell Hazell produced just one Big Ten home victory for a program that may be at rock bottom, as interest and attendance have plummeted in Ross-Ade Stadium.
Hazell’s hire was an absolute abomination. He was the worst coach in Purdue history, going 9-33 overall and 3-24 in the Big Ten. Gerad Parker assumed command after Hazell was fired following a 49-35 home loss to Iowa on Oct. 15, but the losses continued.
Hazell’s teams never had an offensive identity and were inept and horrifically awful on defense. Special teams did their part to ruin the party, too. And his staffs often were overmatched. On top of it all, Hazell didn’t distinguish himself as a recruiter, either, while lacking personality, charm or charisma. He never connected with fans. Brohm must build a good staff, mend fences with fans and … win.
This is a critical juncture for Purdue’s athletic department. The future is now. The Boilermakers need Brohm to be a success.