Jeff Brohm brings energy, direction to Purdue football program
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Jeff Brohm’s office is a work in progress. Please forgive him.
He has unpacked. But everything isn’t in its place just yet. And, that’s OK. Brohm has had much more important things to do since becoming Purdue coach in early December. He has a football program to build. And, it’s gonna take a lot of work. Every minute of every day matters.
“It’s good to be here,” said Brohm. “It has been a whirlwind, trying to get settled and get to work. We have a lot to do.”
Brohm glances out the window of his office on the upper level of the Mollenkopf Athletic Center. Over one of Brohm’s shoulders are pictures of his two children: 12-year-old Brady and 6-year-old Brooke.
“You’ll see both of them around a lot,” said Brohm. “Especially Brady. He loves it.”
Brohm and his wife, Jennifer, have bought a house near a golf course within ear shot just north of Ross-Ade Stadium off Northwestern Avenue. Brohm could walk to work … or ride a bike.
“I’ve never been this close,” he said.
But most important of all: The arrival of the 46-year-old Brohm provides a much-needed injection of hope into a football program that needs it. Interest has waned in recent years. That’s what winning just nine games in four years will do to a fan base dispirited by myriad Saturday afternoon beatdowns. And perhaps worst of all: Purdue has lost the Old Oaken Bucket each of the last four years, which hasn’t happened since 1944-47. This all has to stop.
He has given the program direction and energy in addition to the much-needed dose of hope. And Brohm also has given Purdue football an identity that had been lacking: This will be a team built around a prolific offense and quarterback play. Fans will get one last look at Brohm’s team in this Saturday’s spring game in Ross-Ade Stadium.
Brohm has brought a dynamic attack with him from Western Kentucky, which dovetails beautifully with the underrated history of Purdue and its “Cradle of Quarterbacks” heritage.
“I’m intrigued by the challenge,” said Brohm. “You can win here. Coach (Joe) Tiller proved that. We believe in our ability as coaches. We had success at Western Kentucky. Now, we want to build this thing up here in West Lafayette.”
One of the things you notice about Brohm is his twang. It’s not a thick, Deep South accent, but you can detect traces of his Kentucky roots in his diction. The guy is about as pure Kentucky as bourbon and burgoo. The Brohm family is football royalty in Louisville. You can’t talk football in Derby City without talking about the Brohms.
Brohm’s father, Oscar, was a standout quarterback for the University of Louisville from 1966-69. And his four children inherited Oscar’s athletic prowess: sons Greg, Jeff and Brian and daughter Kim. The boys became school boy stars at Louisville’s Trinity High before becoming Louisville Cardinals. First, Greg at receiver (1989-92), and then Jeff (1989-93) and Brian (2004-07) as quarterbacks, the accolades and plaudits growing with each successive son who matriculated through U of L. Jeff did more than his part to uphold the Brohm football tradition, earning Kentucky Mr. Football honors in 1988 before being an all-time Cardinal great.
The team MVP in 1992 and 1993, Brohm was a three-year starter under legendary Howard Schnellenberger. And he set numerous school records along the way with one unforgettable performance in the 1993 Liberty Bowl vs. Michigan State. With two steel pins and one steel plate in the index finger of this throwing hand, Brohm proceeded to hit 19-of-29 passes for 197 yards and a TD to lead the Cardinals to an 18-7 win vs. the Spartans on a frigid night in Memphis, Tennesssee.
“I was able to have a good career at Louisville because of a lot of people,” said Brohm. “I was fortunate.”
Brohm was talented … and tough. Very tough. His grit is his underrated aspect. He has an understated persona and an aw-shucks appeal that’s perfect for the front porch of a Cracker Barrel. He could be your next-door neighbor who loans you his hedge trimmer. But beneath that façade is raging competiveness.
“That all began growing up,” said Brohm. “I have a lot of cousins who we played games with. Brian was a bit younger, but Greg and I would get after each other pretty good. We had a rule: we could fight, but all the punches had to be below the neck.”
The Brohm house was a blur of activity most days. If it was football season, they played football. If it was basketball season, they played basketball. If it was baseball season, well, they played baseball.
“We did it all,” said Brohm. “If we weren’t playing sports, we were watching sports.”
Brohm’s football prowess is well documented, being named Kentucky High School Player of the 1980s. But he also was a standout baseball player, good enough to play two seasons of pro ball as a light-hitting (.214 average) outfielder in the Cleveland Indians’ organization while in college. But football was his true love. And, he was able to carve out a lengthy and unique professional career that played a huge role in impacting who he is today as a coach.
Brohm played parts of seven seasons in the NFL with six teams in what best can be described as a “long cup of coffee” career. He played in just eight games between 1994-2000, throwing 58 passes for 353 yards and a TD. While Brohm may not have played a lot, he soaked up a ton of knowledge along the way.
“Sometimes as a backup, you listen more,” said Brohm, who finished his career in the infamous XFL in 2001. “I know I did. I soaked it all in and learned from some great people.”
Steve Mariucci, Pete Carroll, Bobby Ross, George Seifert, Marc Trestman, Marty Mornhinweg, Herman Edwards, Tony Dungy … a cavalcade of great NFL minds shaped Brohm along the way. After his playing career ended, Brohm jumped right into coaching, serving as head coach of the Louisville Fire in afl2 in 2002. He then worked at U of L from 2003-08, then Florida Atlantic, Illinois, UAB and Western Kentucky, where he became head coach in 2014.
“I have been shaped by a lot of people,” Brohm said. “That is who I am today. My influences are many.”
Those influences will go a long way in hopefully giving Purdue once again an offense as fearsome as it was when Drew Brees was the triggerman during the glory years of the Tiller era (1997-2008).
How prolific was the Western Kentucky offense under Brohm? The Hilltoppers averaged 44.6 points, 356.6 yards passing and 526.2 yards the last three seasons. And the quarterbacks thrived, completing 69.2 percent of their passes and throwing 131 touchdowns with only 25 interceptions over the span.
This will be a no-huddle offense that will operate from a base set of one running back, one tight end and three receivers. And it will play with tempo when it can. Brohm will call the plays. This is his baby.
“Would I like to throw it each play?” said Brohm. “Yes, sure. I think it’s exciting. The players and fans like it. But the goal is to score points. Some of the things I am most proud of, my first year at Western, our QB broke the single-game record for passing yards but in the same year we broke the single-game rushing record. You have to have balance. That doesn’t mean it’s 50-50. You have to throw it every play. And when they guard it, we are gonna run it.”
But it isn’t all offense. Brohm’s Hilltopper squads also played good defense, improving from 121st in the nation in scoring defense his first year in 2014 to 41st last season. But most important of all: Brohm won big at Western Kentucky, going 30-10 overall with a 19-5 Conference USA mark from 2014 to 2016. The Hilltoppers were league champions in 2015 and 2016 and went to bowls each of Brohm’s three seasons. Now, he hopes to replicate that success with the Boilermakers.
“I am excited to be here,” said Brohm. “You want success each year, you want to reach the postseason and build each year. We have work to do. That’s why we are here. But, you can have success here.”