First off, man, what a season! Waaaay back in the summer I thought this Purdue squad had 6 win floor and an 8 win ceiling. I’m happy I was wrong (although outside of Travis’s perpetual Purdue positivity, I was more optimistic than most), and look forward to being wrong again in the future. That was a weird, at times frustrating, and ultimately thrilling, season of football.
More Please (but we can skip the frustrating part next year if that’s O.K.)!
The recent coaching defection(s) on the defensive side of the ball point to the next step in Brohm’s evolution from offensive genius to coaching genius. He needs to shore up his defensive coaching staff. The 2021 defensive staff vastly outperformed my expectations. Bringing in an entirely new defensive staff, composed mainly of coaches in need of a job, usually doesn’t go this well. I was skeptical of the defensive coordinator triad, but you can’t argue with the results. The Purdue defense carried the Boilermakers when the offense looked dead in the water.
Losing Brad Lambert to Wake Forest hurts. Brohm likes playing odd front defenses, and Lambert is great at calling that type of defense. Beyond that, it stings when you lose a coach to what can only be considered a lateral move. Don’t get me wrong, I understand why Lambert left for Wake. My wife recently made somewhat of a lateral move from teaching at Kansas State to teaching at Georgia, for the same reason Lambert is moving to Wake. All things being close to even, living near friends and family trumps loyalty to your current position. I don’t hold any ill will towards Lambert moving on, and I also don’t hold it against Brohm. He hired the best guy available at the time, and it worked out. That type of hiring, however, is a roll of the dice. Sometimes you get a Lambert, sometimes you get a Diaco.
In order to stabilize the defensive side of the ball, Brohm needs to expand his coaching tree. The best way to avoid coaches making lateral moves is to get guys who, all things being close to even, want to be at Purdue. He’s done an excellent job (some might say too good) of keeping his offensive staff together. That might be a challenge this offseason, because you’re going to see Coach Shephard’s name tied to a few high profile jobs (Notre Dame being one). If he loses Shephard to Notre Dame, that’s tough luck, because all things between Notre Dame and Purdue are not equal. At the same time, Shephard is a Brohm guy, and it gives Purdue a chance to retain his services, even if Notre Dame comes calling (got to get the checkbook out though).
Coach Brohm needs to develop some Brohm/Purdue guys on the defense. I like what Coach Hagan and English did this year, and I hope they continue doing it in the future, but I’m not confident either hang around if someone else comes calling. No offense intended to either coach, but neither has anything tying them long term to Purdue other than a paycheck, and both have a long list former employers. Ron English is a Ron English guy and Mark Hagan is a Mark Hagag guy. I hope they end up retiring at Purdue after long, successful runs, but I wouldn’t plan on it. Outside the two remaining Co-Defensive coordinators, Coach Adams appears to have one, if not both, feet out the door (he’s a Lambert guy and is rumored to be heading to Wake). Coach Biagi is probably as close to a Brohm/Purdue guy the Boilermakers have on staff right now, and he’s got a CVS receipt for a coaching resume as well.
The obvious progression for Purdue at defensive coordinator is to move forward with either English or Hagan calling plays. Coach Hagan has more experience coaching odd man fronts and Coach English has more experience calling defenses. It will be interesting to see which way Brohm ends up leaning, in terms of the guy on the headset calling the defense. I’m a Hagan guy, simply because a promotion could keep him in Purdue long term, and I think he’s the best assistant coach on the staff, but English isn’t a bad option either. I’m more interested in who he brings (or promotes) in to replace Lambert (and possibly (probably?) Adams) as a position coach. Bringing in loyal (either to Brohm or Purdue) position coaches is the best way to stabilize the churning defensive staff.
I would love to see T.J. McCollumm promoted from football recruiting associate/quality control to linebacker coach. You don’t get more of a Brohm/Purdue guy than T.J. and he would bring youth to an otherwise long(ish) in the tooth defensive staff (depending on Adams). If Purdue needs a new defensive backs coach, I expect David Elson to seamlessly move from quality control to an on field coaching job. Elson has deep ties to the area and and the former Western Kentucky head coach is one of the more experienced guys you will find doing quality control. I could see both these guys being long term solutions on the Purdue staff. If either get promotions, I hope Brohm backfills their spots with a fresh crop of Brohm/Boiler loyal coaches.
I’ve watched the system work at my alma mater (Clemson) for the last decade. Coach Swinney (regardless of your thoughts on him) took all of 10 minutes to fill two of the most high profile coordinator positions in America. He didn’t even need to make a phone call, he just walked down the hallway and knocked on two doors. That didn’t require paying a buyout, installing a new offense or defense, or reshuffling the recruiting board. The show at Clemson goes on seamlessly. I would love to look at Purdue’s coaching staff 5 years from now and see it packed with former Boilermakers making their names in the coaching world, the way I see the current Clemson staff packed with former Tigers. Give me coaching continuity all day, every day.
I’ll admit, I’ve been on the fence regarding Brohm as the long term solution at Purdue, but after this season, I’m all-in. I may question some of the details, but the overall picture with a Brohm led Purdue team looks bright. It’s time for him to start building his legacy and expanding his coaching tree. I see this (these) opening(s) as an opportunity to do just that. I expect him to transform Purdue from an assistant coaching way station to an assistant destination, and I think that happens by hiring guys that, all things being close to equal, would rather be in West Lafayette.
Once that happens (and I think it will happen) the sky is the limit for Purdue football. I look forward to talking about teams with 8 win floors and 11 win ceilings...and watching the Boilermakers smash through the ceiling.