First and foremost, Ryan Walters is the head coach at Purdue. Your feelings about Ryan Walters being the head coach isn’t going to change that fact. As Purdue fans, we are left with two options. We can throw our support behind our new, young head coach, and provide him with every opportunity to thrive, or we can sulk, complain, pull our support, and create a self fulfilling prophecy of failure. I’m firmly in the “support the coach until it’s proven that support isn’t warranted” camp, because my track record on predicting the future isn’t great.
I was personally insulted when my Alma Mater, Clemson, hired Dabo Swinney, a young wide receiver coach with no head coaching experience to replace Tommy Bowden in 2008. I thought Clemson was too big of a program to hire a guy like Swinney. 12 (and counting) 10 win seasons in a row and two National Championships later, I think I may have been a bit quick to judge. I recommend you avoid this fate.
Personally, he wasn’t my preferred candidate, but I’ve learned that cutting off my nose to spite my face doesn’t get me far. He was destined to be a head coach at a power 5 program in the next two seasons (he was a finalist for the Colorado job). Purdue isn’t better than Ryan Walters.
The youthful coaching prodigy walks into a mess at Purdue. Jeff Brohm and company did the Boilermakers no favors with their (alleged) abrupt departure after the Big10 Championship game. He’s already behind, and it’s going to be a struggle to catch up. Here is what needs to happen immediately.
Hire a Coaching Staff
One issue with bringing in a young coordinator is connections. Coaching is all about who you know, and at 36, Walters coaching roladex isn’t a robust as other candidates. He doesn’t come with ready made coaching staff. I’m sure this was discussed during his interview, and it will be interesting to see what direction he takes the offense.
He comes from an Illinois program that leaned on the run to control games. If that’s what he wants at Purdue, he needs to have the power to make that happen. If he wants a more traditional “Purdue” offense, I’m fine with that as well, but we’ve seen what happens when a playing style is forced on a coach (Darrell Hazell/Bob Shoop). I don’t need to tell y’all the results.
Hiring an offensive coordinator fans can get behind, regardless of the style of play he chooses to employ, will go a long way in ingratiating himself to the Purdue faithful. Fans don’t know much about him at the moment, but a couple clutch hires on the offensive side of the ball should perk Boiler Nation’s interest. Nailing the OC hire will not only help on the field, but will help public relations.
C.E.O. or Coordinator/Head Coach
This goes along with hiring a staff, but it’s another key decision for Walters. Jeff Brohm was a head coach/coordinator, and he struggled to balance those roles at times. Walters landed this job because of his record as a defensive coordinator. He needs to decide if he wants to remain in that role at Purdue, or if he trusts another coach to call the defense while helps with the big picture stuff like defensive scheme and philosophy.
I think young head coaches get in trouble when they try and take on too much responsibility all at once. I’m a proponent of the C.E.O. coach over the coordinator/head coach, but it’s up to Coach Walters to make that choice.
Bring in a Trusted Support Staff
One thing Dabo Swinney credits for helping him navigate the college football coaching landscape as a young coach with no head coaching was the experienced support staff he hired at Clemson. His first move as head coach was hiring long time mentor (his former position coach at Alabama), and respected coach, Woody McCorvey. At an awards banquet he said, “I told Woody that I needed him by my side. I needed him to help me coach life and help run the program.”
At Clemson McCorvey handles several of the behind the scenes jobs that can make or break a program. He’s the liaison between Coach Swinney and the athletic and IPTAY administrations. He manages Clemson football’s administrative offices, oversees the budget, and supervises the academic support staff. Even now, he’s the first person Coach Swinney turns to when he needs advice.
I highly advise Coach Walters to find his Woody McCorvey. Things could be a choppy early in his tenure, and having an experienced advisor in place to bounce ideas off and help calm the waters would be invaluable.
Recruit the Current Roster
I expect Coach Walters to be a hit with the current players. He’s young, energetic, and has experienced what they are experiencing as a player. Purdue needs a coach to come in and stop the bleeding, and Coach Walters is the right man for the job.
The defense, which I feared would be picked clean by Brohm, Hagan, and English, in particular, should have a positive response to this hire. Joe Strickland, Purdue’s 3rd highest ranked recruit of the 2022 class, recruited by Mark Hagan, seems enthused.
If Coach Walters can keep young guys like Strickland, Nic Caraway, and Yanni Karlaftis on board, the defense could help stabilize the program while the offensive side of the ball gets worked out.
Then there is the ever looming question at quarterback. Brady Allen was targeted by Jeff Brohm as a perfect fit for his offense. Can Coach Walters convince him to stay? The quarterback position is wide open, and the new staff will evaluate every player in the program will that keep Michael Alaimo in the fold? Quarterback is the most important position in sports. It’s hard to win without one. Coach needs to shore up the premier Purdue football position.
I don’t expect Walters to coach the bowl game. His top priorities need to be hiring a staff, evaluating and stabilizing the roster, salvaging the recruiting class, and scouring the portal for instant impact help.
At the same time, Brian Brohm and Mark Hagen need to go. The power dynamic of having Louisville coaches lead Purdue onto the field for the next month is untenable. I don’t have a ready solution to this problem, but I don’t get paid millions of dollars find solutions. If Mike Bobinski is dead set on having the zombie Brohm staff remain in place, I think it will be a mistake and send the wrong message to the remaining players. The sooner Purdue makes a clean break with former staff, the sooner the program starts to recover.
Recruit the Fans
This is an area where Coach Walters should thrive. The Purdue fan base is more than a little raw after the Brohm debacle (having Louisville coaches in the Purdue coaching offices isn’t helping). He comes into this job knowing that he’s not what Boilermaker fans were expecting, or wanting out of this coaching search.
I’ve listened to Coach Walters speak a few times, and I think y’all are in for pleasant surprise. He’s a cool, confident speaker and doesn’t come off as a cheer leader. He’ll be a breath of fresh air from the often times curt and dismissive Jeff Brohm. After watching a few hundred Brohm press conference, and feeling like he would rather be anywhere, doing anything else, other than answering questions about his program, I anticipate Coach Walters being more approachable and informative.
On the field, his demeanor reminds me of Matt Painter. He’s maintains his composure regardless of the situation. The days of the coaching staff getting crucial 15 yard penalties are over.
Athletics director Mike Bobinski would be well served to get a microphone in front of him at every possible opportunity over the next few months. Coach Walters will win over the fan base by standing in front of the media and Purdue fans and being himself.
Here are a few examples of his coaching and press conference style over the years.
I get it y’all. Some of you are disappointed. There’s nothing wrong with that. Mike Bobinski set expectations in his press conference, and then seemingly failed to meet that standard. That’s not Ryan Walters fault.
This hire is being better received outside of Purdue circles, than inside Purdue circles at the moment.
Ryan Walters is an incredible hire for Purdue. I have no idea if it will work out.— Tom Fornelli (@TomFornelli) December 13, 2022
Former Mizzou/Illinois DC Ryan Walters to Purdue! He’s a phenomenal DC, fingers crossed he can translate that to HC success as well. BIG win for Purdue.— Aaron Taylor (@AaronTaylorCFB) December 13, 2022
Ryan Walters is going to do great things at Purdue. It’s his time, to show the world how special he is. Purdue just hit a home run.— Carl Reed (@CoachReedLive) December 13, 2022
Two years ago before the 36-year-old Ryan Walters arrived Illinois ranked No. 108 in defense. This year, his defense ranked No. 2 in the nation. He did an amazing job there and also had a big impact at Mizzou before that. He's definitely one of the rising stars in coaching.— Bruce Feldman (@BruceFeldmanCFB) December 13, 2022
Ryan Walters is only 36 years old. His career trajectory is seismic.— Ben Stevens (@BenScottStevens) December 13, 2022
• 1st non-GA job: CB coach, North Texas (2013)
• 1st coord. job: Co-DC, Mizzou (2016)
• Full-time DC, Mizzou (2018)
• DC, Illinois (2021)
• Now HC, Purdue (2023)
Purdue just made an exceptional hire.
I can’t tell you how to act. I can’t tell you how to spend your money. I can ask you to give Coach Walters a fair chance, and I’m doing just that. Declaring him a failure before his first game does no one any good. I have no idea how this is going to turn out, and neither does anyone else. That’s the way it goes for 99.9% of coaching hires. Making a definitive statement either way, “this guy is a home run! (Tom Herman),” or “how could we hire this guy (Dabo Swinney)?” is a mistake.
I know I’ll be supporting Coach Walters. I have no reason not to. I hope some of y’all will join me. College sports are supposed to be fun, and lamenting the fact that your favorite program didn’t hire the guy you wanted, isn’t fun.