Before I get started I want to make one thing very, very clear. Like, as transparent as I possible can be: THIS IS NOT A LIST OF CANDIDATES PURDUE AD MIKE BOBINSKI IS USING TO FIND THE NEW HEAD COACH. This is just who I believe Purdue would be smart to contact and would make a great hire for the football program. Some of these choices are realistic and others seem to be a shot in the dark. Either way, these are the guys that would have a lot of success at Purdue if given the chance. With that being said, let’s get into it!
Jeff Brohm’s $1 million buyout leaves Purdue in a bad position and something the trustees should have to answer to. A buyout of $4-5 million would allow Purdue to off set the costs associated with pursuing current successful head coaches like Pat Narduzzi and Dave Doeren.
*Note: This is a Drew and Jed collaboration. Jed did all the leg work, I’m providing my response to each coach. - Drew
Tyson Helton | Head Coach | Western Kentucky
Tyson Helton took over for Western Kentucky in 2019 after Mike Sanford’s disastrous two seasons. In his four seasons as head coach, Helton is 31-21 but has failed to win a Conference USA title. His coaching background includes working for June Jones at Hawaii, Neil Callaway and Garrick McGee at UAB, and Jeff Brohm at Western Kentucky. He has also worked for his brother Clay at USC and Jeremy Pruitt at Tennessee. Helton throws the ball as much as anyone in the country. In 2022, WKU threw the ball an average of 43.5 times per game for a total of 4,409 yards and 38 touchdowns.
He may be the safe option for the Boilers if they are not able to land any of their tier 1 (whoever that may be) options. It seems nobody is headed towards Bowling Green, Kentucky to scoop Helton up this season but he may end up a coach down the road for a Power 5 program in the near future.
Purdue’s trademark offense won’t change much under Helton. He runs a quarterback friendly attack and put up points. Western Kentucky’s Austin Reed is one of the top signal callers in the nation, and he happens to be in the transfer portal. I assumed he would end up in Louisville, but if he wanted to follow Helton to Purdue, I wouldn’t be sad. It would give the young Boilmaker signal callers a year in the offense, and allow Helton to hit the ground running in West Lafayette.
He runs into the same problem Jeff Brohm had at Purdue. Can you run a pass first, pass second, and pass third offense in November when the weather turns nasty? In 2019, he featured running back Gaej Walker, and incidentally had his best year for the Hilltopers. Brohm did the same thing at WKU and then abandoned it at Purdue.
Does Purdue want a guy that’s been at Western Kentucky for 4 years and never quite made it over the hump. That’s a large gamble that the Hilltoppers were holding him back, and he’ll thrive in West Lafayette with better talent. Speaking of which, he would need a great staff around him for recruiting, because he hasn’t done much of that at Big10 level either. That’s not insurmountable, but something else to consider.
His one foray into “major” college football ended after a 1 year stint at Tennessee as the offensive coordinator. It was a miserable failure. The Vols went 5-7 and the offense was 110th in the nation, despite having multiple future NFL receivers on the roster. That’s not ideal.
He fits the Purdue profile, but I question if he’s ready for the spotlight. He wouldn’t be the worst hire, but he wouldn’t be the “home run” the fan base is clamoring for at the moment. I consider him a back burner choice.
Dave Clawson | Head Coach | Wake Forest
Dave Clawson just finished his 9th season at Wake Forest. He has a 58-53 record with the Demon Deacons, don’t let that dissuade you though, it’s hard to win at Wake. Prior to Wake Forest, Clawson was the head coach at BGSU (32-32) and the offensive coordinator at Tennessee during a terrible 2008 season. He also has extensive FCS experience, turning a terrible Forham team into a contender, and then doing the same at Richmond.
In 2021, Clawson gained national attention for his work with Wake Forest. He led them to an 11-3 record, the best season single season win total in school history and only the second 10+ win season in school history.
Clawson, as a head coach, would likely bring most of his staff with him to Purdue. This could potentially mean a return to West Lafayette for well regarded defensive coordinator Brad Lambert (Lambert might also be the choice to replace him at Wake). Clawson’s offensive coordinator Warren Ruggiero (another possibility to replace Clawson in this scenario) is an innovator and a well regarded offensive coordinator. He’s been with Clawson since his stint as the BGSU head coach in 2009.
Under Clawson and Ruggiero, Wake Forest has innovated what is termed as the ‘slow mesh’. This features an RPO (Run-Pass Option) offense but with delayed or ‘slow’ read at the mesh point. You can read more about the ‘Slow Mesh’ at the link provided. It would be something totally new for Big10 defensive coordinator and could pay dividends early. Given more resources and support, Clawson and his staff my just be scratching the surface of what they are capable of achieving.
As a Clemson fan, every time there is a job opening, I propose Dave Clawson, mainly to get him out of Clemson’s hair. When he has the right players in place, his offense can be unstoppable. That was on full display this year when the Demon Deacons went head to head with the Tigers in a thrilling 51-45 overtime loss.
Depth has always been an issue for his Wake teams. It’s a tough place to recruit. They tend to start off hot and then fade as attrition takes its inevitable toll. There tends to be a wide gap in talent between his first and second team players. It would be interesting to see what he could do with more depth.
Can he bump his recruiting up to the next level at Purdue? I have no idea. I think his offense would draw in talent, but that’s not a certainty. His offense is a bit gimmicky, and some years Clemson destroys it by blowing up the slow mesh before the offense gets started.
It also requires a tough, mobile quarterback willing to take hits in both the run and pass game, while making decisions under pressure. Sam Hartman has terrorized ACC defenses over the last few years, but he’s a different type of dude. No guarantee another player like Hartman comes along any time soon.
Out of all the names Jed has looked at thus far, this is my top pick. He fits Purdue’s need to “do more with less” (even though it will be more than he had at Wake), and put point on the board to keep the fans in the stands. He’s 55, and I assume Purdue would be his last stop.
He’s turned down offers before, but if there is a time to throw a pile of money on the table and make him say no, it’s now. He’s looking at a rebuilt at Wake with the departure of Hartman, and the future of star 6’5” wide receiver A.T. Perry up in the air, in terms of the NFL draft.
Purdue needs to make him say no.
Matt Campbell | Head Coach | Iowa State
Matt Campbell got his start after Tim Beckman left Toledo to become the head coach at Illinois. Campbell took over and kept the Rockets rolling leading Toledo to a 35-15 record before being hired at Iowa State in 2016. Campbell has frequently moved his team at Iowa State into the AP rankings and finished the 2020 season 9th in the country. In his 7 years at Iowa State, his record is 46-42 but seems to just not quite have enough fire power to get to that next level. In 2022, his team struggled to a 4-8 record and Campbell may be looking for a path out before his stock plummets
He is still a relatively young head coach at 43 years and his best years of his coaching could still be ahead of him. Iowa State has traditionally been a tough place to win, and Campbell has them relevant for the first time since Dan McCarty had a flare up of success in the early 2000s.
In 2022, Campbell was scheduled to make $4 million as his base pay and a buyout significantly reduced from almost $10 million in 2017 to $4 million in 2022. That is a figure Purdue could reach without having to mortgage the farm.
It’s though to win at Iowa State...like extremely tough. Campbell’s 2020 squad finished the season ranked 9th. It’s only the 3rd time in program history the Cyclones finished ranked in the AP poll, and their first time finishing in the top 10.
He runs a more balanced attack, and knows what it takes to win in the Midwest when the weather gets cold and the wind starts to howl.
As Jed mentioned, his stock has been in a freefall over the last two seasons. After losing quarterback Brock Purdy and running back Breece Hall to the NFL draft in 2020, he hasn’t found any replacements. The Cyclones went 7-6 in 2021 and then fell off a cliff in 2022, going 4-8 and only winning one conference game. It’s hard to tell if Purdy and Hall were successful because of Campbell, or if Campbell ran into a bumper crop of talent and rode it to the top. Can he repeat his 2020 results, or was that season a fluke?
Not the worst choice, but consider me skeptical. Purdue would be paying 4 million dollars for a chance to see if he can repeat 2020 Iowa State, despite not having any data pointing to his ability to do so.
I don’t think he would be a bad choice, but he’s not at the top of my list.