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Don’t Define Ryan Walters’ Success With Wins in Year 1

Judging a first year head coach on win totals is always an iffy proposition but when the schedule is this brutal, it may be better to look at other factors.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: JUL 27 Big Ten Conference Media Days Photo by James Black/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Judging a first time head coach at the major college level on wins alone is always a bit of a bad proposition. Judging based on wins alone when that head coach is in the B1G and playing what is one of the toughest schedules in the country that includes two early contenders for the CFP in Michigan and Ohio is even worse. Ryan Walters has as hard of a job to continue the success his predecessor left him than anyone else who was just hired. Places like Nebraska, Colorado, and Wisconsin have had some rough seasons lately and are performing well below what their expectations have been and should be. Nobody in major college football is replacing a head coach who just took his program to a conference championship appearance and certainly no first year coach has the schedule ahead of them that Walters has.

Listen, the wins are going to come this year. Purdue finishes the year with likely the two worst teams in the B1G in Northwestern and Indiana but has a run of games against #19 Wisconsin, Illinois, #25 Iowa, #3 Ohio State, Nebraska, #2 Michigan, and Minnesota in a span of nine weeks. Of the five opponents who are not ranked, Minnesota and Illinois were also receiving votes in the AP preseason poll. It truly isn’t inconceivable that Purdue could end up facing six or seven ranked opponents in that time frame. Justify the success of a first year coach against this schedule is going to be difficult to do, especially if Purdue is losing the games closely.

There are a lot of things that we can judge Walters’ first season at Purdue beyond simple wins and losses and would be a better judgement of the state of the program. Remember, it was just over a decade ago that a first year head coach came in following some modest success from his predecessor and nearly went 0-11 if it weren’t for a defensive stand against Indiana State in the fourth quarter. We all know what it will look like if the season gets off the proverbial rails. We will also know what it looks like if the team has bought in and the staff has gelled enough to look like a competent program and building a foundation for success in the future. Joe Tiller lost his first game but followed it up with a program defining win against Notre Dame. Jeff Brohm lost his first game against his alma mater but followed it up with solid performances with wins against a solid Ohio Bobcats program under Frank Solich and at Missouri.

All I am saying is that as Purdue Football fans, we know what we are getting from the runs of success and disappointment over the last twenty five years.

Ryan Walters has done all of the right things so far. Won the press conference? Sure did and he threw out a lot of catchy words like ‘explosive’ and ‘throw the ball’ that Purdue fans recognize and love. Recruiting? Arguably, he is recruiting at a level Purdue hasn’t seen since rankings became a thing around the turn of the century. Pushing Purdue to be ‘cool’? Did you see the Indy Car at Ross Ade this summer? Have you seen his posts on Twitter? Yeah, the man drives a blacked out Mercedes, wears designer sunglasses, and all black suits. I don’t think I need to explain that one any more than that.

So what can we look for when it comes to success beyond wins? Look for the effort level and the buy in from players throughout the season, especially if the wins don’t come. That was something that was pretty evident with Purdue’s team under Darrell Hazel. As soon as the wins didn’t come, they stopped playing hard and the brand of football was boring. It wasn’t until Hazel was fired and Gerad Parker took over that it seemed Purdue played with a give-a-damn when anything didn’t go right (let’s be honest, not much went right for those teams). A coach, even in years when they struggle, builds the foundation for their program or continues what they have built by getting players to buy in to what they are doing.

Can Purdue make adjustments from game to game when they make mistakes? That was something that was pretty infuriating at times under Jeff Brohm. Bad penalties, stupid mistakes that weren’t corrected, and poor execution at key times seemed to follow Brohm into every season. Brohm was able to make up for a lot of things Purdue it didn’t seem like he was ever able to get a handle on some of those issues until last season when Purdue seemed to avoid the bad penalties that killed drives and momentum.

Will Purdue avoid the mind-numbingly bad losses that they should be able to avoid? I’m not sure one of those is on the schedule outside of maybe a deflated Indiana team at the end of the season but you never count out your rival in a trophy game. That might be the toughest one to judge this season as Purdue just doesn’t have a gimme game like they had under Brohm every year yet seemed to lay an egg against teams like Eastern Michigan, Rutgers, and Nevada.

Ultimately though, Purdue and Ryan Walters will be judged based on the wins and losses this season because that is what this business is about. Would it be fair to say Purdue failed this season if they went 5-7 and missed a bowl game? What if they went 2-10? What about 7-5? As with a lot of things, the proof will be in the pudding and how Purdue looks and the vibe around the program to continue the hot start to recruiting will tell the tale in 2023.