Purdue has its new football coach, as Ryan Walters has been tabbed as Jeff Brohm’s successor in West Lafayette. Here are a few quick reactions and thoughts on the former Illinois defensive coordinator’s hire.
SOME GUYS JUST HAVE ‘IT’
Ryan Walters is legitimately viewed as a rising star in coaching, and there are those people you come across sometimes that you meet them or see how they operate or how people respond to them and you think, “That guy is going places”
Best example I can give you there was Marcus Freeman, part of a doomed staff at Purdue years back, but someone whose magnetism and passion rose above. It took just a decade or so for the linebackers coach on that failing staff to become the head coach at Notre Dame.
Back when I was a much younger man, I came to know a 12-year-old-looking Brad Stevens and knew then and there that would be a name worth knowing. By the time he looked 15, he was coaching in the national title game.
Some guys just have it.
I assume that when Purdue met Ryan Walters, it saw that. Mike Bobinski’s track record with up-and-coming coaches in basketball and football (Jeff Brohm) alike is strong, and Purdue will hope here that his eye for such things is true once again, and that they hired this guy before anyone else had a chance to, same way things unfolded with Matt Painter and Jeff Brohm under different circumstances.
People overthink this stuff sometimes and lose sight of the fact that at the end of the day this is a people business above all else.
They look at résumés and results and stuff when what this boils down to isn’t as much of who can call the right plays or sign the best recruits — certainly important — but who can lead?
Who can unite people and not divide them?
Who can connect with people and bring the best out of them? Who can create both energy and discipline?
You do that stuff and everything else falls in place around it.
Purdue must see in Ryan Walters that very quality.
THERE’S RISK HERE
It was just last night that I wrote these exact words …
Ryan Walters’ name has come up and we have confirmed Purdue has spoken to him. Great. Purdue has a ton of money to spend, a ton of money at stake and a history to sell on offense. You’re not only gonna hire a defensive guy, but a a 36-year-old one from a team Purdue was better than this season? And a team that runs a Flintstones offense? Yes, I know he’s a defensive coach.
Walters did great work this season at Illinois, but had little answer for the guy who just left. Walters might be the guy you hire next time. You’d have to pretty confident in your ability to identify greatness before anyone else to take that leap of faith now.
I stand by every word, and certainly the larger point.
The best predictor of the future is the past, and historically, when Purdue has been relevant, offense has driven it. Purdue has a history at quarterback and a real need to set itself apart from everyone else out there by any means necessary. Offense has long been that angle. Drew Brees and Rondale Moore transform programs and sell tickets; weak-side linebacker play does not.
Furthermore, the Big Ten is swimming in money these days. Big Ten and SEC jobs are now the pinnacle, even more so than before. Purdue’s a $100-plus-million athletic department these days with the head football coach being the single more important figure. By-passing having the experience box checked is not the path of least resistance.
Again, though, stardom has to start somewhere, and Purdue must think it has that guy.
OFFENSIVE DIRECTION WILL BE CRUCIAL
Can you win with defense right away at Purdue? Who knows anymore as the transfer portal fundamentally changes college coaching? Everything’s different now and that creates even more absurdity around the concept of the “big name” hire?
Hell, let’s get silly and ask the question of whether or not now’s not the perfect time to hire a young coach with no head coaching experience? Maybe they’ll be more agile on the fly, a must these days.
What I do know is that it’s going to be really hard to come in here and run a complementary-football sort of ball-control offense the way Illinois has. It’s hard to be a big-play offense and a good, sound and consistent defense, but Purdue can’t turn its back on offensive innovation and the passing game, in my opinion, nor can it just immediately start recruiting transformative players on the offensive line.
Walters’ offensive coordinator hire will be interesting, but remember: This is Ryan Walters’ program now. It’s his philosophy that matters more than any coordinator hire.
TOUGHNESS AND DISCIPLINE ARE MUSTS
Let’s be honest here, guys: As fun and successful as Purdue has been the past six years or so, a little bit more discipline here or there and things are pretty different. Purdue left a lot of wins out on those fields, and at this moment, the roster happens to be in shambles for reasons that don’t reflect well on discipline or organization.
My impression of Walters from afar is that he’s a details guy and a motivator. You don’t turn around a defense, and team, the way he did this season, if you’re not. He’ll need to have that same effect over a whole roster, and run a bit of a tighter ship than was run before.
And hiring a defensive guy, they generally don’t get very far in their careers without their players being tough and effort-driven.
A MEA CULPA
If our coverage downplayed Ryan Walters as a candidate even as our staff repeatedly got indications he was a possibility the past few days, you can point the finger squarely at me for continually throwing baking soda on any spark that materialized. I have this thing where I think I know everything and I do not. And I’m so gun-shy about red herrings in situations like this.
I’ve been through a lot of coaching searches before and I have learned from sitting back with a level head and rational mind and letting everyone else make the mistakes. This time, I made the mistake.