Barry Odom never will forget the first time he met new Purdue coach Ryan Walters. It was at the University of Arizona during a coaching clinic in 2010, when Odom was a Missouri assistant.
“He was just a GA,” Odom told GoldandBlack.com on Tuesday. “But the observations he was making were impressive. I said: ‘Who is that guy’? “
Odom sat up and leaned forward in his chair.
“Ryan was in the room and he started talking about some of the things within the coverages that they were doing,” recalled Odom. “As a graduate assistant, his view on that, I thought it was extremely high level. His understanding of the game was exceptional. So, we developed a relationship.
Odom remembered this impressive young coach and ultimately lured him to the staff at Memphis he was working on as defensive coordinator in 2014 with Justin Fuente. Odom isn’t surprised to see this day come for Walters, who was named the Boilermakers head coach on Tuesday.
“I think he’s tremendous in a lot of ways,” said Odom, who recently was named head coach at UNLV after a run as Missouri head coach (2016-19). “He will relate extremely well when he walks into the room with whoever it is. Whether it’s a student-athlete, whether it’s a recruit, whether it’s a donor, whether it’s the president of the school.
“He is such a terrific person, very humble and always has got a view on the big picture and I think that sets him apart.”
Walters will need that big-picture view when he unpacks in West Lafayette. According to the school, Walters will spend the remainder of the month assembling his staff, recruiting and watching Purdue prep for the Cheez-It Citrus Bowl on Jan. 2 vs. LSU. Practices are slated to begin on Wednesday.
Walters must keep together a recruiting class that already has had five de-commitments. And one key player has jumped into the portal: guard Spencer Holstege. Walters must do his part to keep everything together.
Walters forged a reputation as a rising star who was destined for this day. And, Walters star shone brightly in 2022, his second season working for Bret Bielema in Champaign. Walters’ defense has been the backbone of the Fighting Illini’s 8-4 season that has them headed to the Reliaquest Bowl in Tampa vs. Mississippi State the same day Purdue takes on LSU.
The Illini are No. 1 in the Big Ten in total defense (263.9 ypg), No. 1 in scoring defense (12.3 ppg), No. 2 in rushing defense (98.4 ypg) and No. 1 in passing defense (165.4 ypg). The Illini’s 29 takeaways lead the Big Ten. Walters’ defense squared off vs. Purdue this season with the Boilers taking a 31-24 decision in Champaign, gaining 379 yards with Devin Mockobee running for 106 yards.
“I think aggressive,” said Odom when asked to describe Walters’ defensive style. “I think very well-coached, disciplined, hard-nosed. They will be prepared for anything that they’re going to see on the other side of the ball. His competitive spirit will be very clear and evident to see through how his players play for him.”
“I don’t know,” fessed Odom. “He’s always been able to adjust the personnel. It depends. You got to be a great teacher, and Ryan is. So, he’ll take the roster on what it is and develop what he thinks gives them the best chance to be successful.”
A big key for Walters will be how he builds his offensive staff. Purdue has a well-established reputation as the “Cradle of Quarterbacks.” Will Walters continue the quarterback-centric offense that has been the centerpiece of the Purdue program for generations?
Another big aspect of the job for the 36-year-old Walters: Recruiting.
“Off the charts,” said Odom. “Relates well. He’s very, very aggressive. Builds relationships. He will paint the vision for them on their plan and the program and organization and also give them an idea on how they fit.”
Walters will meet the media at a press conference on Wednesday. No doubt, he will begin to show his hand as far as offensive philosophy, staff, NIL, transfer portal and more as he takes command following a successful six-year run by Jeff Brohm that produced four bowls and a Big Ten West title.
Brohm is gone, off to Louisville. It’s Walters’ time, as Purdue turns to an unproven head coach in a conference littered with proven pros like Kirk Ferentz, Matt Rhule, Luke Fickell, P.J. Fleck and others.
“It’s awesome,” said Odom. “So happy for him and his family. He’ll do a great job. I’m happy for Purdue, and I’m happy for the student-athletes there because they’ve got a great leader.”