Purdue hires Illinois defensive coordinator Ryan Walters as new coach
Purdue athletic director Mike Bobinski promised to conduct a national search for Jeff Brohm’s replacement. He found the new guy just across the state line.
The Boilermakers hired Illinois defensive coordinator Ryan Walters as their head coach less than a week after Brohm left for his alma mater, Louisville. Walters is scheduled for a formal introduction.
“From an early point in the search process, coach Walters stood out because of the energy, passion and intelligence he displayed as a defensive coordinator in both the Big Ten Conference and Southeastern Conference,” Bobinski said in a statement. “His meteoric rise in the coaching profession is in large part due to his unique ability to connect with his student-athletes as both a coach and mentor.”
Walters was a finalist for this year’s Broyles Award, which goes to the Bowl Subdivision’s top assistant coach. He called plays for a defense that allowed the nation’s fewest points, second-fewest total yards and the second-fewest yards rushing in the Big Ten last season. The Illini went 8-4, holding opponents in seven wins to 10 or fewer points and to seven or fewer points in five wins.
Now the 36-year-old Walters becomes the fourth-youngest coach in the Bowl Subdivision behind Kenny Dillingham (32, Arizona State), Kane Wommack (35, South Alabama) and Dan Lanning (36, Oregon).
“This is something that I had seen coming for a while now,” Illini coach Bret Bielema said. “We have had a plan in place that we will unveil in the coming weeks that will position Illinois football for sustained success in 2023 and for years to come.”
Walters will be one of four Black head coaches in the Big Ten next season and the second in Purdue history, following Darrell Hazell who went 25-43 in 3 1/2 seasons starting in 2013.
But for a school dubbed the “Cradle of Quarterbacks,” it’s an unusual departure from the norm.
Brohm and the late Joe Tiller each used creative, innovative offenses to turn the Boilermakers into conference contenders and over the past 40 years, all six of their coaching hires - and all three interim coaches - worked extensively with offenses before arriving at Purdue.
Walters is the first coach with a defensive pedigree to take the Boilermakers’ job since Leon Burtnett in 1982. Burtnett went 21-34-1 in five seasons, earning one bowl bid.
There are bigger expectations for Walters, though.
The former Colorado safety inherits a team coming off an 8-5 season that included a 31-24 victory at Illinois, which helped Purdue capture its first Big Ten West Division crown before losing to No. 2 Michigan in the Big Ten championship game.
“I am incredibly humbled and honored to serve as the head football coach at Purdue University,” Walters said. “Purdue is a world-class university, and our football program will pursue the same excellence exhibited across our campus.”
Bobinski also acknowledged time was of the essence, too, because of the early signing period and the constant churning of the transfer portal.
Purdue is preparing for the Citrus Bowl game against No. 17 LSU on Jan. 2 and has announced Brian Brohm, Jeff’s younger brother, will serve as the interim coach for the game. Co-defensive coordinator Mark Hagen will call the signals on the other side of the ball.
The LSU game will come in front of a national television audience with a shot at a second consecutive bowl win.
Walters started his coaching career as a student assistant at Colorado and served in similar roles at Arizona and Oklahoma before becoming cornerbacks coach at North Texas. After one season, he was off to Memphis and in 2015, he left for Missouri where he rose from position coach to defensive coordinator.
Last year, he left for Illinois and now he has own program.
“We look forward to the culture and atmosphere of success he and his staff will instill in and around our football program,” Bobinski said. “We see him as a perfect fit for our university and this community.”