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Walters begins Purdue tenure by promising points, defense

Ryan Walters

New Purdue coach Ryan Walters first flexed his muscle by giving walk-on running back Devin Mockobee a scholarship.

Then he promised to keep the Boilermakers’ reputation intact - as the Cradle of Quarterbacks and the Den of Defensive Ends.

The 36-year-old Walters said Wednesday that he envisions putting together a program that scores in bunches, stops the run and routinely harasses opposing quarterbacks.

“On offense, we will be creative,” he said in his introductory news conference. “We will be explosive in the air and on the ground. We will be strategically aggressive, and we will put points on the board and we will put them up in bunches. On defense, you already know how we get down. It’s going to be organized chaos from whistle to snap.”

Walters’ deviates from Purdue’s traditional practice of hiring offensive-minded coaches. He’s the first defensive coach to lead the Boilermakers since Leon Burtnett in 1982.

The former high school quarterback and Illinois defensive coordinator certainly understands the school’s legacy. He dreamed of following Drew Brees, from Rose Bowl parade to the NFL.

When those plans changed, the 25-year-old Walters joined the Arizona staff as the youngest Power Five position coach. He quickly rose through the ranks with stops at Oklahoma, North Texas, Memphis and Missouri before Illinois coach Bret Bielema hired him as defensive coordinator in 2021.

Now the architect of one of this season’s top defenses plans to build on the momentum Jeff Brohm created before taking the job at his alma mater, Louisville, last week. The university’s board of trustees still must approve the proposed five-year contract for the fifth-youngest coach in the Bowl Subdivision.

Meanwhile, the Boilermakers’ bowl plans remain unchanged. Brohm’s younger brother, Brian, and co-defensive coordinator Mark Hagen will be calling plays in the Jan. 2 Citrus Bowl against No. 17 LSU while Walters watches practices, hires assistants, recruits and starts preparing for next season with players such as Mockobee, the record-setting freshman runner.

Athletic director Mike Bobinski and outgoing university president Mitch Daniels believe it’s a home-run hire.

“Seven days ago, I didn’t think I could feel worse,” Daniels said. “As of the last 72 hours, I couldn’t feel better for all the reasons Mike just outlined and you just personified.”

Still, questions remain.

Bobinski noted that Walters prefers to keep the traits of his trademark defense as secretive as the recipe for Coca-Cola, and Walters did nothing to dispel the notion by even declining to describe the scheme he prefers. And while he does intend to hire a defensive coordinator, Walters plans to be making the play calls.

And now, for the first time in his career, his decisions will be the final word.

Mockobee is the first to profit from that final say.

“I thought he was in the upper echelon of the running backs we had faced or were going to face this past season,” Walters said of Mockobee. “I found out he was not on scholarship, and you know, now I’m like, `Shoot, this guy needs a scholarship’ and I’m reminding myself like, `Well, yeah, you’re the head coach, so you can do that.”’