It might be easy to forget now, after years of dreadful performances, but Purdue was once one of the most exciting teams in the country.
Back in Joe Tiller's "basketball-on-grass" heyday, especially when Drew Brees was throwing the ball all over Ross-Ade Stadium, the Boilermakers were not only competitive, they were fun to watch.
In recent years, things have been dismal, with losses piling up and fans staying away in droves during the disastrous tenures of Danny Hope and Darrell Hazel. It's one thing to be bad. It's another to be irrelevant and unwatchable.
That's why, for the first time in a long time, Monday's news that Jeff Brohm will be the next Purdue head coach gives Boilers football fans a reason to be pumped up. Brohm has a major task ahead at a place that has won just two Big Ten football games since 2012. But he will bring the excitement back.
Full disclosure time: I've known Jeff and the Brohm family for a long, long time. Jeff was two years ahead of me in grade school, and he and his younger brother, Brian, tormented my high school in one of the largest prep rivalries in the country (Trinity vs St. Xavier). I covered Jeff and his brother Greg when they were assistant coaches under Bobby Petrino at Louisville, and Brian when he was quarterback for the Cardinals. They're the first family of Louisville football, and I have always had a lot of admiration and respect for them as people.
But even a stranger can tell that this is a home-run hire for Purdue. As I wrote after Hazell was fired, the one thing the program had to do was turn to someone innovative, especially on offense, to make up for some inherent disadvantages. Well, check out Western Kentucky's offensive production under Brohm:
2014: fourth in the FBS in total offense, sixth in points scoring
2015: ninth in total offense, third in scoring
2016: seventh in total offense, second in scoring
Not bad, huh? Brohm cut his teeth as a coach under Petrino, whose offense has always thrived on creating and locating mismatches. Brohm is an outstanding developer of quarterbacks, and it will be fascinating to see what he can do with David Blough. The rising junior led the Big Ten with 3,352 passing yards and 25 touchdowns in the regular season, but also threw an unfathomable 21 interceptions. All the tools are there, if Brohm can polish the scuffs.
Brohm, 45, also is familiar with the Big Ten as a former assistant at Illinois, and it's important that he has head coaching experience. Baylor and Cincinnati also were very interested in hiring him, which makes it even more impressive that new Purdue athletic director Mike Bobinski was able to land his man.
Of course, the Boilers benefited from a lack of stiff competition in the coaching carousel; when the only other available Power 5 job is the scandal-ridden mess that is Baylor, that's fortunate timing. Indiana might have been able to make a run at Brohm if it had decided to conduct a search after firing Kevin Wilson, but Hoosiers athletic director Fred Glass felt comfortable turning the keys over to defensive coordinator Tom Allen.
Speaking of defensive coordinators, that's the area where Brohm has the most to prove. His Hilltoppers scored gobs of points in Bowling Green, but they also gave up a bunch. Some of the defensive stats can get warped based on the pace of his own offense, of course, and Western Kentucky actually ranked 29th in the FBS in yards per play (5.12) allowed this season. Still, it's one thing to win shootouts in Conference USA and another to do so in the Big Ten. Purdue's overall defensive talent has been lacking for several years, and it had the worst scoring defense in the Big Ten this season. The defensive challenge for Brohm starts right away: the Boilermakers open 2017 against Petrino and the Cardinals, who will feature likely Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson. Gulp.
The Boilers will have to spend money to allow Brohm to put together a strong staff, especially on defense. But it's a great sign that they were willing to spend on a head coach, giving him a six-year contract for a reported $20 million. The era of pinching pennies could be over in West Lafayette, and with the buckets of cash coming in from the new Big Ten TV deal, there are no excuses.
Purdue is still a difficult place to win, given its location, facilities, the size of its fan base and academic rigors. But the program has a good tradition and should be able to hold its own with most of the Big Ten West with A) the right coach and B) the right approach.
For the first time in a long time, it appears to have gotten both those things into place by hiring Brohm.