2016 Purdue Football Coaching Search Favorites: (Co-)#1 Jeff Brohm
Candidate Tier # 1
Overall Rank: Tied for #1 with Youngstown State HC Bo Pelini
Who Is He?
Jeff Brohm is in his third year as head coach at Western Kentucky. It’s his first stint as a head coach in college ball; he started his coaching career with the now-defunct Louisville Fire of af2 fame, moved on to Louisville proper (where he played QB) as QB coach and other assorted titles for five years, and then had brief stints at Florida Atlantic, Illinois, and UAB before landing at WKU as offensive coordinator under Bobby Petrino. When (to no one’s surprise) Petrino left, ironically for the Louisville job, Brohm was promoted, and he’s been there ever since.
Why would he be successful at Purdue?
Unlike Hazell, Brohm won both a conference championship and a bowl game in his second year at a Group of Five school, losing only to Indiana (by 3 in Bloomington) and to LSU. Advanced stats liked his 2015 team very much: they finished 11th in S&P+, due in large part to the way they dominated their conference schedule, posting 7 consecutive wins with a win expectancy of 100%. Conventional stats liked the Hilltoppers as well, as they racked up 44.3 points per game, including 20 points at LSU – that’s just a few points under the Tigers’ 2015 average of 24.3 (not great, Bob), and something of an indication that WKU wasn’t just beating up on the little kids.
While that 2015 team was efficient on the ground – a rushing success rate of 51.2%, 7th in I-A – it was in the passing game that they were really impressive. Redshirt senior Brandon Doughty lit up the Hilltoppers’ opponents to an extent few college QBs have seen: 5055 yards, 48/9 TD/int ratio, 71.9% completion rate, 15 sacks vs. 540 passing attempts. He didn’t win the Sammy Baugh Trophy, perhaps because he’d won it the year before as a redshirt junior, but his 2015 season could well have been better. And it’s not like he was a highly-touted recruit, either: he was a two- or three-star recruit coming out of North Broward Prep. Hmm, a three-star recruit tearing up QB record books, where have I heard that before?
As Kevin Wilson has shown at Indiana, a super-high-tempo offense can throw off even well-coached defenses with greater talent when it’s executed properly. (In fact, that’s a key reason Wilson does it: if you can’t beat ‘em, outspeed ‘em.) In some ways, that offense runs parallel to the spread offense Tiller brought to Purdue almost 20 years ago: it’s something that a number of schools can’t quite handle yet, and it doesn’t require 4- and 5-star talent at every position to run properly.
Like a few other possibilities, Brohm knows the area fairly well, and his time at Louisville, Illinois and WKU gives him a number of different perspectives on the recruiting situation here. A lot of recruits are going to listen to a head coach who can throw out huge numbers and then say “would you like to be part of that?” (Well, on the offensive side of the ball, at least!)
Why could he flop at Purdue?
Like Wilson (prior to 2016, at least), Brohm hasn’t yet built a good defense at WKU. That #11 S&P+ ranking came primarily from the offensive side of the ball; his defense was 53rd last season and is 80th so far this season, in part thanks to a 31-30 OT loss to a bad Vanderbilt team (just don’t tell Georgia fans I said that), a 55-52 loss to Louisiana Tech, and a 44-43 2-OT win over Middle Tennessee. The offense is running pretty well so far, but is “only” 34th in S&P+. If that’s mostly from the transition to redshirt junior Mike White, a transfer from South Florida, that’s one thing. If it’s from defenses figuring out how to slow him down, well, that’s not such a good sign, is it?
Brohm’s recruiting classes so far at WKU have been undistinguished. A good bit of that is because he’s coaching at a C-USA school, but his 2016 class was 6th in the conference, and that’s coming off a conference title. If Brohm is having trouble recruiting against Marshall and UAB, he could be in for a world of hurt when it’s Urban Meyer and Jim Harbaugh passing him on the highway. (It’s possible that it’s just taking him a while to get things moving. 247Sports has his 2017 class currently 69th, three spots behind Purdue.)
As I’ve mentioned, Big Tenteen coaches have already been facing high-tempo offenses, and unlike in Tiller’s era, where it was initially Northwestern running a so-so spread, IU has it down pretty well, so there won’t be as many surprises when Brohm’s Boilers try to snap the ball with 20 seconds left on the clock. At WKU, that high-speed offense struggled against P5 teams: the Hilltoppers are 1-5 against those opponents, with the lone win being a 14-12 victory against the Commodores last year. If that’s an indication that Brohm’s only got the number of teams with similar talent, well … don’t answer that.
Would he come to Purdue?
That is an excellent question. In the “against” category, there is one piece of evidence collected a few weeks ago – it’s from a footnote in Wikipedia, otherwise I’d source it better:
"During a recent interview with ESPN Radio, Brohm stated ‘No, no, I have no interest in coaching at UK. Why would I leave Western and take a job at a program that most would consider a step down at this point in my career?’”
um. So, there’s that. On the other hand, Brohm’s making $800K with up to $400K in bonuses (although $100K is for making a “BCS” bowl). Yeah, his current deal has a $900K buyout clause in it, but Bobinski could build that into a deal and still easily pass Brohm’s WKU earnings without putting a giant anchor on Purdue’s financial ship. Uh, I think. (One thing in favor of such a move is that Purdue fans would have to be excited about having a real passing attack once again: more attendance means more money to spend on buyout clauses.) On a third hand, Brohm’s contract would require Purdue to set up a home-and-home with WKU to begin within 8 years, or else Brohm owes another $350K to Western Kentucky. (So make it a $1.25M buyout.)
Also, btw, that contract has a 2-year non-compete clause that applies to all other Kentucky schools … so maybe that’s the reason for showing no interest in UK? (All contracts can be bought out, of course, but it’d certainly be cheaper for Brohm to go somewhere that doesn’t require such an action.)
So … it depends? If he wants to leave Western Kentucky, where does he want to go? If he wants the best Power 5 school that will take him, that won’t be Purdue. If he wants a P5 school with the lowest starting expectations, then he might be talking with Bobinski about buyouts. If the Hilltoppers have another good season, he may decide just to test the waters to see if he can get a really good offer and stay if that offer doesn’t come. If 2016 isn’t great, maybe he’ll be more interested in getting out while his resume still looks good.
At this point, there are some important unknowns. In 5-6 weeks, we should have a good picture of how WKU’s season has gone and what jobs are available, and that will answer a good part of the question; if we eventually get an idea of the short list that Bobinski will be working from, that’ll be another part of it. For now, assume it’s a possibility.
2016 is roughly the same as 2015 was: 14th in S&P+, 100% win expectancy in 7 of 9 wins. The one troubling result was the 7% expectancy in the first meeting with Louisiana Tech, a 55-52 loss. WKU has a chance to avenge that Saturday in the C-USA title game.
The defense did turn around quickly after MTSU, moving up to 27th, but because of very odd splits: 2nd against the run, 95th against the pass. If the Hilltoppers do win a second straight C-USA title, it'll at least suggest that Brohm is doing well in his current situation.