There are tough college football jobs, and then there's the one Jeff Brohm took at Purdue University.
With his first official Purdue camp underway, Brohm's task is as simple as it is daunting: Fix a broken program.
Let's face it. Purdue has spiraled since Joe Tiller walked away. Sure, Tiller benefited from having Drew Brees as one of his quarterbacks. But Brees was only part of the great run. Tiller coached 12 years, had six seasons with eight or more wins, went to 10 bowl games and put a competitive team on the field week after week.
After Tiller's final, uncharacteristic 4-8 season in 2008, the Boilers settled into mediocrity under Danny Hope and then slid into embarrassment under Darrell Hazell. Purdue was 9-39 the last four seasons with three Big Ten wins.
Purdue offered former Western Kentucky coach Brohm six years, $20 million and not much of a team. So it was surprising to hear Brohm talking “swagger” when he met the media on Thursday prior to opening practice.
I watched his news conference twice, just to make sure he said swagger and not stagger, which is all Purdue has done lately.
“We want to be great in what we do, which is football,” Brohm said. “We want to play the game with swagger and play the game with utmost confidence and we want to cut it loose.”
That's a lot of “want to.” It's more a question of whether they “can do.”
Unless Brohm is a miracle worker, and I'm open to the possibility, his goals won't be met in Year One. Granted, he brought in some guns for hire with graduate transfers and junior-college transfers and would-be journeyman college players with talent and eligibility left to strengthen the roster.
Common sense says a team with no more than three wins in any of the last four years has some talent deficiencies.
So maybe it's good Brohm is talking swagger, which is tied to self-confidence, just to plant the seed.
“We have to be going for the win at all times,” Brohm said. “We're going to have to take some chances, maybe do a few things differently than we did before that can maybe give us an edge that others haven't seen.”
Brohm said he told the players his approach can be simplified into three words.
“Can you play harder than the other team?” Brohm said. “Can you play tougher? When things aren't going well, can you continue to play with utmost passion, intensity? Can you play tough the entire game and play smart?”
Brohm may have lost his train of thought, because he used a lot more than three words. I'm not sure what the three words are. Perhaps it involves playing “harder,” “tougher” and “smarter.” Those would be three welcome changes to the program.
One question is: Which comes first, success or swagger?
Is it possible to recruit players with swagger, which in turns leads to success and justifies the swagger? It's hard to have swagger when you're giving up 50 points at Maryland or 62 points to Penn State.
So Brohm must solve that problem over time, by recruiting big-time players. That seems easier said than done at Purdue, although there are 21 former Boilermakers in the NFL. That's a long way from the 55 former Alabama players or the 49 former Ohio State players, but it's the same as Maryland and still ahead of Indiana (13).
“We want guys that love the game of football,” Brohm said. “In recruiting, you're looking for talent and intelligence, but do they love the game of football? Do they have a passion for it so they become great players, great leaders and help you win. I love guys who love to play the game, who love to compete. If you do that, you're going to carry that swagger.
“We've shown clips to our guys about what we believe swagger is.”
Brohm has a few players who can step up. His quarterback, David Blough, brings experience. There are a few play-making linebackers. Every college team has a couple of skill players who can turn into breakout stars, given enough time and some quality line play.
But a stretch as bad as the one Purdue is fighting to escape will include a weaker roster.
First-year Indiana coach Tom Allen, by contrast, inherits a team on the verge of being an above-.500 team. Maybe he doesn't have a contender, but he could lead a solid mid-level bowl team.
Brohm starts at rock bottom with Purdue.
“It's important to be competitive this year, it's important to play extremely hard this year,” Brohm said. “It's important that it is visible to the fans and the people watching the games.”
As an analogy of Purdue's situation, Brohm used the example of the iconic movie character Rocky Balboa battling Apollo Creed and refusing to give up.
Rocky eventually became the champ. But he sure got the stuffing knocked out of him before that happened. Brohm's Boilermakers are entering Round One.
This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Reggie Hayes at email@example.com.
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