Why Jeff Brohm chose Purdue, and what he learned from the XFL

Posted by: Chris Vannini on Friday February 24, 2017

Photo credit: Lafayette Journal & Courier

Before he was known as a coach with one of the most explosive offenses in college football, Jeff Brohm was known for a famous moment in the XFL — the Vince McMahon football league that pushed entertainment and flamed out after one year.

As a quarterback for the Orlando Rage in 2001, Brohm took a brutal hit that sent him to the hospital. But a week later, he suited up and was ready to play. Before kickoff, the XFL sideline reporter asked him how in the world he was able to play. His response was quintessential XFL.

“Let me answer that question by asking you two questions: One, is this or is this not the XFL? Yes, it is. Two, do I or do I not currently have a pulse? Yes, I do. Let’s play football.”

That was his last year as a player (after eight years in the pros), and he jumped into coaching. Brohm spent the last three years as Western Kentucky head coach, producing one of the highest-scoring offenses in college football and winning two Conference USA championships. Now he’s the Purdue head coach.

But throughout his coaching career, players and fans remember that clip.

Trust me. For some reason, everywhere I go, that’s the first thing people see and talk about. It’s amazing,” Brohm told CoachingSearch. “Some of those things you’d like to take off, but no. They remember it. Normally that pops up, and it’s the first thing they say. ‘We saw your clip and loved it.’ It was a fun league to play in. There were some personalities. It was a lot of fun.”

ESPN recently aired a 30 for 30 documentary on the league, mostly focusing on the business side. While it ended as a failure, there were several aspects that made it into the NFL, like the spidercam above the field, more cameras on the field, a focus on entertainment and more inside access.

It was a league that tried to do things differently, and at a school like Western Kentucky or Purdue, you need to do things differently. Brohm runs a pass-heavy offense that puts up points. He knows it's entertaining and draws interest.

You always have to try to do more with less and be creative with it,” Brohm said. “Without question, you take part of that and utilize it. We want to be different. We want to play a little different. We want to have different aspects to what we do. We want to recruit differently.

“I tell our people around here that just because someone else does it doesn’t mean we’re going to. We’re going to do it our way if we’re smart about it. Let’s not be afraid to try things and do things different. Both can work. We have to take some chances here and hope it works out.”

Brohm will continue to call the offense plays. In 2016, WKU led the nation in scoring at 45.5 points per game. The Boilermakers were 100 spots lower, at No. 101 and 24.6 points per game.

The biggest question when Brohm made the move was, simply, why Purdue? He was getting a lot of attention for jobs, winning 30 games over three years at WKU. Why take over a program that has won just nine games over four years?

One, there was an investment. Brohm’s $3.3 million salary at Purdue is about $1 million more than Darrell Hazell earned, and his salary pool is another $1 million more than Hazell had. There’s also a new football building on the way.

“They showed a commitment to doing the things necessary to make improvements. That was good to see,” Brohm said. “A big selling point for me, I try to practice what I preach. As a coach, you recruit guys and say, ‘We want you to come and be a difference-maker. Don’t go to an established program where you’re one of the guys. Come somewhere and be The Guy that wins and losses take place on how you play.’

As a coach, I had a lot of people in my ear saying to stick this (WKU) thing out, have it going great, and if you wait it out, you’re going to get an unbelievable job opportunity at a top-notch program with tradition. There’s probably some truth to that, but the more I thought about it, the Purdue situation was intriguing because there’s a lot of work to be done, and there’s been some not-so-good years, to be nice about it. It’s time for someone to come in and make a difference and get the program back where it belongs. Let’s see if we can do that. The challenge was intriguing to me.”

Brohm brought six full-time assistants to Purdue from WKU, as well as his head strength coach, and wide receivers coach JaMarcus Shephard had previously worked under him. Given the success, it no surprise teams like USC and Washington State constantly came for his WKU coaches, but now he has the money to keep them.

“I had coaches leaving every year to better jobs,” Brohm said. “We had turnover every year, but kept it going, which was great. I liked the guys we had on offense, so we brought those and (many on defense). I feel good about the progress we made on defense. We finished second in the nation in rushing defense behind Alabama.”

The Boilermakers open spring practice next Monday, and Brohm knows the build will be a tall task. But Joe Tiller brought Purdue a decade of success and a Rose Bowl berth with an explosive passing offense. Now Brohm will try to do the same. Right now, it’s doing the work to get there.

“The first few months have been good,” Brohm said. “We’ve got a lot of players and people in town starving for something good to happen, and I believe are willing to do the work in order to get it done, but without question, there’s a lot of work to be done.”

Brohm’s got a pulse. Let’s play football.

Chris Vannini is in his fifth year with CoachingSearch.com and serves as its managing editor. He has previously written for the Detroit Free Press, The Oakland Press, The State News, MLive.com, 247Sports and SB Nation.  A graduate of Michigan State University, Chris now lives in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.  Be sure to follow @coachingsearch and send emails to chris@coachingsearch.com.