BY JIM BIERY
As the Purdue Boilermakers begin their 2017 football season Sept. 2 at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, they will be led out on the field by first-year head coach Jeff Brohm.
Coach Brohm has led teams into battle before, most recently at Western Kentucky University where he led the Hilltoppers to consecutive Conference USA championships in 2015 and 2016.
The big difference this year is that he will have a pretty large task ahead of him: trying to rebuild a program that has seen little success in recent years and, more importantly, has lost a large part of the fan base mainly because they haven’t posted a winning record since 2011.
When it comes to rebuilding a program, it helps to understand exactly what steps need to be taken and what direction you must lead not only the players on the team but the fan base as a whole. I sat down with Brohm to ask him exactly what the business of rebuilding entails.
Brohm played under Howard Schnellenberger at the University of Louisville from 1989 to 1993 and credits his former coach as being the master of rebuilding programs. Schnellenberger turned the University of Miami into a national championship winner and football powerhouse. He is perhaps best known in these parts for stating the Cardinals were “on a collision course with the national championship. The only variable is time.” This seemed laughable at the time.
The key to the start of a rebuilding process is to get people interested and motivated while giving them a product on the field that is entertaining to watch. Another aspect is to create a brand for the program and also market it in the right way. “As far as getting the team to buy into the right philosophy, you need to get them to believe they are better than what they think they are,” said Brohm. “Create a sense of confidence and swagger as they take the field against any given opponent. The players need to know you are a genuine person and you’re in it for the right reasons, and if you surround yourself with the right people, anything can be achieved.”
For the fans, he said, you have to provide an exciting style of football that they want to come and watch, and know that the team is going to play to the very end with confidence, to see a team that plays hard and lays it all on the line.
Over the past three years, the Boilermakers have averaged 35,731 in attendance and have compiled an overall record of 8-26. This is the lowest three-year average since 1950-1952. That’s pretty dismal considering the seating capacity at Ross-Ade Stadium is 57,236. During this span, teams like Nebraska, Ohio State, and Notre Dame have had more fans in the stands for the game than the Boilermaker.
As far as the boosters of the program are concerned, Brohm said being open and honest with them and having an open-door policy is critical. Letting them know you are listening to them and willing to address any questions they may have is vital to building their support. “If you can get them to buy into what we’re trying to do and show the effort on the field, it helps to get them to trust in your beliefs for the team,” he said.
When it comes to putting fans back in the seats, you have to play an exciting schedule with teams outside the Big Ten that people want to see, Brohm said. You need to show the fans that you are competing at a high level, and if you can’t win all the games, the fans need to see the effort. Eventually, you win a few games that you’re not “supposed” to and get better every year, which should bring more people to the games.
When asked what a successful first year would look like, Brohm said he wants a team that is competitive and fights to the very end. This competitiveness should be evident to the average fan. They should be able to walk away from the game and say, “These guys play hard and they competed.” Of course, trying to win six games and go to a bowl is the logical first step.
With such an impressive start to his head coaching career Brohm had several opportunities to choose from when it came to taking the next step. So, why Purdue? “The school has a great tradition, is part of a great conference, and people are hungry for success,” he said.
Is Purdue football on a collision course like Schnellenberger believed UofL was? Who knows. But I’ll tell you this, given Brohm’s track record so far in coaching, not to mention his legendary mentor, I can’t wait for the journey to begin. Boiler Up!