As the Tennessee Volunteers were looking to figure out what they were going to do with their head coaching search in Knoxville, Purdue head coach Jeff Brohm was out recruiting. But families of recruits were not quite sure if Brohm would be coming to them looking to sell kids on going to Purdue or Tennessee. Recent quotes to The Courier-Journal in Louisville suggest there was some truth to the interest Brohm had in leaving the Boilermakers for the Vols.’
“I don’t want to get into details on it. Like I said, where there’s smoke there’s fire,” Brohm told the paper regarding the headlines that suggested Brohm was closing in on a deal to head to Tennessee after one season at Purdue. “But I think that I was completely straightforward with the people I needed to be. Like I said, when it’s all said and done, this is, in my opinion, the best spot for me.”
After three seasons as the head coach at Western Kentucky, Brohm took over the Purdue job last year and quickly provided a breath of fresh air for the Boilermakers. Purdue went 7-6 with the first bowl victory for the program since 2011. Brohm’s performance at Purdue quickly made him one of the trendy names in the rumor mill during the coaching carousel, and likely will keep him a hot name for potential job opportunities elsewhere later this year if Purdue continues to show improvement. Brohm is also open and honest about the reality of the coaching game, acknowledging he may not necessarily keep any doors shut.
“There’s always going to be people going behind closed doors, expressing interest in this job and that job,” Brohm said. “Those things, yeah, those things did come about. But I think I was always honest with everybody and kept it real. In the end, I think this is the place I enjoy being because I think it does have a great challenge to it and I am committed to doing my part to try to help us get over the hump and become a winning program.”
After initially closing in on a deal to hire Ohio State defensive coordinator Greg Schiano to be the head coach, Tennessee backed off from the hire and eventually landed Alabama defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt for the job.
It took just one season for Jeff Brohm to convince Purdue he was the right man for the job (well, since the school hired him, at least). Now, Brohm has two more years coaching the Boilermakers lined up after the school tacked on a two-year contract extension. The extended contract now runs through the 2024 season, providing some nice job security for the coach that has already helped to reshape the Purdue football program.
“This extension is a reflection of how pleased we are with Jeff’s leadership of our football program,” Purdue athletics director Mike Bobinski said in a released statement. “He has brought renewed energy to our campus, revived our fan base and alumni, and made Purdue relevant once again in the college football landscape. With the success of last season as a foundation, we have tremendous optimism about the future of Purdue football.”
Purdue went 7-6 in Brohm’s first year as the head coach of the Boilermakers to mark the first winning season in West Lafayette, Indiana since 2011. Purdue won a total of nine games in the previous four seasons under Brohm’s predecessor, Darrell Hazell. The 2017 season ended with Purdue’s first bowl victory since the 2011 season.
As the season went along, Purdue saw an increase in fan support on game day with an average of 13,433 more fans per home game (it’s worth noting the Purdue home schedule included games against Michigan, Nebraska, and in-state rival Indiana; Purdue also played a season opener in Indianapolis against Lamar Jackson and Louisville). It may still take some time to get Purdue in a position where it can be any sort of threat in the Big Ten, but the renewed energy around the program was noticeable last fall.
Western Kentucky (10-3) became the second program in Conference USA history to win back-to-back conference championship games on Saturday with a wild offensive shootout against Louisiana Tech (8-5), 58-44. Hilltoppers quarterback Mike White passed for 403 yards and four touchdowns and Anthony Wales led things on the ground with 194 rushing yards and three scores to push the home team past the Bulldogs.
Offenses for both teams were locked in from the start, with over 1,100 combined yards of offense. Louisiana Tech quarterback Ryan Higgins passed for 507 yards and three touchdowns, but Western Kentucky used a more balanced approach and had an advantage on the ground to help overcome three turnover sin the game. Wales carried the football 35 times for Western Kentucky and was a workhorse for them from start to finish, with the final touchdown of the game ultimately delivering the knockout punch to Louisiana Tech, who would throw an interception on their final possession.
With 102 combined points, Western Kentucky and Louisiana Tech set a new combined points record for an FBS conference championship game. The previous record was 101 points, which was done twice. Wisconsin and Nebraska scored 101 point sin the 2012 Big Ten championship game (won by Wisconsin, 70-31) and Auburn and Missouri matched that point total the following season in the SEC Championship Game (won by Auburn, 59-42).
Coming into the game, Louisiana Tech head coach Skip Holtz made it a point to say his team could not give up big plays if they were to get a win. Needless to say, that did not work out in his favor in this one.
The last time a school won back-to-back Conference USA championships was in 2008 and 2009 when East Carolina won consecutive titles. Perhaps in a bit of irony, Holtz was the coach of those ECU teams.
The future of the Western Kentucky program will be something to keep a close eye on. Head coach Jeff Brohm has been linked to various coaching rumors, most noticeably with the Purdue vacancy in the Big Ten. He has certainly proven worthy of being a hot name in the coaching carousel after coaching Western Kentucky to back-too-back 10-win seasons for the first time in program history.
For now, bowl destinations will have to be settled.
Western Kentucky (11-2, 8-0 Conference USA) needed some big plays late in the first half to pull even with Southern Mississippi (9-3, 7-1 Conference USA), but it was all Hilltoppers in the second half as the home team captured its first Conference USA championship in school history.
WKU quarterback Brandon Doughty passed for 410 yards and three touchdowns and rushed for another score in the conference championship victory. Western Kentucky’s defense made plays as well, forcing four Southern Mississippi turnovers in the win. That included three interceptions of Nick Mullens. For WKU, Doughty’s top target was Taywan Taylor, who ended the game with 165 receiving yards and a pair of touchdowns. D’Andre Ferby helped ice the game for Western Kentucky with a pair of rushing touchdowns.
Western Kentucky added on to its school record for wins in a single season since jumping up to the FBS by picking up its 11th win of the season. Before winning 10 game sin the regular season this fall, the most wins WKU had in a season since making the move up was eight wins, which were earned each of the past two seasons.
The result of the win could also help keep WKU head coach Jeff Brohm on the radar for future coaching searches. Brohm will get a chance to pick up his second bowl win in as many seasons as a head coach.
Despite taking the loss in the conference championship game, there should be no reason to be disappointed at Southern Mississippi. Head coach Todd Monken has done an admirable job turning things around with the program since taking over in 2013. A year after Larry Fedora left for UNC after winning the Conference USA championship, Southern Miss went 0-12 in 2012. Monken won just one game in his first season and three game sin his second. The foundation appeared to be laid and the growing pains worked out for a nine-win season this fall and a chance to win a 10th game once again in a bowl game.