Purdue University hired University of Illinois defensive coordinator Ryan Walters as its new head football coach Tuesday, a change of direction for the program dubbed the “Cradle of Quarterbacks” and one best known for its high-scoring, explosive offenses.
Walters, 36, becomes the fourth-youngest coach in the Bowl Subdivision behind Kenny Dillingham (32, Arizona State), Kane Wommack (35, South Alabama) and Dan Lanning (36, Oregon). Walters replaces Jeff Brohm, who left to become the new head coach at the University of Louisville.
The move comes less than a week after athletic director Mike Bobinski promised to make an expeditious decision because of the early-signing date later this month and the impact of the transfer portal.
“We don’t want to rush into it, but I also know we know the calendar,” Bobinski said Thursday, shortly after Brohm was introduced as the new coach at his alma mater. “I believe completely we are positioned for higher levels of success in the years ahead and we hope that our next head coach fits as well as our previous head coach did.”
The Illini posted an 8-4 record this season, with five victories in which they held their opponents under seven points and seven wins at 10 points or fewer. But they lost to Purdue, 31-24, in a game that proved the difference in determining the Big Ten West Division champion.
Walters was one of five finalists for the Broyles Award, which goes to the top assistant coach in the FBS after leading a defense that allowed the fewest points and fewest total yards in the Big Ten Conference last season and finished second in run defense.
It’s the first time Walters, a former safety at Colorado, has held a head coaching job.
“I am incredibly humbled and honored to serve as the head football coach at Purdue University,” Walters said. “Purdue is a world-class university, and our football program will pursue the same excellence exhibited across our campus.”
Walters becomes the fourth Black head coach currently in the Big Ten and the second in Purdue history. Darrell Hazell left Kent State to take charge of the Boilermakers following the 2012 season and went 25-43 in 3-1/2 seasons.
The Boilermakers expect better results under Walters, who made previous stops at Arizona, Oklahoma, North Texas, Memphis and Missouri before taking the Illinois job last season.
“We believe the best days and most enjoyable days of Purdue football are still ahead of us and we want and encourage them to all be part of that,” Bobinski said last week, explaining the message he delivered to players following Brohm’s departure.
Purdue is preparing for the Citrus Bowl game against No. 17 LSU on Jan. 2 and has announced Brian Brohm, Jeff’s younger brother, will serve as the interim coach for the game. Co-defensive coordinator Mark Hagen will call the signals on the other side of the ball.
It’s been a historic season for the Boilermakers (8-5), who won their first Big Ten West Division title before a loss to Michigan in the conference championship game. The LSU game will come in front of a national television audience with a shot at a second consecutive bowl win.