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BROWN’S SPORTS NOTES: Brohm faces challenge at Purdue, so says Tiller

Jeff Brohm has left Western Kentucky University. He has accepted the monumental task of building a consistent winner of the Purdue University football program.

Boilermaker fans have witnessed the march from the wilderness before. Joe Tiller, the winningest coach in the program’s history, led the team from years of losing to respectability. Before his hire, Purdue had two winning seasons in the previous 18 years. The football team had only played in five bowl games since its creation. (Note here that in the old days of college football, there were a select few bowl games, unlike the present state of CFB.)

Tiller took the job in 1997 and over the next decade, his teams produced quality quarterbacks, such as Drew Brees, and quality offensive lineman, such as Matt Light. Also, Tiller introduced the spread offense to the Big 10, which initially led to many people believing Brees was a “system” quarterback. Tiller racked up an 87-62 record during his 12 seasons there.

Tiller told Scott Mansch of the Great Falls (Mont.) Tribune in August that winning at Purdue is “… a tough job, a real tough job.” He explained to Mansch the first problem is the name of the university.

“You know we play against Michigan State, Ohio State, Michigan, the University of Iowa, the University of Minnesota, the University of Illinois … Well, every kid in America knows where each of those schools are,” Tiller said. “Then you tell them you represent Purdue and the first thing they ask is if Purdue is a private school.”

It’s not. It’s a land-grant school, a big agricultural and engineering school, he explained. “But you had to explain where Purdue was. It’s in Indiana.”
“A little thing like that, surprisingly, impacts you over the long pull,” Tiller told Mansch.

On the upside for Brohm, he knows a bit about getting athletes to come to the “other” school in a state.

So how did the Boilermakers’ winningest coach get the job done? Offense. He introduced the Big 10 to the spread. None of the teams were running the offense when he arrived on the scene from Wyoming in 1997. And he found a good quarterback who fit his offense perfectly.

Sound familiar?

If there is anything we have learned about Jeff Brohm over the last three years – and, really, during his entire coaching career – it’s that he can coach offense and he can develop quarterbacks. Lots of questions existed before this season about how well the Hilltoppers’ offense would work without quarterback Brandon Doughty. Brohm inserted Mike White and the offensive explosion that had existed the previous two seasons with Doughty kept right on popping.

Brohm’s offense at WKU has been known for the outrageous passing numbers, but it’s not one-dimensional. His teams also run the ball effectively. Purdue will need both of those traits to carry over with their new coach to be successful in the Big 10. Also, the competition is thicker in that conference.

Purdue opens the 2017 season against Louisville. The schedule includes consecutive games against Missouri, Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin. Brohm’s squad will know what it’s made of quickly. Hopefully, it’s made of enough grit and talent to project Brohm toward Tiller’s time in West Lafayette rather than that of so many coaches on the heap of boiler scrap metal.

James Brown is digital director for Commonwealth Broadcasting and a 20-year veteran of sports reporting. Follow him on Twitter @JBrownESPNKY.

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