Purdue football coach Jeff Brohm met with Louisville athletic director Vince Tyra on Tuesday to discuss coming home. After the meeting was over, just about everyone assumed that the deal was all but done and Brohm would be the joyously received new coach of the Cardinals.
“Yeah, I was leaning [toward Louisville],” Brohm told Yahoo Sports on Friday, in something of an exit interview after going through the decision-making wringer. “I alerted Purdue people exactly what I was thinking. It was a tempting opportunity that I had to think fully through.”
Purdue was convinced enough that Brohm was leaving that it began putting in motion the rudiments of its search to replace him. Louisville people tried to contain their excitement, waiting for the official word.
When that official word came on Wednesday, it was the opposite of expectation. Brohm was staying put at Purdue.
Why? It came down to his gut – and his gut, believe it or not, told him not to go home, where he both played and coached.
Not because he wouldn’t be happy at Louisville, and likely very successful, and further enhance his hometown-hero status. His gut told him to stay because of everyone he persuaded to buy in to his vision of what Purdue could be.
“I was not sleeping well,” Brohm said. “It starts to weigh on your mind. But every time I thought about leaving, it gave me a sick feeling. It was after repeated sick feelings that I knew that the right thing was to stay.”
In a profession where coaches come and go and commitment is for suckers, Brohm is wired differently. Maybe that’s why, as a 47-year-old millionaire, he still drives that now-famous 2004 Honda Accord to the office. Insincerity isn’t part of his makeup.
Brohm felt the hypocrisy that would accompany a decision to leave – telling recruits, staff members and fans about the buy-in necessary to rebuild Purdue, then hightailing it elsewhere after two seasons. He couldn’t bring himself to reverse course from preaching commitment to calling a team meeting and saying, “See ya.” You get a four-star recruit like wide receiver Rondale Moore to drop Texas and be part of the vision at Purdue, then leave him after one season? There’s your sick feeling.
Even worse: the number of staffers, players and prospective recruits who said they wanted to join Brohm in Louisville if he left. The thought of leaving Purdue with the same threadbare cupboard he inherited was unsettling.
“My two years at Purdue, I’ve kind of been all-in,” Brohm said. “That’s how we’ve gotten this thing going. We’ve got plenty of room to grow and more to come – we’re not great by any means. Winning at Purdue is hard. But to turn my back on the people here, who have treated me great, and what we’ve done here, it didn’t feel like the right thing. I couldn’t look at myself in the mirror if I did that.”
Not that this decision came easily. Most people expected to hear from Brohm on Wednesday morning, but the hours dragged on until early evening before he finally made a declaration that he was staying in West Lafayette.
Beyond merely plucking heartstrings, Brohm said the Louisville pitch was strong. Plenty of money. Plenty of facilities. Impressive pitches from Tyra and school president Neeli Bendapudi. He remains convinced that Louisville would be a great place to work.
His wife, Jennifer, and children, Brady and Brooke, left the decision in his hands. But much of the rest of Brohm’s close circle has ties every bit as deep to the city of Louisville and the university, which helped make this an excruciating deliberation.
His attorney, Shawn Freibert, is a Louisville guy and fellow Trinity High School alum. Older brother Greg, his Purdue director of operations and close confidant, caught passes from Jeff when both played for Trinity and then Louisville. Younger brother and offensive coordinator Brian was coached by Jeff when he was a Cardinal.
And then there is mom and dad. Oscar Brohm also played quarterback at Louisville, in the 1960s. He coached all his sons (and daughter Kim) on their way up. The idea of all his sons returning home, bringing the grandkids with them and coaching the school they all attended was the stuff of dreams.
How hard was it to break the news to Oscar?
“Extremely,” Jeff said, the only time during a 20-minute phone interview when his words were spare.
The consolation for Oscar Brohm is that his family remains less than three hours away. Where they have a surprisingly good thing going in West Lafayette.
Purdue was terrible before the Brohms got there, winning a total of nine games the previous four seasons. But the groundwork for a renaissance had been laid – a notoriously cheap athletic department had finally gotten into the facilities race, vaulting from the 1980s to the cutting edge. And new athletic director Mike Bobinski threw a big enough contract at then-Western Kentucky coach Brohm for him to turn down Cincinnati, decline interest from Baylor and become a Boilermaker.
Since then the record is 13-12 – still not exactly powerhouse stuff, but far better than it had been. And when the Boilermakers pulled off the most significant upset of the 2018 season, blowing out then-No. 2 Ohio State, it was the clearest sign that the Purdue-Brohm marriage could produce something beautiful.
If he stayed.
And now he is. To the surprise of everyone, perhaps even Jeff Brohm himself.
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