WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — The car parked in the space reserved for the Purdue head football coach says a lot about the Purdue head football coach.
It’s a 2005 Honda Accord. One of the back doors doesn’t open. But it does the job of getting Jeff Brohm to and from the office on a daily basis.
The school gave him an automobile allowance, but he’s been too busy since taking the job last December to get around to using it. If and when he does, there won’t be any Mercedes-Benz in Brohm’s parking spot. He is allergic to any trappings of grandeur that can be associated with a millionaire football coach.
Which is just one reason Jeff Brohm is perfect for Purdue, a place that is jeans-and-flannel simple.
“I think his persona fits our ethic,” said the man who hired him at Purdue last December, athletic director Mike Bobinski. He referenced the towering, hammer-swinging, hardhat-wearing Boilermaker statue that stands on campus near Mackey Arena, where the basketball team plays, and Ross-Ade Stadium, the home of the football program.
“That Boilermaker statue says it all,” Bobinski went on. “Nothing fancy, roll up our sleeves, get it done. Jeff is that kind of coach.”
Jeff grew up in that kind of family, a sprawling, salt-of-the-earth Catholic brood from the South End of Louisville – and much of that family has relocated with him to Purdue.
Jeff Brohm’s quarterbacks coach is his younger brother, Brian. His executive director of football administration and operations is his older brother, Greg. And you’d better believe that when the Boilermakers take the field Saturday night against Louisville in Lucas Oil Stadium, his dad, Oscar, will have a sideline pass – and then he will call Sunday to rehash the game.
All four Brohm men played football at Louisville. Oscar, Jeff and Brian were starting quarterbacks, the younger two going on to NFL careers. Greg, the family black sheep, was a starting wide receiver. (Somebody had to catch all those passes in the backyard in Fern Creek.)
“They know football as much as I do,” Jeff, 46, said in his office in late August, his whiteboard covered in formations and play calls. “We’ve got a family full of opinions. I probably listen to more opinions than any head coach in America.”
The opinions actually flow in from other branches of the Brohm family tree as well. Jeff’s mom, Donna, was a high-school athlete and has a voice that can be heard from the stands if you’re not wearing a headset. His sister, Kim, was a three-sport college athlete herself.
And then there are the uncles. Oscar Brohm, oldest of nine children, had five brothers. Four of them played quarterback at various Louisville Catholic high schools – the fifth was a twin and caught passes from his brother. All of them went on to play college football.
“Oh, my goodness, football is just part of us, really,” said Oscar, now in his 60s. “It’s one of those things that since I was in grade school, there’s been a Brohm involved with football ever since.”
The twin uncles, Ronnie and Donnie, were 13 years younger than Oscar and fairly close in age to Greg and Jeff – so they became friendly opponents in every sport imaginable for the boys. Jeff remembers pulling their cars in behind the family driveway to trap Ronnie and Donnie so they couldn’t leave before playing the backyard football game.
With an abundance of football experience comes an abundance of opinions. There is unconfirmed family folklore that one Brohm uncle tried to get a defensive back adjustment phoned in from home during a game when Jeff was the coach at Western Kentucky.
But Greg is Jeff’s true right-hand man, a sounding board who types up his own observations after practices and games. Having worked for several years in business and media, he brings a different perspective that Jeff welcomes.
“He can view it from a fan’s perspective,” Jeff said. “He’ll ask what the fans are asking – why did you run this play on third-and-short?”
Said Greg: “We grew up together, we did everything together. He knows that when I tell him something, I have no other agenda. It’s just so he’s successful and the team is successful. He’s great at listening to input. I will tell him, ‘This is how it looks to other people.’ Sometimes you get in the bubble too much.”
Outside the Purdue bubble, expectations are justifiably low for Brohm’s first Boilermaker team. He inherited scant talent from the fired Darrell Hazell, with concerns heightened at receiver and offensive line. Being competitive right away will not be easy.
But there is a hope for the long haul, and it starts with a basic refutation of Purdue’s no-frills ethos.
That’s the thing in modern college football: nothing fancy is nothing doing when it comes to facilities. After years of lagging far behind much of its Big Ten brethren, Purdue has finally joined the arms race – joined it in a big way.
The school opened a new, $60-million-plus football facility in late August – a massive structure that goes a long way toward closing the gap between the Boilers and the rest of the conference. That project began before Bobinski arrived, but he took the important next step of paying the new coach a competitive salary. Brohm is making $3 million a year, with incentives pushing the potential high end to $4.8 million.
“For years, for a variety of reasons, we didn’t make an all-in commitment to being good at football,” Bobinski said. “It’s a different football program than it used to be, maybe ever. It used to be, if we needed three of something, we tried to make do with one and-a-half. Now, if we need three, we’re getting three.”
After firing Hazell at midseason last year, Bobinski didn’t take long to focus his search on Brohm. He loved the creative and productive offenses at Western Kentucky, and his work with quarterbacks. Bobinski arranged a clandestine meeting with Brohm a few weeks before the end of the season.
The guy he met was fairly reserved at first – until Jeff started drawing up plays and talking football.
“When he started drawing stuff,” Bobinski said, “he came alive.”
Bobinski backed off and let WKU finish its season, but other colleges came calling in the latter stages. Baylor became a major player, and Cincinnati was in the picture, as well.
“That was nerve-wracking,” Bobinski said.
In the end, though, Brohm chose Purdue. He liked the idea of coaching in the Big Ten, even at a program near the bottom of the league. He liked the idea of being close to his Louisville roots – and bringing his brothers along as part of a staff that is heavy on old ties and familiar connections.
The jeans-and-flannel feel of Purdue sure didn’t hurt, either. Here, Jeff Brohm and his 2005 Honda Accord with the back door that doesn’t open fit right in.