Jeff Brohm is leaving Purdue to return home to Louisville, opening up another Power 5 job. Brohm did an excellent job with the Boilermakers and leaves the program on a high note. He won 17 games the past two seasons, the Big Ten West this year, and finished 12-6 in Big Ten play. Purdue is a tough job, though, and it probably has only gotten tougher with Michigan continuing its ascent, Illinois springing back to life under Bret Bielema and both Nebraska and Wisconsin adding top-tier head coaches in Matt Rhule and Luke Fickell respectively.
Purdue has produced a lot of good NFL talent but big success on the field in the Big Ten has been spotty. The program hasn’t won 10 games since 1979 — the school’s only 10-win season. Joe Tiller did well a generation ago but prior to Brohm’s arrival Purdue had a dud of a decade of football. We suspect the Boilermakers will lean toward an offensive mind, since most of their success came under Brohm and Tiller.
Head coach candidates
Dino Babers, Syracuse: Babers spent three seasons as a Purdue wide receivers coach in the early 1990s. He’s a good offensive coach and has a lot of presence. Babers is 61, but seems at least 10 years younger. He also knows the area well from four impressive seasons as head coach at Eastern Illinois and Bowling Green. He’s been up-and-down at Syracuse in his seven seasons there; this year, the Orange went 7-5 but peaked at No. 14 in the nation before losing five in a row. And that’s a program that is in a really tough place to win now.
Troy Calhoun, Air Force: Calhoun has done well at Air Force for a long time. He coached in the MAC at Ohio for a half-dozen years in the 1990s. He’s 33-11 the past four years. He’s a really good coach and very good on offense. The Oregon native is 56 and might make a lot of sense for the Boilermakers.
Jason Candle, Toledo: Candle, 43, is another really good offensive mind who Miami almost hired a year ago as offensive coordinator. He just led Toledo to a MAC title and he’s been on a lot of athletic directors’ radars for awhile. He got off to a fast start there, succeeding his buddy and former Mount Union teammate Matt Campbell, going 11-3 in his second season. Since then, his teams have been good more than great, but he has shown he can be a consistent winner.
Kane Wommack, South Alabama: Wommack has a strong defensive background and is a rising star in coaching. The 35-year-old knows the Big Ten well. His defense at Indiana in 2020 played a huge role in the Hoosiers finishing No. 12. He took over a program that has never had a winning season in 11 years at the FBS level and the Jaguars went 10-2; their two losses this year came by a combined five points, including a one-point loss to top-10 UCLA. If Purdue is not locked in on an offensive coach, he should get strong consideration.
Assistant coach candidates
Among these rank: four men with strong Big Ten ties we think might get some consideration and a fifth who might be an attractive option.
Todd Monken, Georgia OC: The latter is Monken, who is actually from Wheaton, Ill., two and a half hours away. The 56-year-old won the national title last year and has put the Bulldogs in good position to win a second. He’s helped turn former walk-on Stetson Bennett into a Heisman finalist and has created unique ways to exploit the talent of tight end Brock Bowers. A former NFL OC, Monken did an outstanding job as a head coach at Southern Miss, taking the Golden Eagles from 1-11 his first year to 9-5 in his third season despite big administrative challenges.
Jim Leonard, Wisconsin defensive coordinator: Leonhard, who went 4-3 as the Badgers’ interim head coach this year, will leave his alma mater after the bowl game. Right after he took over, the Badgers beat Brohm and the Boilermakers 35-24. He’s shown that he’s one of the brightest defensive minds in football. Expect Leonhard to be a hot commodity in college and the NFL for places looking to upgrade the defense. Would be a fit for Purdue as a leader? We’ll see.
Sherrone Moore, Michigan co-OC/offensive line coach: Moore has been a huge asset to Jim Harbaugh and has proven to be a very good play caller this year. The 36-year-old’s O-line won the Joe Moore Award and this year’s unit is even more deserving of it. Moore has been critical for Jim Harbaugh staff, turning this team into the bully of the Big Ten and dominating arch-rival Ohio State the past two years. The Wolverines rushed for 549 yards in those two games combined. We know Moore is going to be a very choosey about his next move and is locked in on trying to win a national title, but Purdue brass might want to still reach out.
Ryan Walters, Illinois DC: Walters has made a big impact in the Big Ten in helping the Illini breakthrough, turning one of the country’s worst defenses into the second-best (at 4.26 yards per play allowed). The 36-year-0ld Colorado product, who came from Missouri, has risen up the ranks fast and is a name to remember.
Brian Hartline, Ohio State passing game coordinator: Hartline was a candidate at Cincinnati and might be in play here. The 36-year-old is arguably the top position coach in college football for his work recruiting and developing the Buckeyes’ incredibly stacked receiver room. The Ohio native would have to consider a solid Big Ten job if offered. We know he can get talent.
Kevin Sumlin: The former Purdue linebacker has deep ties inside the school. Sumlin, 58, was the hottest coach in college football a decade ago. He fizzled out at Texas A&M after leading the Aggies to their first top-5 season in a half-century. (He went 51-26 there, which is actually better than his successor Jimbo Fisher has done there since.) Sumlin then took Arizona and that proved to big a big mistake for both him and the Wildcats. He had a dismal run, going 9-20. If he’s re-energized and re-focused, this could be an interesting fit.
Dan Mullen: The former Florida and Mississippi State head coach had two top-10 seasons before the bottom dropped out on him in 2021 after a lot of bad recruiting caught up to his program. Mullen, 50, spent a season doing TV. If he’s re-dedicated and can put together a good staff, he also might be an attractive option.
(Top photo of Dino Babers: Rich Barnes / USA Today)