CRAWFORD | After dazzling debut, WKU's Brohm ready for the 'next step'
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) — Not many saw this coming, not even those of us who felt that Western Kentucky University football coach Jeff Brohm might’ve been better prepared to become a college head coach than just about anyone in the game.
He played for guys like Howard Schnellenberger, Bobby Ross, George Seifert, Steve Mariucci, Mike Shanahan and Tony Dungy. He played with Steve Young and Jerry Rice. Junior Seau, who went into the Pro Football Hall of Fame posthumously Saturday? Brohm played with him, too. He coached with Schnellenberger, and with Bobby Petrino.
He absorbed a ton of football during a lifetime in the game. But when he took over for Petrino before the 2014 season, nobody realized it was going to be like pouring gasoline over hot coals.
WKU put up some of the biggest numbers this side of the national debt. In one season, the Hilltoppers broke 50 school and conference records. One year after quarterback Brandon Doughty threw 14 touchdowns and 14 interceptions, he came back to throw for 4,830 yards and 49 touchdowns under Brohm. In home games, he threw 24 touchdowns without an interception.
And the fire is still burning in Bowling Green, where Doughty was granted an additional season of eligibility, and the Hilltoppers hope to remain one of the most entertaining attractions in college football.
“It was a great year,” Brohm said during a recent visit to WDRB. “After the (2013) season we definitely tweaked a few things and we wanted to go to an up-tempo, no-huddle style offense and stay in somewhat of a pro-style attack but also have some spread elements. I’m big on trying to stay ahead of the curve and evolve with the game and be cutting edge. So we did a lot of things that we had never done before. And I remember sitting in numerous meetings and our assistants on offense would ask, ‘Do you think this is going to work?’ And I’d say, ‘I don’t know, I’ve never done it before. But I sure as heck think it’s going to.’ And we would try things and things would work. And the more we experimented and had fun with it, the more people got involved with it and we constantly tried to get better. And it worked. Even if we saw another team do something we liked, we’d add it. We never said, ‘This is what we do.’ We were constantly adjusting and trying to get better.”
Not bad for a guy who was sacked as offensive coordinator at Louisville after the 2008 season.
Brohm clearly came into the job with some ideas he wanted to try out. But he said he wasn’t thinking about what he would do as a head coach all along.
“I never really grew up wanting to be specifically a coach,” he said. “Even when I was an assistant I didn’t have a great desire to be a head coach. It just kind of happened. And now that I have it, I like it. It’s good to have input in everything. The main thing I learned last year was that I’ve always been an offensive guy and tried to stay out of other people’s business — I know as a coordinator that didn’t always happen with me, and I didn’t want to step on people’s toes, but give them the ability to do what they believed in. Now, midway thought the year I kind of got more involved. I think now I’m diligent enough to get involved, have my two cents’ worth, but to still make (coordinators) feel like things are their ideas and let them know we’re all just trying to do things to make the team better. So being an overall coach of the entire team, offense, defense, special teams, I hadn’t done much before. And now that I’m doing it, it’s a constant learning process. That’s been an adjustment for me, but I think it will benefit us.”
After you rank in the top six in the nation in scoring, touchdowns, total yards and passing yards, and lead the nation in touchdown passes, the phone starts ringing. Brohm had programs from all over the nation want to come huddle (or, in WKU’s case, not huddle) to talk about some of his offensive wrinkles.
Brohm might be a first-year coach, but he wasn’t willing to turn loose of some of his innovations quite so easily.
“I’m a little protective with some of that,” Brohm said. “We definitely open it up to all the high school coaches. But college coaches? I’m a little protective.”
Just as much as the numbers, however, Brohm is pleased at how his program rallied last season. The Hilltoppers were 3-5 before putting together five straight wins, including an upset of unbeaten Marshall on November 28 (67-66 in overtime) and then a thrilling 49-48 win over Central Michigan in the Bahamas Bowl in which they lost a 35-point lead in the fourth quarter but kept CMU from a game-winning two-point conversion. The Hilltoppers finished the season 8-5.
“The best thing about last year when we won, it was my brother Greg’s idea, we kind of developed a playoff mentality with our team, where we felt like we needed to win to advance and put a little more pressure on ourselves as coaches and players,” Brohm said. “And everybody responded to that, and we reeled off some victories. I think that will help us going forward.”
Having Doughty back on offense is a major plus for Brohm heading into this season. So is returning running back Leon Allen, who rushed for better than 1,500 yards as a junior.
Whether the Hilltoppers can shore up a defense that allowed just a tick under 40 points and 510 yards per game is the major question. Jontavious Morris, a 6-2, 305-pound defensive tackle who transferred from UAB when that program was disbanded, will be central to those hopes of defensive improvement.
The Hilltoppers get an SEC Network stage for their opener against Vanderbilt in Nashville. They have a major test in their Conference USA opener against Louisiana Tech in Bowling Green in the second week of the season (a team that beat them 59-10 last season) on the CBS Sports Network and then a trip to Bloomington for a Big Ten Network game against Indiana.
Brohm wasn’t worried about getting an invite to an ESPN “car wash” series of interviews. He spent time in late July visiting Louisville TV stations, throwing out the first pitch at a Bats game at Louisville Slugger Field, appearing on Louisville radio and holding a kickoff party here.
Clearly, Brohm is looking to his hometown market to expand his fan base. The Hilltoppers have 34 Kentucky players on the roster, including 15 from Louisville.
“We’re trying to get exposure and just have people come watch us play,” Brohm said. “We have some local talent on the team, which helps. And we have fun with it. I like to work hard, but we like to have a good time. So hopefully we make the game entertaining and if people watch us they want to watch us again.
“The big thing for us now is we’ve got to take the next step,” Brohm said. “The bull’s eye is on our chest, which we’re not used to. To be honest, I’ve seen a few of our guys, some of them are nervous already. We have to stay hungry, play at a high level, win close games and not let the pressure get to some of our guys. I’m hoping its another fun season.”
And after a record-setting debut, when Brohm talks about fun, people know he means it.
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