CRAWFORD | Entering year three at WKU, Brohm figures to have more tricks up his sleeve
WDRB's Eric Crawford and Rick Bozich caught up with WKU coach Jeff Brohm during a recent trip to Louisville. He talked about his team, and about his coaching philosophy as he enters his third season in Bowling Green.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) — When it comes to football, Jeff Brohm has just about seen everything during his long career — every type of coach, every type of approach, every type of situation.
So far into his brief tenure as Western Kentucky University head coach, Brohm hasn’t encountered any situation that he couldn’t handle. He’ll enter his third year with some key holes to fill — especially at quarterback — and with expectations a bit lower after last season ended with a 12-2 record and the No. 24 ranking in the final Associated Press poll.
But Brohm, during a recent conversation in Louisville, seemed as relaxed and confident as he’s ever been. He says he continues to learn and improve, and expects the coming season to bring a new kind of challenge.
In his first season at WKU, Brohm found himself looking at a 3-5 record and having to scramble to find ways to get his team out of the hole and into a bowl game. He did.
In his second season, he took a team that everyone knew was going to be good and delivered the best season in school history and the program’s first national ranking as a Football Bowl Subdivision team.
When WKU’s defense struggled his first season, Brohm spent the summer studying to try to make himself into a better defensive head coach.
And when people give Brohm suggestions — he listens. Even if the suggestion happens to come from his wife, Jennifer, as it did last season.
“It was about the third game of the year and she said, ‘Are you not going to run that one play?’” Brohm said. “And I said, ‘What play?’ She said, ‘You know, the play where he gets it and flips it back and he passes it?” I’m thinking and I say, ‘The flea-flicker?’ She goes, ‘Yeah, the flea-flicker.’ I’m thinking, well, I’ve got five million other plays we want to run but she says, ‘You need to run the flea-flicker.’ So I put it in, that week. Sure enough, first time I call it, wide open, touchdown. As soon as I saw it was open, I’m thinking, ‘Oh, no.’ I had to hear about it the rest of the season.”
He didn’t just hear about it the rest of the season, he ran it the rest of the season.
“I called about seven flea-flickers last season,” Brohm said. “A normal year you might use it twice. Probably five went for touchdowns. And two were huge plays.”
At the end of WKU’s Miami Beach Bowl win over South Florida, the Hilltoppers were trying to run out the clock and quarterback Brandon Doughty came to the sidelines to get the play from Brohm.
Brohm had already called the flea-flicker once in that game, yielding a 50-yard gain to break the WKU offense out of an early rut.
“Brandon comes over when we’re trying to run the clock out and he says, ‘Let’s run the flea-flicker.’ I say, ‘I’m not running a flea-flicker. We’re trying to run the clock out, and we already ran the play.’” Brohm said. “Brandon says, ‘No coach, call it. They won’t think it’s coming.’ I said, ‘You’re damn right they won’t think it’s coming. We’ve run it 50 times this year.’ He keeps on, so I call it. We just changed one back-side route in case it wasn’t open. We run the play, and it’s not open, but the guy on the back-side route does an end cut, we complete it and he goes for 25 yards, and I’m thinking, ‘This thing works every time.’”
A great deal of what Brohm has put into place at WKU is working. As happens with many players who spend a long time in the game and a long time as assistants, he came to the job with a good idea of the kind of coach he wants to be.
Make no mistake. Brohm is still a football coach. He still came of age under Howard Schnellenberger. If you make a mistake or fail to do what you’re supposed to do, it’s not a pleasant experience. But when he became a head coach, Brohm drew a line that he didn’t want to cross.
After losses, and there haven’t been many at WKU, Brohm says he tries to come into the locker room and take the blame himself, and as a coaching staff, before calling out players.
“If we’re going to get on them, we’ve got to be willing to call ourselves on our own mistakes,” Brohm said.
Nor does Brohm want assistant coaches or players to dread coming to the football facility. He tells assistants to bring children if they want, to make their families as much a part of the whole thing as they can. He tries to make it fun. He’s been trough experiences before that weren’t.
Winning helps, but attitude is important.
“I’ve got to enjoy the good times,” Brohm said. “We’ve been fortunate enough. We’ve won. It’s fun to win. I’ve played the game a long time, and coached for a lot of great coaches, lots of player’s coaches, lots of hard-ass coaches. I believe in trying to make it fun. I tell our coaches, I want you guys to enjoy coming over to the building, spending extra time, bring your kids over, anything to make you want to be here and make you want to come to work. It’s never going to be perfect, but we try. Same with players. I want them to have fun. I want them to enjoy it. You only go through college once. I’ve been on staffs before where players were scared to come over after they made a mistake. I don’t want that. I think our players feel comfortable.”
And Brohm himself, entering his third season as a head coach, feels comfortable.
He has some big weapons to replace this season, starting with WKU’s record-breaking quarterback Brandon Doughty. He had some significant vacancies to fill on his staff — and brought his brother Brian, a former star quarterback at Louisville, on as quarterbacks coach. He’ll begin the season as his own offensive coordinator.
Brohm had surgery to repair a double-hernia in the offseason and has been recovering from that. But to talk to him, he seems as comfortable and confident as he’s ever been in his ability to fashion a winning team out of the pieces he’s assembled.
While he has become known as one of the most talented young offensive coaches in the game, his style revolves more around approach than a set philosophy of play. He can be versatile, given the talents of his players.
Asked what the Jeff Brohm trademark offense is, he said: “I like to be entertaining. I like to be explosive. I like to throw the ball around if we can. I like to run trick plays. I like to go fast. I like to, really, just take what I’ve learned from all the people I’ve been around, and modernize it, put it with the tempo and no-huddle, and try to find creative ways to utilize it. It’s not always going to work. Having a good quarterback, good tight end, good players, that sure helps. We’ll see this year if any of it works.”
Chances are, one way or another, Brohm will find a way to make it work, with a few tricks up his sleeve.
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