BOZICH | Jeff Brohm: 'I couldn't look in the mirror and leave (Purdue)'
By Rick Bozich
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) — The final box score says that it was difficult for Jeff Brohm to choose between coaching the football program at Purdue or coming home to fix the program at the University of Louisville.
Difficult doesn’t touch how challenging this call was for Brohm and his family.
Wrenching. Exhausting. Complicated. Conflicting.
“It was way tougher than you can imagine,” Brohm said Friday morning on the telephone during a recruiting trip. “Some people would say, “What’s so hard about it? You’ve got a good thing here and a good thing there.’
“Yeah, I get that. But until you’ve got it put on you and you’re put in that situation, you don’t quite realize it. I didn’t realize it would be that hard either, when it was kind of coming about. You just kind of roll with the punches.
“You just try to weigh everything. I know it’s kind of hard to … you try to compare and make analysis. Not every one is accurate.
“Sometime you say, ‘What would you do if somebody just walked up to you and I had my son, Brady and my daughter, Brooke, and they say, ‘You need to pick one of those and I’ll come back later and see what you want to do?’"
The college football world found out early Wednesday evening that Brohm decided to stay and finish his second season at Purdue (likely with a trip to the Music City Bowl to play Mississippi State). He will embrace a third season with the Boilermakers (likely with a Top 25 recruiting class) rather than come home.
And not just any home. Louisville. Where his parents grew up. Where he and his brothers, Greg and Brian, won state football titles and excelled in other sports at Trinity.
Where the brothers followed their father, Oscar, to the football team at Louisville. Where he met his wife, Jennifer.
Where he has a home, extended family, countless friends and former teammates.
Why? That question will not begin to subside until Louisville settles on its next coach and Purdue moves forward to its bowl game and preparation for next season.
If you know Brohm, 47, you know why.
But he wanted to explain it one more time, simply because it was important to Brohm that folks in Louisville understand that his decision to remain at Purdue was not a dismissal of even one millimeter of Louisville in any direction.
His love for Louisville is strong and perpetual. Brohm expects athletic director Vince Tyra to hire a great coach and for the Cardinals to resume beating Kentucky and eight or nine other teams on their schedule while ringing up bowl trips. Having his name in the Ring of Honor at Cardinal Stadium remains one of his top athletic achievements.
But life changes. Careers evolve. Goals shift. Coaches adjust.
“When I became the head coach at Purdue, I knew there were challenges,” Brohm said. It’s kind of why I took it. Let’s see what we can do here. Let’s see if we can actually coach and prove our worth.
“For the last two years I haven’t had a negative experience. That doesn’t mean we have arrived or we are great by any means. But the people here treat me great. They appreciate every little thing we do. We get along great with everybody from the top down to the very bottom.
“We’ve had some special moments. We’ve beaten three ranked teams. We beat (No. 2) Ohio State (by 29 points in October), which was as emotional a night for not only our team but our fans and our university …
“… I get the president of the university (Mitch Daniels, the former Indiana governor who worked in the White House for President Reagan) a couple days after the game saying that he didn’t want to bother me, and he never does, saying that he just wanted to let me know that the moment we had in that game was as special as any moment that he had been around and that he had had more people reach out to him from all facets of life after that game than in any point in his political career.
“You just kind of see the meaning of it. It’s like, ‘Wow, that was a special deal.’
“Now that’s small in some ways, but it’s just one thing after another and you understand this has been a special run … you add up all those little things that give you an emotional attachment.”
Despite all those deposits in Brohm’s Purdue emotional account, the call was tough. Went back and forth. There were plenty of deposits in the Louisville account, too.
One more snapshot on how challenging this decision was for Brohm:
On Thursday night, more than a day after he picked Purdue, he slept 90 minutes.
On Wednesday night, he slept two hours. On Tuesday night less than that.
“I think it’s going to be that way for a while,” he said. “I’ve kind of conditioned my body to operate on two hours.”
The deadline to make the decision started building Nov. 11 after Tyra fired Bobby Petrino. There was one obvious Mr. Fix-It candidate — Brohm, the former Trinity High and University of Louisville quarterback, who has led Western Kentucky and Purdue to bowl games in his first five seasons as a head coach.
A premature radio report several days later by Dan Dakich in Indianapolis that suggested a deal with Louisville was done and would be announced Nov. 26 made the situation more complicated for Brohm.
“Football is a hard game,” Brohm said. “It takes a complete commitment from all of your players and your coaching staff. They have to believe in you and what you’re doing so I felt like I needed to address that one with my players and my coaches.”
Brohm addressed it. Purdue split its final two games — blowing a lead in the fourth quarter at home against Wisconsin before defeating Indiana last Saturday in Bloomington.
On Tuesday Brohm met with Tyra for the first time in West Lafayette, where Tyra laid out his ambitious plan for Brohm and U of L football. One report had Louisville’s offer at $35 million over seven years.
Another source said it was actually more than that, especially after Tyra added a personal vehicle. That was a special, creative touch. Brohm is famously frugal and admired for his loyalty to a 2004 Honda Accord that he has shared with his father, Oscar, and brother, Greg. Tyra knew that and offered Brohm a 2019 Honda Accord — a red one. Money was not a primary driver in this decision. Not close.
“I really liked Vince and I think he’ll do a great job and find an outstanding coach,” Brohm said.
After that one-on-one meeting, Brohm huddled with his family Tuesday evening. Oscar drove to West Lafayette. Greg is Jeff’s top administrator and confidante. His attorney is Shawn Freibert, another Trinity grad, analyzed the contract and answered questions. Younger brother, Brian, also a Purdue assistant, was on the road recruiting. He called in.
Brohm’s 13-year-old son, Brady, considers himself an unofficial assistant coach and wanted to be heard.
Truth be told, there was considerable push in the room from his family for Louisville.
It will always be home.
Two sets of grandparents could enjoy more time with Brady and his younger sister, Brooke, as well as with Jeff and his wife, Jennifer. The family relationships across the community are strong and vibrant. The Brohm Louisville DNA remains. Always will.
What stopped him?
Relationships at Purdue stopped him. It wasn’t as if he had been at Purdue for 20 minutes. He’d been there two years, two years that Brohm said have been without any issues.
The administration has followed through on everything that it promised when Purdue recruited him from Western Kentucky in 2016. He remembered his conversation with players and incoming recruits who told him they had decided to become Boilermakers because of him.
“There wasn’t an easy answer," he said. "But when it came down to it, I didn’t feel it was right to turn my back on these people who had been with me the last two years since I’ve been their head coach and the leader of their football team when there is still progress to be made and they’ve treated me nothing but great.
“That’s why I couldn’t look in the mirror (and leave).”
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