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Did Purdue Make A Mistake Hiring Ryan Walter?

This football coaching search was an opportunity for Purdue to be bold and reach for the stars like their Big Ten peers Nebraska and Wisconsin did a few weeks ago.

The hire of Illinois defensive coordinator Ryan Walters was disappointing upon first reaction, mostly because of the raised expectations for replacing Jeff Brohm that came from athletic director Mike Bobinski.

“I think we’ll be able to attract a deeper and higher-quality pool than perhaps we were able to get in 2016,” Bobinski said the day after Brohm took most of his coaching staff and a handful of recruits to Louisville. “We had really good people there, and we hired a really good coach. But I think we may have more of that to be able to select from this time around and that’s a result of where we’ve come.”

Talk about overpromising and underdelivering.

The reported coaching pool in 2016 included Air Force coach Troy Calhoun and Skip Holtz, Brohm’s Conference USA rival at Louisiana Tech. Bobinski did an admirable job keeping this search quiet, but I would have remained mum too if I was going to foist a 36-year-old first-time head coach on a skeptical Purdue fan base.

Walters did make a good first impression Tuesday with at least one member of his new team. In a widely circulated video on social media, Walters awarded a scholarship to redshirt freshman running back Devin Mockobee. This was a wise move because a report circulated last week that Brohm tried to convince Mockobee to follow him to Louisville, technically an NCAA violation since Mockobee is not in the transfer portal.

Walters also won the press conference Wednesday afternoon but press conference victories don’t count in the Big Ten standings in September. There will not be a more important hire for Walters than his choice for offensive coordinator.

The hire was greeted positively by Adam Rittenberg, a longtime Big Ten beat writer for ESPN.com who gave Purdue a B-plus.

“Walters is ready to lead a program,” Rittenberg wrote. “Walters likely would have been the choice at Colorado if not for Deion Sanders, and had impressed several schools in interviews this cycle. He should energize Purdue’s recruiting efforts, although his staff — both on the field and in support roles — will be very important to keep the program’s momentum after its first Big Ten West Division title.

“After the Jeff Brohm era, Purdue fans will want the excitement on offense, and specifically with the quarterback position, to continue under Walters. Like all defensive assistants getting their first opportunities as head coaches, Walters will need a detailed plan for how he’s going to approach the offense. Although the Big Ten is a league where defenses often carry the day, especially in the West Division, Purdue has stood out because of its quarterback tradition. How Walters addresses those areas will be essential to the early part of his tenure.”

Walters is Purdue’s first defensive-oriented hire since Leon Burtnett in 1982, when he replaced a College Football Hall of Fame coach in Jim Young. As head coach, Burtnett shifted his focus to offense and leaned heavily on quarterbacks Scott Campbell, Jim Everett and Jeff George during his five-year tenure.

History suggests Walters will continue the nearly century-long Purdue tradition of a losing hire following a winning head coach. Examples include Jack Mollenkopf to Bob DeMoss in 1970, Young to Burtnett and Joe Tiller to Danny Hope in 2009.

The last winning transition came in 1930, when Noble Kizer was promoted to replace Jim Phelan. All Phelan did was go 8-0 in 1929 and win Purdue’s most recent undisputed Big Ten championship. Kizer would go 42-13-3 before a fatal kidney disease forced him to resign before the 1937 season. It would be nearly 20 years before Purdue found another consistently winning coach in Mollenkopf.

On paper, the 2023 Purdue schedule is not easy. Fresno State (9-4 in 2022) comes to West Lafayette for the Sept. 2 opener. A trip to Virginia Tech (3-7) and a rematch with Syracuse (7-5) in Ross-Ade Stadium wraps up the non-conference slate. September concludes with home games against Wisconsin (6-6) and Illinois (8-4).

Trips to Iowa (7-5) and Nebraska (4-8) sandwich a home game with Ohio State (11-1) in October. A trip to Michigan (13-0) and a home game with Minnesota (8-4) open November before the Boilermakers once again close the season with Northwestern (1-11) in Evanston and Senior Day against Indiana (4-8).

Walters is the youngest Purdue head coach since Stu Holcomb, who was 36 when he came to West Lafayette from an assistant coach’s role at Army in 1947. The only younger head coaches in Boilermaker football history are Phelan (1922), Kizer and Isbell (1944). Each were 29 at the time.

Rapid, record rise for No. 1 Purdue

Monday’s ascension of Matt Painter’s Boilermakers to the top of The Associated Press college basketball poll for the second consecutive season is unprecedented.

Never has a school unranked in the preseason AP poll reached No. 1 faster than Purdue, according to Dave Worlock, the NCAA’s director of media coordination/statistics. The Associated Press college basketball poll debuted in 1950.

Purdue is also No. 1 atop Joe Lunardi’s latest NCAA tournament bracket for ESPN.

“Purdue’s resume in replacing Houston as the No. 1 overall seed is awfully impressive for mid-December,” Lunardi writes. “The Boilermakers have a best-in-the-nation five Quadrant 1 wins (only Kansas and Wisconsin have as many as three), and four of them have come away from home.

“For all the talk about the chip on Kentucky’s shoulder after losing to St. Peter’s in the NCAA tournament, perhaps we were shortchanging the team that lost to the Peacocks two rounds later. This Boilermaker team is clearly on a path to surpass that Sweet 16 showing from a year ago, and it will take a lot more than a St. Peter’s to knock them out.”

Junior center Zach Edey claimed his third consecutive Big Ten Player of the Week award. It matches the school record set by Carl Landry during the 2006-07 season. Wisconsin’s Ethan Happ was the most recent player to accomplish the feat in November 2018.

Edey leads the nation at 13.7 rebounds per game and seventh in scoring at 22 points a game.

The 7-4 Canadian is also starting to look like a national player of the year favorite among college basketball media. Edey ranks first in analyst Ken Pomeroy’s Player of the Year standings, and veteran analyst Andy Katz also favors Edey for the award last won by a Boilermaker in 1994 when Glenn Robinson swept the postseason honors.

Noteworthy

Leading the nation in receptions and receiving yards was only worth a second-team All-America honor from The Associated Press for Purdue’s Charlie Jones.

Jones has 110 receptions for 1,361 yards. His 12 receiving touchdowns rank fourth nationally. The transfer from Iowa broke John Standeford’s 20-year-old school record for yards in a season.

Jones is the third Purdue wide receiver in four years to earn AP All-America honors, following Rondale Moore in 2018 and David Bell last season.

The Athletic also honored Jones as a member of its All-Portal team. The site noted that Jones outperformed his former school’s group of receivers for the 2022 season. Iowa’s receivers combined for 72 catches for 752 yards and two touchdowns. …

Jones’ childhood friend, Purdue quarterback Aidan O’Connell, is ranked 12th in ESPN.com’s list of top NFL quarterback prospects. That projects to a mid-to-late Day 3 draft pick. ESPN.com projects O’Connell to be a good fit for the Los Angeles Chargers.

“The Chargers are an ideal fit because of their propensity to rely on getting the ball out quickly. O’Connell’s at his best when he can make quick decisions and keep pass-rushers from bearing down on him.” …

Purdue guard Marcus Mbow was selected to The Athletic’s Freshman All-America team. Mbow was credited for giving up no sacks on 671 snaps.

Running back Devin Mockobee was a second-team selection.

Kenny Thompson is the former sports editor for the Lafayette Journal & Courier and an award-winning journalist. He has covered Purdue athletics for many years.