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Purdue’s Jeff Brohm is Tennessee’s latest target

Photo: PurdueSports.com

Well, that sure escalated quickly. But, then, college coaching searches usually do, don’t they?

Just hours after AllThingsVol wrote that there has been surprisingly little buzz around first-year Purdue head coach Jeff Brohm, the former Louisville quarterback is in talks with Tennessee officials regarding the Vols’ coaching vacancy, which is in its 17th day.

Media sources in Indianapolis confirm that Tennessee athletics director John Currie has been in touch with Brohm today, and fear it might be a successful courtship. Radio host Tony Donohue tweeted just after noon: “It might not be a very good day for Purdue football fans. :(”

Brohm appears to be Tennessee’s latest target, after the Vols were rejected by Oklahoma State’s Mike Gundy late Tuesday. While Gundy was the first coach to formally reject an offer from Tennessee, the perception has been created of a flailing coaching search by the Vols. Currie was close to a formal offer with Ohio State defensive coordinator Greg Schiano on Sunday before being forced to withdraw from a memorandum of understanding amid outcry from Tennessee fans.

The turn to Brohm is hardly surprising. He has been oft-mentioned as a potential candidate since Butch Jones’ seat began heating up in the middle of the season. While he isn’t likely to be viewed by many as a “home run hire” for Tennessee, Vols fans will likely warm up to him as they learn more about him.

Brohm is known as a stellar offensive coach, and once turned down an offer from Nick Saban to become Alabama’s offensive coordinator. He played quarterback at Louisville in the early 1990s (including the 1993 season, when Tennessee defeated the Cardinals, 45-10), and later spent seven seasons in the NFL as an undrafted journeyman.

As a coach, Brohm got his start at his alma mater, coaching quarterbacks from 2003 to 2006 before rising to eventually become offensive coordinator in 2008.

Brohm’s career took a step back at that point, as he was forced out by second-year head coach Steve Kragthorpe, who called his own plays the following season while Brohm landed as the quarterbacks coach at Florida Atlantic, where he reunited with former Louisville coach Howard Schnellenberger, his old college coach. As it turned out, forcing out Brohm couldn’t save Kragthorpe’s career; he was fired after the following season.

Brohm, meanwhile, jumped to Illinois as quarterbacks coach for two seasons under Ron Zook before getting an opportunity to be an offensive coordinator again at UAB in 2012. From there, he joined Bobby Petrino as Petrino’s offensive coordinator at Western Kentucky in 2013, rejoining a coach he had coached under earlier in his career at Louisville. That turned out to be the wisest move he made. Because Petrino left to be the head coach at — ironically enough — Louisville after just one season, and Brohm was promoted to head coach at Western Kentucky.

After Petrino led the Hilltoppers to an 8-4 season in 2013, Brohm continued to build on that success. He led WKU to a 7-5 regular season in 2014, followed by a win over Central Michigan in the Bahamas Bowl. The highlight of the season was a 67-66 overtime win over No. 19 Marshall in the regular season finale. Brohm’s team went 12-2 in 2015 and finished as the nation’s No. 25 team after defeating South Florida in the Miami Beach Bowl. Their only losses were at No. 5 LSU and at Indiana. In 2016, the Hilltoppers finished 9-3 in the regular season, with losses to top-ranked Alabama, Vanderbilt and Louisiana Tech.

Brohm made the move to Purdue for the 2017 season, where he inherited a team that was coming off a 3-9 season in 2016 and had won only nine games in the past four years combined. In a single season, Brohm led Purdue to bowl eligibility, as the Boilermakers finished 6-6. They played two ranked teams — No. 16 Louisville and No. 7 Wisconsin — within a touchdown, and lost two more games (Rutgers and Nebraska) by a combined three points. Their only losses by two or more possessions were against No. 8 Michigan and at Northwestern.

Purdue finished 76th in the nation in total offense, averaging 390 yards per game. And while that statistic is not necessarily impressive, it was an improvement over 2015, when the Boilermakers were 95th in total offense.

The Boilermakers’ recruiting has taken a big step forward under Brohm. The 2018 class is currently ranked by Rivals.com as No. 37 in the nation, after the 2017 class — finished by Brohm — was No. 68 in the nation.

If Tennessee is unable to lure Brohm away from Purdue, it likely won’t be because of money. His base salary at Purdue is $3.3 million with a $5 million buyout. His incentives are lucrative and give him the ability to earn as much as $4.8 million annually, but aren’t anything Tennessee can’t top. Instead, if a deal between Brohm and Tennessee falls through, it’s more likely to be because Brohm is unwilling to leave Purdue after just one season.

One thing Tennessee fans will have to worry about is the potential for Brohm to bolt for Louisville when that job comes open. However, it’s worth noting that Brohm has not coached at Louisville since he was essentially fired there a decade ago, and that is a bridge that can be crossed when the time comes.

As Tennessee officials continue their talks with Brohm this afternoon, here’s one final stat to keep in mind: The Boilermakers finished the season ranked No. 35 in the nation in the Sagarin ratings. Last season, before Brohm arrived, they finished the season ranked No. 126.

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