Peter ThamelESPN8 minutes read
INDIANAPOLIS — Last week at the NFL Combine, new Purdue coach Ryan Walters sat down with ESPN to discuss the energy boost, challenges and changes that come with taking on a new job. He lives in Jeff Brohm’s old house – he rents it from the school that bought it – while laying the groundwork for Purdue’s modernization.
Walters insists the job isn’t a rebuild, considering Purdue has won 17 games in the past two years and conquered the Big Ten West last season. He’s optimistic about what the job can become – “Why can’t you win at Purdue?” Walters delved into everything from the realities of NIL to what he learned from Bret Bielema to his high school with ESPN -QB crush for Drew Brees coming full circle and early impressions of quarterback Hudson Card.
ESPN: How was the adjustment to the front-facing portion of the job? You’ve been in the limelight before as a player, assistant and coordinator, but that has to change.
Ryan Walters: It wasn’t a big change. I was always either the point guard or the quarterback or the captain of the team. So it was comfortable for me to stand up and speak in front of people. I’m comfortable in my own skin. I’ve always been quiet confident. And so that part wasn’t an adaptation. I think the part that was the biggest adjustment is just the lack of anonymity that people recognize you now. As you know, I am the same guy to myself that I was before I signed a piece of paper.
ESPN: Please give me an example of that.
RW: Walk into a restaurant and it’s “Hey Coach.” I’ve taken a thousand pictures, which is fun and flattering, you have to be very aware of your surroundings, and it’s just a bit of adjustment. Nobody really talks about that part of being a coach. You are preparing that your phone will explode. And it’s going to be really hard to say no to people who hold you in high esteem and respect in this profession. But nobody, nobody prepared me for all the pictures that will be taken.
ESPN: I know your family hasn’t moved yet, but have you found any jobs in West Lafayette?
RW: There are a few spots I found. The East End Grill is great. There is great food there. The tap is awesome. RedSeven is great.
ESPN: Is there already a sandwich or burger named after you?
RW: Not yet. I have to win a few games first.
ESPN: Let’s go back chronologically here. Your father was a player in Colorado when you were growing up and those were your formative years. What are some of your earliest memories?
RW: I remember watching my dad practice and I remember running through the locker room and all the guys that were on that team. I just bumped into Vance Joseph in the lobby and he gave me a big hug. He said: “Hey, Eric Bieniemy and I are having dinner tonight. These guys are all still tight. Alfred Williams, who I speak to regularly. Just that camaraderie is kinda what I remember. You go through a career and you’re part of successful teams that have had the same kind of camaraderie and teams that I’ve been on that haven’t been successful haven’t had them. And that’s definitely an atmosphere and chemistry that I’m trying to create.
ESPN: I’ve always felt that a million small decisions by a head coach help shape a team’s identity. After nearly three months in this job, what are some early and intentional things you did to shape Purdue football’s new identity?
RW: I was hired at a bad time. There is still staff available. There is one more [bowl] game to play and still have exercises. And so I’m there, but not really there. I’m in the practice, but I’m not involved in the practice. So what I really did was immerse myself in what was going on off the field. … I immersed myself each day in the different departments the children were touching, making sure their vision aligned with mine. We’ve made changes to the heads of certain departments. We’ve partially changed the way players’ stipend money is calculated [cost of attendance, etc.]. I know what we got in Illinois, and in Purdue the players got a lot less. And so we just looked at the why and where it ranked within the Big Ten. And we’ve been able to make changes to where guys are getting like $800 more a month.
ESPN: You have hired Kiero Small as your Director of Strength and Conditioning. He worked under Tank Wright in Illinois, and both are students of Ben Herbert of Michigan, who was in Wisconsin and Arkansas under Bret Bielema. What have you seen so far?
RW: I think these three guys are the best in the business and it was important for us to train Kiero for eight weeks. If you think about it, when you’re preparing for a season, you have eight weeks in the summer, and then you go to fall camp. I know there are different philosophies as to why you start bouncing when you do. But for me personally in our program I want to prepare the boys to play football before they start playing football. And so Kiero made great strides with our boys. You’re in shape right now. Having Kiero eight weeks to work with the boys to prepare them for five weeks of spring prom will be huge for us as we move forward.
ESPN: We’ve seen Hudson Card on snaps in Texas. You’ve probably only seen him in training. What are your first impressions?
RW: What I’ve seen so far is what you’d hope to see in a quality quarterback. He lowered his head and went to work. He’s a lot sportier than you think. And the people in the program give him credit for being very intellectual and just picking up on the playbook. He has a calm, confident poise, and that’s what you want in a quarterback. So it will be interesting to see how he battles with the other quarterbacks on the list this spring. From what I’ve seen, it’s as advertised, if not more. And I’m excited about his future at Purdue.
ESPN: I can’t do a Q&A on the new Purdue trainer without a Drew Brees question. I know you both appeared on ESPN’s College GameDay before the bowl game. Did you hang out with him a lot before you got the job?
RW: I played quarterback in high school. And so I’m a sophomore in high school and starting to be a varsity quarterback at Grandview High School [in Colorado]. And my family is all originally from Los Angeles. And so every break we had we drove home to LA. Christmas break, we’re in Los Angeles, we’re going to Disneyland and Drew is there for the Rose Bowl parade. And I look at him, I think that’s Drew. Like I’m exactly what I wanna be I want to do that. And then fast forward and after my press conference when I get hired I get a call and it’s Drew Brees! I’m like… that’s Drew Brees calling me! You know? So it has definitely come full circle. But he was great. He is definitely very proud of the fraternity that is Boilermaker Nation and champions Purdue. He was just great as an ambassador and very available.
ESPN: It has been approximately 100 days since you were hired. How was that time?
RW: It wasn’t as hectic or chaotic as people might think. And I think that’s just because I was prepared and mentored and tutored by some people who were succeeding. You know, I give a lot of credit to Bret Bielema and what he was able to infuse into me and how he allowed me to grow in Illinois. He knew what kind of goals and aspirations I had and he made time for them every day [mentor me]. And so, you know, that’s something I’ll always be grateful for. Things like roster decisions, staffing decisions you know, HR and department heads. He brought me in and said, “You know, these are the problems I have. This is how you have to think about it.” And often he would reminisce about his days with Barry Alvarez. When I first met Barry Alvarez at the Big Ten coach meetings, I felt like I knew him because I had heard so much about him.
ESPN: They were optimistic here about what Purdue can become. Is this a place you think you can grow into a national title contender later?
RW: I do. I think it will be hard work and a lot of dedication from the different people associated with the program. I think it has a chance to become a very special place.
I will not sit here and be shy about the fact that NIL is real. And we still have some catching up to do. But if you look at the academic resources that you have, you look at the conference you attend, you look at the facilities, you look at the place…you have high caliber talent that’s close to that place . Why can’t you win at Purdue? Why not? I think with the administrative support and campus support for the program and a commitment and fan base that means will support you 100 percent. I think if you have the right people with the right resources, why not? I think Indiana underestimates high school football. And this Class of 2024 really is something special in the state. And we have a chance to get some of these guys on campus. If they stay home, watch out.