Skip to content

From shortstop to QB to coach, Jeff Brohm on why he stayed at Purdue

Sure, Jeff Brohm had done this before.

He’d thrown out the first pitch at a Purdue softball game and before minor-league crowds in Kentucky. (Long live the Bowling Green Hot Rods.)

On top of that, the former pitcher/shortstop/center fielder was selected in the MLB draft – twice. While playing quarterback at Louisville, he spent summers as a teammate of Jim Thome and Manny Ramirez in the Indians organization.

Still, nothing prepares you for throwing out the first pitch at Wrigley Field.

The Purdue football coach, in town for Big Ten media days, which started Monday, looked a bit nervous Saturday night as he warmed up by tossing underhand with his 7-year-old daughter, Brooke.

A team official gave him a white pinstriped Cubs jersey with No. 11 – the digits he wore while throwing for 5,451 yards in college.

Son Brady handed him a blue Cubs cap.

“I still bend mine,” said Brohm, 47. “I’m not hip enough (for the flat brim).”

When it rained, Brohm and his party moved into the Cubs dugout, where he encountered third-base coach Brian Butterfield.

Butterfield semi-apologized for being a Michigan fan before adding: “Good luck. I love what you’re doing. You have the most dangerous team in the country.”

Finally Brohm stepped to the mound, a foot or two shy of the rubber, and executed a smooth, easy toss. Reliever Dillon Maples extended his left arm to snare it with his glove.

“Luckily I had a tall catcher,” Brohm said. “If I’m gonna miss, I’m gonna miss there. Daggone if I was gonna throw it in the dirt and make an ESPN highlight.”

The former NFL quarterback paused and added: “I was just trying to make a completion.”

As Brohm walked to his seat in Section 109, Purdue trustee Gary Lehman told him: “You made us proud, Coach.”

And not for the first time.

A year ago, Brohm took over a Boilermakers program that had sunk to the bottom of the Big Ten. Joe Tiller’s run of consecutive bowl appearances from 1997 to 2004 seemed more than a generation past.

From 2013 to 2016, Purdue went 3-30 in league play and 9-39 overall.

Brohm’s crew gave Louisville and Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Lamar Jackson a scare in the opener. The Boilermakers beat Ohio and did the Big Ten proud by thumping Missouri.

Purdue ended the year with three straight victories – stunning Iowa on the road, taking down Indiana to initiate a field-storming at Ross-Ade Stadium and escaping a thrilling Foster Farms Bowl with a 38-35 takedown of Arizona.

The Boilermakers went 7-6, 4-5 and boosted home attendance from 34,451 to 47,884 – the nation’s largest increase. It was no surprise, then, that other schools tried to swoop in and hire him away from Purdue. Some Tennessee media members thought he’d join the Volunteers.

Looking back, Brohm said it helped Purdue’s recruiting.

“Multiple teams called,” he said. “But this fan base has been starved for success, and they’ve been great to me. When we’re recruiting we say: If we were willing to turn down something that might have looked better for the outsiders …

“Ohio State and Michigan are great, but they’ll win every year whether you’re there or not. At Purdue we get up earlier and stay up later. Makes it more fun.”

It’s easy to enjoy a Cubs game with Brohm, who signed a seven-year, $29 million deal to remain at Purdue. He recalled the last time he was at Wrigley Field – for the Northwestern-Illinois game in 2010. He coached quarterbacks on Ron Zook’s staff, and the Illini pummeled the Wildcats that day, producing 559 yards in a 48-27 victory.

“We warmed up in the outfield,” he said.

He was not surprised when Zook and his staff got fired a year later after losing six straight following a 6-0 start. Zook and new athletic director Mike Thomas would barely acknowledge one another.

Thomas is now the athletic director at Cleveland State, and Zook coordinates special teams for the Packers.

Brohm has thrived because of the football acumen that courses through the family blood: Father Oscar quarterbacked at Louisville and brothers Brian (co-offensive coordinator) and Greg (executive director of football administration) are on his staff.

Though regarded as an offensive guru, Brohm oversaw a defensive turnaround that slashed points allowed from 38.2 in 2016 to 20.5 last season.

He also has a philosophy of allowing players to be themselves on the field. Talking smack is OK provided, as he put it, “you’re respecting the game and don’t get a penalty.”

He has personal conduct rules, of course. Beyond that he tells his players two things: “Win the day. And be the hungriest guy in the building.”

And if they’re ever fortunate enough to throw out the first pitch at Wrigley: Don’t bounce it.

Visit the Chicago Tribune at

Purdue head coach Jeff Brohm argues a call with the referees during the second quarter against Minnesota at Ross-Ade Stadium in West Lafayette, Ind., on Saturday, Oct. 7, 2017. (Elizabeth Flores/Minneapolis Star Tribune/TNS)

Purdue head coach Jeff Brohm argues a call with the referees during the second quarter against Minnesota at Ross-Ade Stadium in West Lafayette, Ind., on Saturday, Oct. 7, 2017. (Elizabeth Flores/Minneapolis Star Tribune/TNS)

Leave a Comment