Purdue legend Drew Brees is joining the Boilermakers as an interim assistant coach as the team prepares for its Citrus Bowl showdown with LSU on Jan. 2, the school announced Thursday. The move comes as coach Jeff Brohm departs Purdue for Louisville, leaving the program's coaching staff in a state of transition as it approaches one of its most prestigious bowl assignments in recent history.
The Boilermakers hired Illinois defensive coordinator Ryan Walters as their new coach, but will be led in the Citrus Bowl by interim coach Brian Brohm, who was on staff under his brother for the past six seasons as offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. In his temporary role, Brees will be allowed to work on the field during practices and help in recruiting.
"I am extremely excited to work with our team over the next few weeks as we prepare for the Citrus Bowl," said Brees in a statement. "I see it not only as an opportunity to coach and mentor this group of young men, but represent all the former Purdue players that care so much about our program. This is also preparation for the future of Purdue Football with new head coach Ryan Walters. I had a great conversation with Coach Walters last night, and love the energy, passion and detail he will bring to our program."
Brees's 20-year NFL career included two league Offensive Player of the Year awards and a victory over the Indianapolis Colts in Super Bowl XLIV. He remains the Boilermakers' all-time leading passer with 11,792 yards and 90 touchdowns in 45 games with the program from 1997 to 2000. Purdue finished the season ranked in the AP Top 25 during all four of of Brees' seasons in West Lafayette.
Work to do
Purdue will be without three of its top offensive players for the Citrus Bowl. Redshirt senior quarterback Aidan O'Connell is opting out of the game after leading the Big Ten in completions (320) and yards passing (3,490) this season. The Boilermakers' top two pass-catchers, receiver Charlie Jones and tight end Payne Durham, are also skipping the bowl game. Jones leads the nation in yards receiving (1,361) and receptions (110), while Durham has 56 receptions. The two have combined for 20 touchdown catches.
Without those three, Brees will be tasked with preparing veteran backup quarterback Austin Burton to face an athletic LSU defense. He'll have to rely on receivers such as TJ Sheffield and Tyrone Tracy Jr., who were productive this season but in secondary roles behind Jones and Durham.
Brees the ambassador
Brees has been an ambassador for Purdue ever since his playing days at the school ended, having donated millions of dollars to the university over the years. But by taking on an assistant coaching role -- even on a temporary basis -- it's a sign of Brees' commitment to keeping the program competitive and nationally relevant following Brohm's departure.
The Boilermakers appeared in the Big Ten Championship Game for the first time in program history this season. The program's back-to-back 6-3 marks in Big Ten play over the past two seasons marked the best two-year run of conference play since 1997 and 1998, when Brees was the quarterback.
"When I first heard about Drew coming back to help coach our guys for the bowl game, I was hoping the rumors were true," Walters said. "Our players have the opportunity to learn from one of the greatest leaders in football history, a valuable experience that they will never forget. Drew taking time out of his busy schedule to coach the bowl game is a perfect example of Purdue Football being one big family, and I cannot wait to see him on the sidelines in Orlando."