Hickey: This time around the carousel, can Jeff Brohm say no to Louisville?
Just when you think the coaching carousel is done spinning, someone puts a few coins in and gets the whole circle of horses moving again.
In the Big Ten, at least, the first conference coaching carousel since the 2019 offseason seemed settled with Nebraska and Wisconsin announcing their hires. But with one unexpected move on Monday, all eyes are suddenly on Purdue’s Jeff Brohm.
Louisville coach Scott Satterfield made the surprising decision to replace Luke Fickell at Cincinnati. It’s a move most would consider lateral. Some would even see it as a step back, though Cincinnati’s move to the Big 12 changes that perception.
But these things are all about fit, and Satterfield has never really been embraced in Louisville — or at least not since he interviewed for the South Carolina opening in 2020. Louisville is looking for a coach it can wrap its arms around and hug.
And that means there is only one candidate perfectly fit for the job: Brohm.
At both the high school and college level, the Brohm family is Louisville royalty. They may be held in higher regard than Colonel Sanders and mint juleps combined.
Family patriarch Oscar played quarterback at Louisville in the 1960s before embarking on a long career as a high school coach in the city. Jeff was a high school star there. And a very bright star at that. He was named Kentucky’s high school player of the 1980s.
Jeff and his brother Greg played at Louisville in the early ’90s, and baby brother Brian later followed in their footsteps.
For the Cardinals, hiring Brohm is imperative. Any other candidate is likely to step up and say “I’m so honored to be the next head coach at ‘Louie-ville'” at his opening press conference.
Brohm is the only one who will know to say “LOO-vuhl.” Louisville fans and administrators know this. Brohm knows this. And Purdue knows it, too. This is not the first time the Cardinals have aspired to bring the hometown hero back home.
Can Jeff Brohm say no twice?
In a field of mercenaries, Brohm is a rare breed: a man of honor.
In late 2018, Brohm was at the head of Louisville’s wish list after the school fired Bobby Petrino. The need for a good PR move in addition to a good football mind was obvious, because that’s the trail of stench Petrino always leaves in his wake.
But Brohm had only coached 2 seasons at Purdue. And leaving before the mission was accomplished felt inappropriate to him.
“To be quite honest, through my schooling and how I was raised, I believe in at least trying to do the right thing and having morals and values. It just was too early to leave. It just wasn’t right,” Brohm said when speaking to the alumni association of Oscar’s high school this summer. “You build relationships. People treat you right. The people there have treated me great. You talk to recruits and they asked me things. Just a lot of things went into it.”
At the same speaking engagement, Brohm delivered a message that was immediately concerning in West Lafayette.
“Obviously, now we’re on year 6,” Brohm said. “I love this town, this area. I’m an alumnus of Louisville. So anything can happen in the future.”
The future is here. And it came a lot sooner than anyone might have guessed after Louisville rebounded from a 2-3 start to finish 7-5 this season.
Satterfield was in no imminent danger of being fired. But he was always 1 bad season away from the axe after his South Carolina dalliance, so it makes sense that he found a way out of town ahead of the posse.
Purdue has the financial ability to match anything Louisville offers Brohm. But this isn’t going to be an issue of what’s in Brohm’s wallet. It’s a matter of what’s in his heart. And that will make it difficult for Purdue to stop the momentum of this runaway train.
From Brohm’s perspective, it’s also the ideal time to leave. This was his best team at Purdue, and it could be years before the Boilers are able to play in another Big Ten championship game.
His stock is at its peak. If he says no this time, there may not be another chance to say yes.
A momentous decision for Purdue
If Brohm leaves, Purdue is in a heck of a bind.
Since the legendary Jack Mollenkompf retired in 1969, Brohm is 1 of the 3 Purdue football coaches with a winning percentage above .500. And in Brohm’s case, the rebuild was so in-depth that it took him until this season to finally reach that barrier.
In many cases, a school would be expected to look to an incumbent member of the staff to fill his shoes. But it sure seems most members of Purdue’s staff, particularly offensive coordinator Brian Brohm, would be following him down to Louisville.
The best-case scenario for the Boilermakers — albeit one that seems rather unlikely — is if Louisville calls and Jeff tells them: “Actually, you should hire Brian for this job.”
In theory, everybody goes home happy. Purdue keeps Jeff. Louisville gets a Brohm brother. Oscar gets to brag that he has 2 sons coaching Power 5 programs.
Alas, Louisville isn’t the type of program that hires first-time head coaches. With the exception of Charlie Strong, every Cardinals coach hired since 1975 had prior head coaching experience.
Jeff is the Brohm that Louisville wants. And Purdue is entering an offseason of major uncertainty if it can’t keep him.