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Gold and Black Illustrated, Vol 27, Digital 6

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Page 13 of 117

GOLD AND BLACK ILLUSTRATED VOLUME 27, ISSUE 6 14 I n Jeff Brohm's first meeting with his new Purdue team, he could tell by simply looking around the room there were concerns. The Boilermakers didn't necessarily overwhelm the new coach with imposing physical figures, didn't nec- essarily convince him he was surrounded by elite-level talent. Those were Brohm's first indications there could be considerable work to be done. Those initial impressions were confirmed in the spring, when Brohm actually was able to see that group of players on the field, putting them through paces over 15 practices. That's when he said he truly realized how extensive the rebuild needed to be. Though the cupboard wasn't totally bare from a talent standpoint, it was not overflowing either. Brohm knew he had to alter the roster, by ushering players out, by attacking weaknesses and by building depth to create competition. He had to increase the talent level. He had to inject speed. He had to pursue passion. He had to target toughness. He had to because he accepted the job at a program that had won only nine games over the last four seasons — so there are some clear deficiencies. In three seasons as the head coach at Western Kentucky, Brohm lost only 10 games. So Brohm worked as quickly as he could, given the rel- atively short window. He identified the lack of experience at receiver imme- diately and plucked Isaac Zico and Terry Wright from ju- nior colleges by signing day in February. After the spring, he targeted — and landed — Notre Dame graduate transfer Corey Holmes, who is expected to enroll in July. He recognized the lack of depth, experience and talent on the offensive line, so he grabbed junior college tack- le Ethan Smart in February so he could enroll early and participate in spring ball. After watching the struggles up front during the spring — the front group slowly came along but the backup units were sieve-like — Brohm snatched graduate transfers David Steinmetz and Shane Evans from Rhode Island and Northern Illinois, respec- tively. He noticed a lack of playmakers and experience in the defensive backfield, so he added hard-hitting safety T.J. Jallow from junior college in time for spring ball and, lat- er, Wake Forest graduate transfer Josh Okonye, who can play safety or corner. Such furious work led to an interesting first six months on the job, Brohm said. "We realized, 'We've got to find a way to get it done,'" Brohm said in mid-June of the early evaluation process. "It's about getting the guys here better and developing them. Without question, that's a big part of it. It's (also) about getting some new, fresh blood in here to challenge them and either take their job or make them better. I think we've addressed that pretty well up to this point, in our opinion, and hopefully it pays off." But it wasn't only about addition. Subtraction was essential, too, whether it worked to create a better culture academically or served to weed out guys who didn't want to work or to better shape the roster toward more realistic Big Ten-type talent. Brohm had post-spring meetings with every play- er, and they were serious conversations. Some players didn't leave those meetings happy — not if no-nonsense Brohm's point-blank evaluation included a bit about not being a factor in Purdue's future. But Brohm also made sure to tell the players he thought would be best-suited to move on he'd help them land elsewhere. And, through that process, the Boilermakers' roster was at least eight players lighter by mid-summer. It was one way Brohm was able to add more hand- picked help — and also served as a considerable mes- sage to the players who were left. They'd look around the locker room and not recognize half the guys. "They've been really like, 'Hey, either you're in or you're out,' " running back Markell Jones said. "'If you're in, then we've got to go full-go, 100-percent. There's no time to be messing around. This isn't a three-year pro- cess. This is a right-now process. We're changing this now.' "The guys who haven't responded well are no longer here. I think, for the most part, guys have really respond- ed positively." Especially players in the position rooms that were being actively addressed to add talent and competition, there were wide eyes. Kirk Barron, whose starting center spot would seem

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