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Illinois DC Ryan Walters to be Purdue Head Coach: Reactions, Analysis from across the Big Ten

The “miracle worker” of 2022 Illini football is headed east.

NCAA Football: Independence Bowl - Colorado vs Alabama
The picture we have for Ryan Walters is him getting trucked by a running back in red and white. That (1) feels apt for Purdue’s performance against Wisconsin, and (2) shows us he looks good in black and gold. Welcome, Ryan!
Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

Well, at least two blogs AND ESPN are talking about it, so it must be true: Purdue has hired Illinois Fighting Illini defensive coordinator Ryan Walters as the new head coach of the Boilermakers.

Here’s what the gang thinks:

misdreavus79: So it was someone we weren’t talking about then?

BoilerUp89: Heard some rumors to this effect yesterday afternoon but they were sandwiched in between Beamer rumors (which wasn’t happening) so I hadn’t mentioned it. I’m fine with it. But it took too long, resulting in DL coach and big time recruiter Hagen leaving—and I would have preferred an offensive guy.

Thumpasaurus: Dammit. Well, the main reason to do this is to weaken one of your competitors for the West crown next year.

misdreavus79: Well were you pegging him for Purdue or were you just afraid he’d go somewhere?

Thump: Oh no, I would rather Purdue have hired away Bret Bielema than Ryan Walters. [And here’s why:]

ESPN, probably, with annotations by Thumpasaurus

misdreavus: So if I’m reading between the lines, you’re not confident Bieleman can hire someone else to have this good a defense?

…or you’re confident Walters will hire a good offensive mind at Purdue?

Thump: I have no idea how good Walters will be as head coach, but there is just no way we can repeat this defensive performance. Ryan Walters was an absolute miracle worker in Champaign.

misdreavus: Fair point. Though I assume you won’t need a galaxy defense to compete in the West, at least for one more season.

…or maybe you do need a galaxy defense, and an optional offense. Can’t get things straight. [ed. note: some discussion of the 2023 Illin ensured, but this isn’t an Off Talkle Empire episode, so we’ll try to keep it to the actual issues at hand]

Boilerman31: Officially in the wait and see camp. I do think he’ll bring some toughness to the program.

[BU89’s note - an earlier version of this article attributed this quote to me. I know all us bots look alike to you MNW, but c’mon.]

Thump: Well you did successfully take us out of the title race for next year, so that’s already a pretty big win (we have to replace most of the defense). It’s not just that Walters is gone, it’s also that every DB with any experience is also gone, and we have to replace them without the guy that coached the last crop into a monster unit.

It’s funny, I actually convinced myself last night it would be Tyson Helton and also that that was a really good hire. He was Brohm’s true successor at WKU (and also a former Brohm assistant at WKU), and also [Hilltoppers QB] Austin Reed is in the portal.

87townie: You know, I like these three new BIG West HC hires. Things could get interesting.

BoilerUp89: [pans out to view of Northwestern and Iowa eating glue]


Creighton: At least Miss Lippy was entertaining to watch :(

Final Reactions: Good hire? Bad hire?

Thump: There’s simply no way you can take Lovie Smith’s defense and turn it into a top 5 unit in the nation in 2 years without someone offering you a head coaching position. Walters is an incredible DB coach who designed a system around the players he inherited and did it well. He made adjustments over the course of a season, got the most out of existing players and proved to be a pretty capable recruiter. He has a lot of connections to the St Louis area in recruiting.

This is one hell of a move if Purdue’s intention is to escalate the Cannon game into an all consuming rivalry, because this will tie us closer for a long time.

It remains to be seen how he puts together a program. I don’t know how many players/staff/recruits he can realistically take from Illinois because Bielema hand picked the position coaches and i would think that outside of whoever would get offered the DC position, they’d stay with Bielema instead of making a lateral move. Our whole defense is either graduating or going to the draft, so you’re not getting someone like Devin Witherspoon as a free agent. Recruits, sure, but it’s not like we’re KILLING it.

Finally, I would like to make it clear that my reaction to this hire is 100% about what it means for Illinois. I objectively think Tyson Helton was where Purdue should have looked because Purdue fans already love this style of football and Helton can genuinely sell himself as Brohm’s successor. To me, Walters is not a sure thing. I think he’s a very good coach and he’s shown good recruiting chops.

And every single Big Ten West program is now helmed by a Defense Guy.

Green Akers: Well, as Thump and I discussed JUST LAST NIGHT, WKU’s Tyson Helton really seemed to check a lot of boxes - he would’ve been a great candidate to carry on what Brohm was doing in terms of offensive scheme.

But Walters’ work has been unimpeachable so far, and given what a crapshoot coaching hires have been over the last several years, you may as well swing for the fences and pick someone with a sky-high ceiling.

BoilerUp89: Ryan Walters is a good, solid hire if a bit uninspiring after Bobinskis press conference/taking a week. The Illini had a top 3 defense in the conference and they did that without nearly the amount of pro talent that Iowa and Michigan had. How much of that is Walters and how much is Bert remains to be seen.

I would have preferred an offensive guy and losing assistant Hagen to Louisville is a big hit, but if Walters can fill out a good staff there is plenty of room for optimism. The success of Walters will hinge on his coordinator choices and assistants. Supposedly he had a great list picked out for Colorado had he gotten that job so we will see what he has to offer here. Call me cautiously optimistic, pending knowledge of the assistants particularly the OC hire.


Grade the hire of Ryan Walters as Purdue’s new head coach:

This poll is closed

  • 13%
    (32 votes)
  • 50%
    (125 votes)
  • 29%
    (72 votes)
  • 4%
    (12 votes)
  • 2%
    (5 votes)
246 votes total Vote Now