Doyel: Purdue hiring a defensive guy as head coach? Weird. Hiring Ryan Walters? Wonderful.

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When Walters arrived in Illinois he inherited a defense that had ranked 94th in the country in scoring defense, allowing 34.9 points per game in 2020. Two years later, Illinois is second in the country in scoring defense at 12.3 ppg.

know, how an assistant will do when he slides into the big chair. You see it all the time, highly respected coordinators getting their first crack at a head coaching job and then flopping. Almost every coordinator Bill Belichick has ever had in New England, for example, or first-year Oklahoma coach Brent Venables this season, Clemson’s longtime star defensive coordinator leading the formidable Sooners into a 6-6 hole. It happens.

The Illinois defense almost defies description, because it’s constantly changing. Ever hear of the “amoeba” defense legendary basketball coach Jerry Tarkanian ran at UNLV? Walters’ defense is like that, a living organism that changes shape based on what the opposing offense likes to do.

First, understand that, before and during his time at Missouri, the Tigers were arguably the SEC’s worst program at recruiting. That’s no reflection on Walters’ recruiting – you try to beat Alabama, Auburn, LSU, Georgia, Florida, etc., for players – but on his coaching. With below-average talent, he created a defense that finished in the middle of the pack in the SEC, including fifth in 2019 in points and yards allowed. Doing more with less? He’ll need some of that at Purdue, same as Jeff Brohm.

Defensive tackle Jer’Zhan Newton came to Illinois as a modest three-star recruit, ranked the No. 1,024 player in the class of 2020. After two years in school, both in Walters’ scheme, he was one of 20 semifinalists for the 2022 Chuck Bednarik Award, given to the top defensive player in the country. Maybe you don’t care what Kevin Kane – who’s he? – has to say about Purdue’s new coach. Maybe you’d be more interested in hearing from Purdue’s athletics director.


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