New Purdue coach Ryan Walters opens up about life in West Lafayette
INDIANAPOLIS. Last week at the NFL Combine, new Purdue coach Ryan Walters sat down with Sportzshala to discuss the energy, challenges, and changes involved in moving to a new job. He lives in Jeff Brom’s old house, renting it from the school that bought it, and is laying the groundwork for Purdue’s modernization.
Walters is adamant that the job is not a rebuild, given that Purdue has won 17 games in the last two years and clinched the West Ten last season. He’s optimistic about what the job could be: “Why can’t you win at Purdue?” Walters spoke to Sportzshala about everything from the realities of the NIL, to what he learned from Bret Bielema, to his high school QB infatuation with Drew Brees, who closed the loop, to first impressions of quarterback Hudson Card.
Sportzshala: What was the adjustment of the front part of the work like? You used to be in the spotlight as a player, assistant and facilitator, but things should be different now.
Ryan Walters: It wasn’t too much of an adjustment. I’ve always been either point guard or quarterback or team captain. So it was comfortable for me to stand up and perform in front of people. I’m comfortable in my own skin. I have always been calmly confident. So that part was not an adjustment. I think the biggest adjustment is just the lack of anonymity, people recognize you now. As you know, I’m the same guy to me that I was before I signed the piece of paper.
Sportzshala: Give me an example, please.
RW: I go into a restaurant, and it’s “Hi, coach.” I took a thousand pictures, it’s funny and flattering, you have to be very aware of your surroundings and it’s just a little adaptation. No one really talks about this part of the coaching job. You are preparing for your phone to explode. And it will be very difficult to refuse people whom you highly value and respect in this profession. But no one, no one prepared me for all the shootings.
Sportzshala: I know your family hasn’t moved yet, but what places have you found in West Lafayette?
RW: There are several places that I have found. East End Grill is amazing. They have great food there. Tap is amazing. RedSeven is great.
Sportzshala: Has a sandwich or burger been named after you?
RW: Not yet. First I have to win a few games.
Sportzshala: Let’s go back here in chronological order. Your father was a player in Colorado when you were growing up and those were your formative years. What are your earliest memories?
RW: I remember watching my dad in training and running around the locker room with all the guys that were associated with that team. I just ran into Vance Joseph in the lobby and he gave me a big hug. He said, “Hey, Eric Binemi and I are having dinner tonight. You should come hang out.” These guys are still tight. Alfred Williams, with whom I communicate regularly. It’s just that camaraderie is what I remember. You make a career and you are part of the teams that were successful and they had the same type of camaraderie and the teams that I was part of weren’t successful, they didn’t have that. And that’s definitely the vibe and the chemistry that I’m trying to create.
Sportzshala: It always seemed to me that a million small decisions of the head coach help to shape the identity of the team. After nearly three months in this job, what have you done ahead of time and deliberately to help shape Purdue’s new football identity?
RW: I was hired at an inconvenient time. There are still staff there. Is there some more [bowl] a game to play and a practice to have. And so I am there, but not quite there. I am in practice, but I am not involved in practice. So what I really did was immerse myself in what was going on off the field. … I immersed myself in the different departments that touched children every day and made sure that their vision was the same as mine. We have had changes in the heads of some departments. We’ve slightly changed the way player scholarships are calculated. [cost of attendance, etc.]. I know that we got in Illinois, but in Purdue the players got much less. So, we just looked at why and where he ranks in the Big Ten. And we were able to make changes where guys get about $800 a month more.
Sportzshala: You have hired Kiero Small as your Director of Strength and Conditioning. He worked under Tank Wright in Illinois, and both are students of Ben Herbert of Michigan, who was under Bret Bielema in Wisconsin and Arkansas. What have you seen so far?
RW: I think these three are the best in the business and it was important for us to give Kiero eight weeks of training. Come to think of it, when you get ready for the season, you have eight weeks in the summer and then you go to fall camp. I know there are different philosophies as to why you start spring prom when you do. But for me personally, in our program, I want to prepare the guys to play football before you start playing football. And so Kiro has achieved great success with our guys. They are in shape now. Giving Kiero eight weeks to work with the boys to get them ready for the five week spring ball will make a huge difference in how we move forward.
Sportzshala: We’ve seen the Hudson Card in pictures in Texas. You probably only saw him in training. What are your first impressions?
RW: What I’ve seen so far is what you’d expect from a high-level quarterback. He lowered his head and went to work. He’s a lot more athletic than you think. And the people in the program give him credit for being very reasonable and just learning the rules. He’s got the calm, the confidence, the poise, and that’s what you want from a quarterback. So it will be interesting to see him take on the rest of the quarterbacks this spring. From what I’ve seen, it matches the ad, if not more. And I’m excited about his future at Purdue.
Sportzshala: It’s impossible to answer a new Purdue coach’s questions without a question from Drew Brees. I know you both appeared on Sportzshala’s “College GameDay” before the bowl game. Did you interact with him a lot before you got the job?
RW: I played quarterback in high school. So, I’m a sophomore in high school and starting quarterback at Grandview High School. [in Colorado]. And my whole family is from Los Angeles. And so every time we had a break, we went back home to Los Angeles. It’s Christmas break, we’re in LA, we’re going to Disneyland, and Drew is there for the Rose Bowl parade. And I look at him and I think it’s Drew. Like that’s exactly who I want to be. This is what I want to do. And then you fast-forward, and then after my press conference, when I get hired, they call me and it’s Drew Breeze! I’m like… it’s Drew Brees calling me! You know? So the circle is definitely closed. But he was amazing. He is definitely very proud of the brotherhood that the Boilermaker Nation is and is a supporter of Purdue. He was great as an ambassador and very approachable.
Sportzshala: It’s been about 100 days, not exactly how you were hired. What was that time like?
RW: It wasn’t as hectic or chaotic as I think people might think. And I think it’s only because I was prepared, I was mentored and taught by some successful people. You know, I give credit to Bret Bielema and what he was able to put into me and how he allowed me to grow up in Illinois. He knew what my goals and aspirations were and took the time to [mentor me]. And so, you know, that’s something I’ll always be grateful for. Things like roster decisions, personnel decisions, you know, staff and department heads. He brought me and said: “You know, I have these problems. That’s how you should think about it.” And many times he went back to his days with Barry Alvarez. When I first met Barry Alvarez at the Big Ten coaching meetings, I felt like I knew him because I had heard so much about him.
Sportzshala: You were optimistic about what Purdue could become. Do you think this place could become a contender for the national title in the future?
RW: I do. I think it will be hard work and it will require a lot of dedication from the various people involved in the program. I think it has a chance to become a really special place.
I’m not going to sit here and be embarrassed by the fact that NIL is real. And we have something to catch up in this aspect. But if you look at the academic resources you have, you look at the conference you’re attending, the equipment, you look at the location… you have a high-level talent that’s close to that place. Why can’t you win at Purdue? Like, why not? I think the administrative support and campus support for the program and the commitment and fan base, that is, will support you one hundred percent. I think if you hire the right people with the right resources, why not? I think high school football is underrated in Indiana. And this class of 2024 is really special in the state. And we have a chance to get some of these guys on campus. If they stay at home, beware.