CHICAGO – The video that stalks Jeff Brohm everywhere he goes was shot moments before an XFL game in 2001, that league’s lone year of existence. Brohm was the quarterback for the Orlando Rage, an NFL vet looking to keep playing after a seven-year stint in the NFL.
Brohm had taken a brutal hit to the head in his last game, and he was sick, and he was giving a sideline interview moments before he was to start for the Rage anyway. Asked how he was playing six days after that headshot, Brohm asked rhetorically if he had a pulse and deadpanned, “Yes, I do. Let’s play football,” and walked away. The crowd went wild:
When Brohm took the head coaching job at Purdue last December, after three years and a 30-10 record leading Western Kentucky, the Boilermakers’ marketing team circulated a #LetsPlayFootball hashtag. Brohm’s players bring up the line to him regularly.
In an era of more head injury awareness, Brohm downplays that moment 16 years ago. But he’s not embarrassed about it. And within certain confines, Brohm encourages his college players to be as expressive as they want.
“You know what? There were no curse words,” Brohm tells SB Nation. “There was nothing derogatory. It was a little over the top, and it was a little staged, so to speak. But you know what? It was in the fun-loving atmosphere of the game, and it was trying to get the fans and the team going a little bit. Of all things, since where I’ve been, I’m all for swagger and personality. As long as our guys are respecting the game and not getting any penalties, they can do what they need to do.”
Brohm thinks the XFL left a mark on the sport he’s coaching now.
“Now, that year playing, I’m not gonna lie,” he says. “I played a lot of football. Probably the most fun I had playing the game. It was an enjoyable year. You were encouraged to have personality. There were cameras on the field. There were cameras in the locker room. It was very media-friendly. That was the purpose of it. And you know what? I think the NFL and college football have taken a few things and lessons from that, that they’ve learned that have been beneficial.”
He speaks wistfully about the league. He remembers playing his first game at Orlando’s Citrus Bowl, where it was announced at halftime that fans had bought more alcohol than at any event in the building’s history.
But the league ran into some logistical problems and had a weird, Saturday night-heavy schedule that brought it into conflict with more popular college games. Things cascaded, with ratings declining and the league’s business getting worse.
“It just started to just kind of lose its bang, and Vince McMahon gave up on it,” Brohm says. “I think if he goes another year with it and they make adjustments, it may improve. Would it have lasted forever? I don’t know about that, but it was good at the beginning, and it had a lot of elements to it: very media-friendly, very camera-friendly, that, like I said, have been used since it folded.”
Another XFL QB, Tim Lester, is Western Michigan’s new head coach.
As a coach, Brohm’s offenses have set him apart.
Brohm has distinguished himself as a spread offense maestro who likes to use wide splits, weird formations, and trick plays. His approach has worked, catapulting him up the assistant ladder and into the head job at WKU in 2014.
The Hilltoppers offense under Brohm was both fun and brilliant. It used nearly every inch of the field and lit up the scoreboard. The Tops were sixth in scoring offense in 2014, third in 2015, and first last year. Part of that’s because they worked quickly, but they still finished in the top 15 in the opponent-adjusted advanced stat S&P+. Last year’s team had a 4,000-yard passer, a 1,600-yard rusher, and two 1,300-yard receivers.
Brohm thinks of his XFL year as one stop on a long scavenger hunt of offensive ideas and influences, which also includes various QB coach and offensive coordinator stints at his alma mater, Louisville, along with FAU, Illinois, UAB, and WKU.
“We were a little bit more traditional in the XFL. We actually had a high motion guy, who could come, like they do in Arena Football, which you probably don’t even remember that,” Brohm says, referring to the one guy permitted to charge toward the line of scrimmage before the snap. That’s illegal motion in the NFL and college games.
“I’ve been fortunate enough to be around a ton of offenses, a lot of them in the NFL, a lot of the West Coast, Bill Walsh stuff, and kind of jell all of it together and try to have some fun with it. The thing about me and where I’ve been, I try to have some creativity to it. We have some fun with it. We run trick plays a lot. We’re not afraid to try something. If it works, it looks great. If it doesn’t, move onto the next thing. So we do try to have fun playing the game from an offensive standpoint.”
One mean trick from Purdue’s spring game: a fake flea-flicker:
Purdue spring game. Put this one in the why didn't I think of that category. A by design fake flea flicker pic.twitter.com/uwIS0BphTh— Anthony White (@AWhite_73) April 8, 2017
Brohm’s offensive philosophy is not complicated, even if the plays are unique.
“I think we’re a creative, aggressive, attacking type of offense that wants to always be able to attack vertically and play with a tempo that is hard to contain if we want but still has the ability to slow it down if we need it,” Brohm says. “But I want it to be a fun, exciting brand of football that our players like to play in.”
The Boilers may or may not be good. But they’re going to be fun, and maybe soon, as Brohm brings his WKU spread to West Lafayette. True to form, he’ll infuse it with other things he’s picked up along the way.
“I think it’s worked to this point,” he says. “Is it gonna work against tremendous competition? We’ll see. We got our work cut out for us. But we’re at least gonna have fun with it.”