WEST LAFAYETTE – On the night of Nov. 27, 2018, Purdue athletic director Mike Bobinski was in his office, sitting at his desk and waiting for a phone call from football coach Jeff Brohm.
Brohm had faced an agonizing decision over the previous two weeks as Louisville, his alma mater and hometown school, tried to woo him away from the Boilermakers.
When Bobinski's phone finally rang, the news was what he wanted to hear. Brohm was staying and recommitting himself to Purdue, making it instantly one of the biggest moments in Boilermakers sports in 2018-19.
“I may have uttered a phrase or two out of excitement that isn't fit for the reading audience,” Bobinski said of the phone call.
“I knew that it would make that statement that 'Heck yes this happening, Purdue football is going somewhere' and the coach that's leading it truly does believe he can get it done here.
“I was going to sit there that night until that phone call came. I had offered to come over (to meet Brohm in person), but he said he was still working through it and then he called and it was good news.”
The Journal Gazette spoke with Bobinski about the football program and the rest of the year that was in 2018-19 for Purdue sports. What follows is part of that conversation, edited for space and clarity.
Q. How important was Purdue's win over previously undefeated No. 2 Ohio State in October for the program and for Purdue in general?
A.We hadn't, in football, for some time been able to capture a big moment and do it in such a resounding and positive way. As we try to build now an identity for our football program today, we wanted to be able to showcase who we are, what we're about.
What I'm certain happened through the course of that game is people were watching and they got in touch with other people and said, “Hey, you've gotta turn this Purdue-Ohio State game on, you won't believe it.” I continue to run into people who say, “God, I watched that Ohio State game, it was unbelievable.”
The ripple effect it had for our identity because it was exciting, it was aggressive, we showcased some great players, particularly Rondale Moore. Just the way it played out, I couldn't have written it up any better, there's no way I could have dreamed up a better scenario.
And then the postgame celebration for our fans, it felt like it was sort of an exorcism, the demons of however long for each of them were being let out there. I think if we'd have let them, they'd still be out there.
Q. The men's basketball team reached the Elite Eight for the first time since 2000. How far have you seen that program come over the last few years?
A.We've been good for a long, long time here. The next step or the beginning of the next step was to move past the Sweet 16. The way this March played out, the excitement of the games, the way they were played, the audience we played in front of, against the competition that we played.
(The second-round, Sweet 16 and Elite Eight) games were played at such a high level and it showed people a little bit different side of Purdue and Purdue basketball. Like, “Wow, that's fun. It's fun to watch those guys play.” Their offense was a machine, it was aggressive, it's high-scoring, there's all sorts of opportunities for playmakers to shine in that system.
It was a great moment, great set of experiences for our players, for our program, for our fan base, to really show them that we are right there in terms of being in a position to compete for a national championship here in the years ahead. I think it's been very exciting, just like the Ohio State game in football, to see the ripple effects, to see that run of games have an extended lifespan, where it's had a recruiting impact, a perception impact.
Q. Purdue athletics has traditionally been known for its blue-collar style and toughness. With two of the school's flagship programs – football and men's basketball – playing exciting styles and having success that way, is there a change in identity happening?
A. We've talked about internally, we don't ever want to lose that, “Hey, we're going to be the tougher team,' mentality. That's who we always want to be as our baseline identity, and we want our players to think that way and be trained that way and respond to that. We want kids to come here that want to have that persona.
But at the same time, you can still do that in an exciting and aggressive way. That's the new revelation for people. As you said, (Purdue) used to be this (grunts), you know strong, tough, maybe not the flashiest, but now all of sudden,
Carsen Edwards, Rondale Moore, these are the highest-level athletes and they've been given freedom to go out and take full advantage of their athletic gifts.
Jeff (Brohm) talks about it all the time, he goes, 'I want our guys to enjoy practice, I want them to enjoy playing the game because it's going to be aggressive, it's going to be free-wheeling. We're not playing to keep it close, we're playing to win.' I think that message is coming through and it has changed a little bit how people look at us in a really good way.
We haven't compromised any of our traditional persona. That Boilermaker statue up there is always going to be who we are across all of our sports, but you can be that and also be at the cutting edge of how the games are played.
Q. The women's basketball team, featuring Homestead graduate Karissa McLaughlin, missed the NCAA Tournament this season. What are your feelings about the direction of that program?
A. That's a program that we absolutely look forward to having a bounce-back this year. I would be very surprised if we're not an NCAA Tournament team this year. We've clearly got the talent.
We've added a terrific new staff member (senior associate head coach Melanie Balcomb, who was a head coach at Vanderbilt and Xavier). I think she'll add a lot of experience and depth to an already strong staff. She's got a particularly brilliant offensive mind and I think that'll really help. Sharon (Versyp) is a great defensive coach.
I'm looking forward to women's basketball becoming a force again. I want to compete for Big Ten championships, I want to play deep into the NCAA Tournament. That's who this program has been and that's who it should be.
Purdue Athletics Records 2018-19
Baseball: 20-34, 7-16 Big Ten
Basketball: 26-10, 16-4, Big Ten champions, NCAA Tournament Elite Eight
Cross Country: 2nd place Big Ten Championships, 29th place NCAA Championships
Football: 6-7, 5-4, Music City Bowl
Golf: 2nd place Big Ten Championships
Swimming and Diving: 4th place Big Ten Championships, 23rd place NCAA Championships
Tennis: 10-14, 3-8
Track and Field: 4th place Big Ten Indoor Championships, 3rd place Big Ten Outdoor Championships, 36th place NCAA Championships
Wrestling: 7-10, 3-6
Basketball: 19-15, 8-10 Big Ten
Cross Country: 10th place Big Ten Championships
Golf: 2nd place Big Ten Championships, 9th place NCAA Championships
Soccer: 6-8-4, 1-7-3
Softball: 34-29, 6-17, National Invitational Softball Championships
Swimming and Diving: 6th place Big Ten Championships, 26th place NCAA Championships
Tennis: 11-13, 5-6
Track and Field: 10th place Big Ten Indoor Championships, 9th place Big Ten Outdoor Championships
Volleyball: 24-9, 12-8, NCAA Tournament second round