You may not have put your finger on it just yet, or put words to it, or given it a name, but that feeling you have about Purdue’s football and basketball programs is real. And you’re not alone in feeling it.

Those of us who call ourselves Purdue fans—those of us who suffered through the half-measures and bad decisions that followed Joe Tiller’s retirement, those of us who can’t forget Haas crashing into the floor, some coach putting“all our eggs in one basket,” Orton fumbling, Robinson injuring his back, Stephens dribbling the ball off his knee—are not used to this kind of feeling.

But it’s much more than preseason excitement and anticipation. There’s a growing body of evidence that something’s different at Purdue, that something big and better is on the near horizon.

It began to dawn on me this past October, on a magical night that gave the football world a glimpse of what’s yet to come.

It became clearer for me in November, when Jeff Brohm chose Purdue over his alma mater. He chose Purdue over where he was born and raised. He chose Purdue over where he’s literally a living legend. He chose Purdue over where his family is considered royalty. He chose Purdue.

Yes, as Gregg Doyel has written, Brohm stayed at Purdue “because he has honor, because he has loyalty.” And he stayed because Purdue made it worth his while (more on that in a moment). But he also stayed because Purdue, in his own words, “is where I want to be.” What top-tier coach would have said that in 2009, 2012, 2015, as the program sank from mediocrity to ineptitude and ultimately into oblivion?

I finally realized what this feeling was in March (I’m a little slow), after a magical stretch of basketball that gave the basketball world a glimpse of what’s yet to come.

So, what is this feeling?

This is what it feels like when the school you love is doing everything it can (within the rules) to break through.

Step by step, Purdue is beginning to break through the walls and obstacles—the unforced internal errors, the penny-wise but pound-foolish financial decisions, a national system that winksat rule-breaking and shrugs at unspeakable crimes.

Purdue is starting to break through because Purdue is, finally, running.

The change is most visible at Ross-Ade because the football program, unlike the basketball program, had fallen so far from national and even conference relevance. For too long, under unimaginative and complacent leadership, Purdue’s football program—not unlike an old warrior atrophied after years away from training and drilling—wasn’t even able to stand up. But then, Athletic Director Mike Bobinski hired Brohm, and the two of them gave the football program a chance at recovery—a plan to rehab and rebuild. That was enough for the program to begin to crawl, then limp, then walk.

As the rehab continues, we can see glimpses of the old warrior at his best. But the warrior knows he can't knock down walls until he can run—and run consistently. The good news is that the football program is beginning to run—not as fast as Brohm wants to run, not as ferociously as Rondale Moore wants to run. Not yet. The Wisconsin and Auburn games serve as sobering reminders of the hard work that lies ahead.

But because the football program can run again, it’s knocking down some walls, bouncing off others, dusting itself off and getting back on its feet, back to the hard work of rebuilding.

A New Era
The change is evident both on and off the field of competition.

Purdue opened its checkbook—a checkbook flush with cash, thanks to the Big 10’s staggering annual revenues—first to attract and then to retain Brohm. “It’s a bold, new era for Purdue football,” as Gold and Black put it. “Brohm will be the third-highest paid coach in the Big Ten next season.” In fact, Brohm’s new contract positions the Wizard of West Lafayette somewhere in the top 15in the nation salary-wise.

This is what Purdue had to do—in the span of 12 months, it pays to recall—to face down Tennessee from the mighty SEC and then Louisville. And it was the right thing to do. As Bobinskiobserved, “I think this is something we [will] look back on and say, ‘Yes, we made the right decision here.’”

Some will argue that all the zeroes attached to coaches’ salaries nowadays are out of whack with their societal value—the “athletes shouldn’t be paid more than nurses and teachers” argument. It’s compelling—and I certainly believe that people who serve others selflessly will get a far greaterreward somewhere else—but those who make that argument should tread carefully. After all, by that definition of societal value, most all of us—writers, salesmen, marketing professionals, designers, mechanics, computer techs, plumbers, waiters, lawyers, realtors, truckdrivers, accountants, financial planners, engineers—work in careers that have a lesser societal benefit than saving lives and educating young minds.

The market tells us Brohm should be paid more than a nurse, more than a teacher, more than a Purdue pharmacist or Purdue farmer, more than Purdue’s athletic director, even more than Purdue’s president, because there are lots of people in a nation of 328 million who can do what those people do. But there are very few who can do what Brohm has done.

Those who counter that all Brohm has done is lose 13 games and win 13 games—and that going .500 isn’t worth $5.35 million—simply have no grasp of the utter mess he inherited: athletes barely good enough to play in the MAC, players wholly unprepared and unready for Big 10 football, a program with no expectations, no future, no hope and virtually no wins. “I knew we had some challenges ahead of us,” said Brohm, a master of understatement, as he steered Purdue through 2017.

Yet in just eight months, Brohm transfused his never-die attitude, work-hard optimism and tenacious DNA into the program. He then turned the mess he inherited—a team that had won just five games in four seasons against FBS opponents—into a team that won seven games over FBS schools in a single season. That team then won a bowl game—over a PAC 12 program, no less. Incredibly, the 2017 Foster Farms Bowl was Purdue’s first bowl win over a program not from the MAC since 2002. Ponder that for a moment.

The 2018 team dismantled No.2-ranked Ohio State, toppled three ranked opponents in a seven-week stretch, and secured Purdue’s first back-to-back bowl bids since 2011-12. And now, Brohm is focusing on building a program with his own players. Big-time recruitsare choosing Purdue over a Who’s Who of power programs. Brohm secured his first top-25 recruiting class in 2018-19, beating out the blue bloods for linemen, wideouts, running backs, QBs and DBs. The class behind that group is ranked 33rd—and that was before another supersonic all-purpose back announced the last weekend of July that he was choosing Purdue over the likes of Michigan, Ole Miss and Nebraska.

If you thought it was fun watching Brohm work his magic with someone else’s recruits, wait until the field is full of Brohm’s boys.

While Brohm rebuilds, Matt Painter is reloading.

Painter’s 2017-19 run made it clear that he can flat-out coach. He can teach raw recruits; he can guide veteran-laden teams; he can re-engineer a program decimated by graduation; he can blend superstars and role-players into champions; he can win with defense or with scoring; he can reinvent a team midseason; and he can adjust.

As several Boiled Sports personalities have pointed out, Painter’s demeanor seemed different this year, especially during those high-tension moments that characterize March. He seemed calmer and more at ease, and that affected the team’s play and spurred its turnaround after mid-December.

The 2019 NCAA tournament showed a new generation that Purdue has a fun, fast, fluid style of play—and something else: swagger. Carsen Edwards’s swaggering and sizzling performance in March—first player to make nine treys in multiple tournament games, South Regional MVP, 34.8 points per game, a tournament-record 28 three-pointers—signaled that Purdue has flash as well as grit.

And people are noticing. High-quality recruits are choosing Purdue. Micah Shrewsberry left the Boston Celtics to coach with Painter. Yes, it’s probably a stepping stone for Shrewsberry, but to step away from an NBA Finals contender and into Mackey says something profound about Painter and the program he has remade.

Painter was National Coach of the Year in 2019. He’s earned Big 10 Coach of the Year honors four times. He’s piled up three Big 10 titles, one Big 10 Tournament championship, 11 NCAA tourneys, four Sweet 16s and an Elite 8.

In short, Painter has the program sprinting—galloping—toward something big. He has one more wall to knock down.

Rock and Roll
Back on the gridiron, Brohm is the coach almost everybody else wishes they had. He’s giving clinics at Nick Saban's camp. He was invited to the New Orleans Saints minicamp. Moore—a consensus All American as an 18-yearold true freshman—is on everyone’s Heisman watch list. Not coincidentally, Purdue football is being mentioned as a go-to destination for young talent, as an emerging behemoth, as an opponent to worry about, if not fear.

It all feels like we are on the verge of a new golden age—perhaps better said, “black and golden age”—something like the late 1960s, late 1970s and late 1990s.

During an event this summer, I listened as a member of the Board of Trustees openly talked about going to “Rose Bowls and Final Fours” and making “this thing rock and roll for a long time.” He closed his remarks by saying, “Let’s step on the gas.”

This is what it feels like to run.