Purdue's one-game interim assistant football coach weighed in on a variety of topics involving Purdue football during a media availability Monday. Drew Brees spoke about his role as a coach the next few weeks, gave thoughts on the new head coach and the changing college football landscape, and reflected on his ties to Louisiana.
This conversation has been lightly edited.
Opening statement: First off, it's an honor to be back. I couldn't be more excited to be around this team in particular, especially the journey that they've had this year. And as a former player, I think I speak for all the guys who have had the honor of being a Boilermaker football player here: We all live and die with the team each and every year. To watch their journey this year and all that they overcame, obviously winning the Big Ten West to go play in the Big Ten Championship game.
I saw so many of my former teammates at the Big Ten Championship game, which is really a cool thing for us. And then obviously on the heels of that game, with Coach (Jeff) Brohm leaving, all of a sudden you feel like there was this void until we were able to hire a new head coach and start building the foundation for next year.
I didn't want us to forget just what a unique opportunity this was (to be) in the Citrus Bowl, play LSU and finish the season off the right way. These guys have earned it, and they deserve an incredible experience. So I called up Mike Bobinski and the guys here and said: "If you need me, I'm here — I'm available." I want to be a resource and I love to work with these guys. So they've given me that opportunity, and I'm gonna take full advantage.
It’s great to be around not just the quarterbacks but the entire team. There was great juice, great energy, today in practice. You love to see that. I told these guys, it's meant to be fun. Football is meant to be fun, but certainly this opportunity, this experience is meant to be fun. We're all about hanging banners here, so I want to see another banner up here with a W on it after this bowl game. So we're gonna get ready to go do that.
Q: Is this a foot in the door for coaching in the future, or is this a one-month thing?
Brees: No, no … I think being a player for 20 years in the NFL, that was a big commitment. That was a lot of time away from the family, and my kids are at an age now where I certainly want to be around, I love being around them and don’t want to miss a thing with them. So I think the coaching lifestyle doesn't quite fit where I'm at in my life right now.
Not to say that that'll never be the case, but that was also the reason I didn't broadcast this year. I was a broadcaster last year for NBC, and I was gone every weekend during the football season. I decided this year that's not what I wanted to do. I want to be with my kids coaching every Friday night in flag football, be able to go to games, watch games and come back to Purdue — just be a fan and be able to enjoy those moments with my kids.
Q: How do you go about implementing all the experiences you've had throughout your career?
Brees: I've spent the last week just writing a lot down and kind of taking those thoughts and some of the wisdom and experience and really laying it out as to how I'd like to communicate it to the guys. It feels like it's a total information overload, and you don't want to throw it at them and make them feel like they're drinking from a firehose, so I think it's little by little.
We actually started off the day today, just talking about just some of the fundamentals of throwing a football, some of the drill work that I utilized during my career and things that they can begin to kind of work into their repertoire. Each guy is a little bit different in regards to their skill set, the things that they do well and the things that they need to work on.
At the end of the day, I want this experience to be for them to try to extract all the things that they need out of me in order to put them in the best position to succeed. Whether that's drill work, whether that's experience, whether that's just some of the daily habits, the daily structure, they can begin to kind of put in their own process. Because that's really what it is; you create the process by which you're gonna approach each and every day, your disciplines, so to speak. So I'm here to do that.
When it comes to the X's and O's of football, I love watching the ball. I love grinding through film and breaking it down. We had the chance to do that a little bit today and actually talk through a route concept or two. (There are) things that they're running in this offense that we ran a lot throughout my career.
I was giving a history lesson on the Sluggo Seam today. It goes back to Jon Gruden and Rich Gannon in the late '90s, early 2000s with the Oakland Raiders. Tim Brown, Jerry Rice, Jerry Porter — we get to get to storytell a little bit and give them some of the history of the game through some of these concepts and where it all came from. Before today, they just knew Sluggo Seam as Sluggo Seam, and now they know the history of it and hopefully a whole different perspective.
Q: What do you like about Austin Burton?
Brees: I like his demeanor. I think he's got some natural leadership qualities just watching his interactions with the other QBs and his teammates and in the meeting. He's got good size, good strength, seems to see it well. He gets the ball out on time and was accurate as far as what I saw today. I'm anxious to work with him as this week goes on and as we get into the bowl week preparation.
Q: Looking at the bowl games and players opting out around college football, what are your thoughts on that? And what did the bowl games mean to you?
Brees: I'll tell you what they mean to me: Bowl games were the reward for a hard-fought season. And it was truly a reward in that sense. It was the experience that you had a chance to have with your team, with your teammates, obviously going to another location and playing a team that you would ordinarily not play from another conference. It’s always fun to go down and play the SEC with the caliber of football that those guys play down there. So, man, it was an honor. It was a great honor.
I certainly recognize the challenges that guys have now with that decision, because we have seen some injuries over the years of guys that would have been high draft picks and all of the sudden they have a serious injury that affects that, so I get it. At the same time, I just know what an unbelievable experience that was for me as a player, for our team, for the university and for the fans. So of course you would love for every guy to play, to choose to play and make it kind of a last hurrah, the opportunity to go out on top with another win against a really quality opponent.
But hey, we’ll coach the guys who are here, and I know that every team is taking that approach. Every team has guys that are opting out for one reason or another. I know the transfer portal throws a wrench in it for some teams as well. We're just in a different era of college football and those are just some of the variables that schools have to deal with.
Q: What are your impressions of Coach Walters?
Brees: I've been really impressed with him. I love his demeanor. There's an air of confidence with him, and I think he definitely has a plan. I can already tell that his attention to detail is next level, just little things. And I think the guys are really gonna love playing for him. I've heard so many good things about him.
It's the first time we've had a defensive-focus guy here in a while and I think that's a good thing. Not to say that has ever been overlooked, but there's just a mentality that comes with a defensive head coach that I think permeates throughout the whole team.
I had a chance to talk with Graham Harrell last night for a bit. He’s gonna maintain an exciting brand of offense here that I think our fans and players have gotten accustomed to over the last 25 years, since Joe Tiller. Spread it around the yard, throw it around the yard, that's something we're always going to do around here. And I love that.
But combine that with a pretty lethal defense, a fly around and create turnovers, create opportunities and aggressive-style defense. We're gonna be playing a good brand of football here for a long time.
Q: What's the message to the guys behind Austin that might get a chance to the bowl game and looking ahead?
Brees: That's part of the growth process. That's part of the learning process. In order to be as good as you can possibly be, you have to experience failure. You have to experience adversity. You have to face disappointment. You have to be in situations where you have to learn to do things better. And no better opportunity than what these guys have had this year.
To be able to go through a season like this and learn from a guy like Aidan, from a guy like Austin, who's been in this program for a long time now. That's part of the journey. I came here my first year as a backup and then had to win the job my sophomore year. I came to the NFL as a backup to Doug Flutie and had to win that job my second year. I was benched three times after that before I really solidified myself as a starter in my fourth season, so look, that's part of the journey. It's part of the process, and I wouldn't trade it for the world. Because if I wouldn't have experienced those things, I never would have gotten to the level I got to.
It's hard to communicate that to young people. What the transfer portal has done to a certain extent is that it's made guys run away from challenges and run away from adversity. And that's unfortunate. Because, to me, that's the best part of the process. And that's what extracts the best out of you. Is that competition, that disappointment, fighting through that, grinding, developing some grit and determination. It's also what gives you the satisfaction when you do get to that point where you're the guy, you're the starter, you're that key contributor and it makes it all worth it.
Q: How fitting is it that if you’re gonna do this one time, it’s against LSU, where obviously there’s a lot of fans there who love you and a lot of fans here who love you?
Brees: To say you're a Saints fan is basically to say that you're a Tigers fan, too. Like that's kind of one in the same; down in Southeast Louisiana, those two go hand in hand. It's usually tailgating Saturdays for the Tigers game and tailgating Sundays for the Saints game. You're really only an hour away.
All my kids were born and raised in New Orleans. My oldest son, Baylen, is convinced he's got a scholarship to LSU. He's pretty much been told that by the AD and the coaches over there. I mean that whole region has such a special place in our heart. And I know so many of the guys on the staff there at LSU; a lot of them were coaches with the Saints.
I just had shoulder surgery in Baton Rouge, back in May, with one of the doctors who is affiliated with LSU and was with the Saints. So I did some light rehab there, and I know all those guys well, and I have a great respect and admiration for that program and obviously what they've been able to accomplish. Also Brian Kelly, my experience with him in the NBC games last year with Notre Dame.
So this is a lot of fun. It's a lot of fun for me, and I'm gonna enjoy every second of it. I'm just hoping I can get my oldest son, Baylen, to stick with me on this one. He's the only one who's like, "Dad, but I'm going to LSU!" I'm like, "I don’t care, blood is thicker than water, son." But that Bayou water is pretty thick.
Q: What’s your itinerary? Christmas back home and join the team later?
Brees: Yeah, I'll meet the team in Orlando. I'll be here for a few days and then head back to the family for Christmas and then meet the team in Orlando and be there for the week and here we go, let's go.
Q: I guess as far as recruiting goes, what all does that entail? Just shaking hands with people passing through here?
Brees: I had a chance to speak to a couple of recruits yesterday, actually. I know that's in full swing — well, I guess we kind of hit a dead period here, right with the early signing. There's all these new parts of the recruiting process now with early signing and then the transfer portal, and it's kind of a whole new recruiting process.
But I've enjoyed the opportunity to speak to a few. I think we're gonna have an exciting class coming through and I know that's kind of yet to be fully baked. But yeah, it's part of the process.
Q: You're really involved with the Boilermaker Alliance, could you talk about that?
Brees: I think the whole objective around the Boilermaker Alliance was to create a leadership development program and opportunity for our student athletes, obviously, with them having the ability to be compensated through it. But to me, it's more about the life lessons, the values and the character traits that they can learn through the opportunity to serve charities and causes that are important to them. The opportunity to really get out to the community and be great leaders.
And I think that that's something that just has always set us apart here at Purdue: first and foremost our academic standards, and what it takes for student athletes to achieve greatness in the classroom, great performance on the field, and then that third leg is community involvement. The leaders that we're developing as well and just to create extremely well-rounded student athletes that love their community, love their school, and love to serve.