Let’s Speculate! Potential Purdue head football coach candidates

Welcome to Let’s Speculate! on Coaches Database, where we go through programs that are or may soon be looking for a new head coach and speculate who they may hire next.

Today’s program is Purdue, coached for the past six seasons by Jeff Brohm (left for Louisville job).

  • Jim Leonhard – Wisconsin interim head coach
    • It makes sense that Wisconsin hired Luke Fickell, but there are many in the fanbase that hoped that former Badger and long-time staffer Jim Leonhard would get the permanent gig after going 4-3 as interim head coach this season. He has officially stated that he is leaving the program after the bowl game and should have his pick of DC jobs, but should be seriously looked at as a head coach – especially in the Big Ten. Purdue is an offense-first program that hasn’t hired a former DC as head coach since Leon Burtnett in 1982. But hiring Leonhard and a strong OC could break that cycle.
  • Matt Campbell – Iowa State head coach
    • Campbell’s long-expected exit for a bigger job never happened and this year the Cyclones regressed. The Purdue job might be a golden parachute for Campbell, also an Ohio-native who has been coaching and recruiting the Midwest for two decades. His options for bigger name programs are dwindling, but that is not a knock on his coaching abilities -one bad season just has that effect in college sports. Purdue offers a chance to coach in the Big Ten and get a change of scenery for Campbell after seven years in Ames.
  • Tyson Helton – Western Kentucky head coach
    • Purdue did well the last time they hired their head coach (Brohm) away from Western Kentucky and they may look to the Toppers again in 2022. Helton has gotten WKU back into form in his four years at the helm, winning 8+ games three times and going to four bowl games. The former Houston QB has a long coaching resume, with stints at Tennessee, USC, Cincinnati, UAB, Memphis and Hawaii in addition to his time at WKU.
  • Jason Candle – Toledo head coach
    • The long-time Toledo head coach has the Rockets bowl-bound yet again this year after a 7-5 regular season. Candle is an Ohio-native who played and coached at D-III Mount Union (OH) before first joining the staff at Toledo in 2009. Picked to succeed Matt Campbell in 2015, Candle has kept the ball rolling for the MAC program and might be a perfect candidate for a bigger job in the Big Ten.
  • Dino Babers – Syracuse head coach
    • Babers is an interesting candidate, as he has been flirting with the hot seat at Syracuse while also getting them into the national spotlight this season with a 6-0 start. Ultimately the Orange lost 5 of 6 and will limp into the Pinstripe Bowl later this month, but Babers has a lot of the qualities that Purdue should be looking for: head coaching experience, Midwest connections, pedigree on offense. He spent three years in the early 90s in the West Lafayette coaching WRs under Jim Colletto and started his head coaching career with stints at Eastern Illinois (FCS) and Bowling Green.
  • Sean Lewis – Colorado OC / former Kent State head coach
    • Lewis has reportedly resigned at Kent State in order to join Deion Sanders at Colorado as his OC, but the Purdue head coaching job wasn’t yet available. Lewis is an offense-first coach who just last year had the 5th best offense in all of FBS in terms of yards per game. He might do really well at Colorado for a couple years and then get another head coaching gig at somewhere bigger than Kent State, but he may also be able to just skip the stop in Boulder and move to the Big Ten right now.
  • Garrett Riley – TCU OC
    • Riley arrived in Fort Worth this year with new head coach Sonny Dykes after working as his OC at SMU for two seasons, and the pair have turned the Frogs’ middle-of-the-pack offense into the highest gaining and scoring unit in the Big 12. They are also 12-1 and headed to their first-ever CFB Playoff. The offensive chops are there and he has some familiarity with the Midwest having previously coached at Kansas for three years. He’s also got name recognition as the younger brother of USC head coach Lincoln Riley and won the 2022 Broyles Award as the top assistant in college football, which means he is a near lock to get a head coaching job soon.
  • Charlie Strong – Miami (FL) DC/LB
    • Strong was the architect of the 2012-13 Cardinals’ teams that went 11-2 and 12-1, respectively, and had the Cards ranked as high as #7 in the country before taking the Texas job. That didn’t work out and after three years he found himself at South Florida, leading the Bulls to a 10-2 (6-2) record in his first year there. For the last three years, he has worked at Alabama (2020), for the Jacksonville Jaguars (2021) and now with the Hurricanes. Strong doesn’t have the buzz he once had, but if he could win some much at Louisville maybe he could at Purdue as well.
  • Mike Denbrock – LSU OC
    • The Michigan-native is in his first year at LSU, who will play Purdue in the Citrus Bowl in four weeks. His Tigers’ offense averages 74 more yards and nearly 6 more points per game then they did a year ago, a big reason for LSU’s return to form in 2022. He previously worked under Brian Kelly at Notre Dame, including time as OC and AHC, and also has had stints at Cincinnati, Indiana State, Illinois State, Michigan State and alma mater Grand Valley State (MI). The one knock on the 58-year-old is that he has never been a head coach.
  • Dan Mullen – former Florida, Mississippi State head coach
    • Mullen is working in television this year after spending the previous 13 seasons as a head coach at Florida (2018-21) and Mississippi State (2009-17). Things didn’t work out as planned in Gainesville, as Mullen regressed in years three and four after taking the Gators to back-to-back NY6 bowl games to start. Before taking the UF job, he turned MSU into a consistent winner and went to eight-straight bowl games (6-2 record). The 50-year old is likely not done coaching and the Purdue job provides a great opportunity to get back to winning ways. How many coaches are out there with a .628 winning percentage and more than a decade of (SEC) experience?
  • Kevin Sumlin – former Arizona, Texas A&M, Houston head coach
    • Sumlin played for the Boilers from 1983-86 and coached WRs at his alma mater from 1998-2000 before making a name for himself down south as the OC at both Texas A&M and Oklahoma. He was stellar in four years at Houston, going 12-1 in his final season before getting the Texas A&M job. He didn’t win enough for that program, though his tenure looks better now in hindsight after the school has thrown obscene amounts of money at Jimbo to still be mediocre. Arizona wasn’t the right fit and now Sumlin is coaching the Houston Gamblers in the USFL. But if there was one place the offensive-minded coach could resurrect his college career, it would have to be back home at Purdue right?
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