By Matt Stevens - IlliniGuys Football Writer/Analyst
December 13, 2022
(Cover photo courtesy Illinois Athletics)
The Bret Bielema coaching tree just acquired another branch.
Illinois defensive coordinator Ryan Walters has agreed to a five-year contract at Purdue and will be introduced as the program’s 37th head football coach on Wednesday morning in West Lafayette. Financial details of Walters’ agreement with Purdue were not publicly released as the deal is pending approval by the Purdue University Board of Trustees.
Walters, 36, becomes the fourth-youngest head coach at a Power Five Conference program after serving two seasons as defensive boss at Illinois and quickly emerging as one of the nation's best defensive minds in college football. The Illini posted an 8-4 record, with five wins holding their opponents under seven points and seven wins at 10 points or fewer. Walters’ Illinois defense finished the regular season with the nation’s top scoring unit while allowing opponents just 12.3 points per game. The Illini’s 2022 defense finished with a Top 10 national rankings in 17 different defensive categories.
"I am incredibly humbled and honored to serve as the head football coach at Purdue University," said Walters in a Purdue University release. "I am grateful to Director of Athletics Mike Bobinski and to President Daniels for this incredible opportunity. Purdue is a world-class university, and our football program will pursue the same excellence exhibited across our campus. My wife Tara and I, along with our boys, are beyond excited to join the Purdue and West Lafayette communities. Boiler Up!"
IlliniGuys.com had already reported that Walters interviewed for the this offseason for the head coach opening at Colorado that eventually went Deion Sanders. A native of Aurora, Colorado, Walters played collegiately at Colorado, where he was a standout safety for the Buffaloes (2004-08). He began his coaching career as a student assistant at Colorado working with the secondary in 2009 under then-head coach Dan Hawkins, and then spent two years on staff at Arizona, where he was a graduate assistant in 2010 before being promoted to defensive backs coach for the 2011 season.
Prior to coming to Illinois, Walters spent six seasons at Missouri, including three years as the Tigers’ defensive coordinator and two years as co-defensive coordinator, overseeing an impressive transformation of the Tiger defense into one of the top units of the Southeastern Conference. In 2019, Walters’ defense ranked in the nation’s Top 20 in several major categories, including total defense (14th NCAA/3rd SEC – 312.0 avg.) and scoring defense (17th NCAA/6th SEC – 19.4 avg.), while excelling as a Top 10 pass defense (eighth in passing yards allowed NCAA/2nd SEC – 179.3 avg.).
In Nov. 2021, Illinois announced a new three-year contract extension for Walters before the end of his first season as the Illini’s defensive coordinator that called for him to be a seven-figure coordinator through the 2024 season. Walters, who originally left Missouri to join Bielema’s first staff at Illinois at then-annual salary of $850,000, signed a contract that will move his compensation to third-highest among assistant coaches in the Big Ten Conference and into the Top 10 nationally among defensive coordinators. Walters' base salary increased to $1,050,000 for this season, with $100,000 raises in each of the two seasons that follow. He will also be eligible for annual retention incentives of at least $250,000 per season. Waters’ contract also included a $1 million buyout for any non-head coaching position in the Big Ten, and a $750,000 buyout for any non-head coaching position outside of the Big Ten.
"We are thrilled for Coach Ryan Walters and his family to join us here at Purdue University," said Purdue athletics director Mike Bobinski in the school’s media release. "From an early point in the search process, Coach Walters stood out because of the energy, passion and intelligence he displayed as a defensive coordinator in both the Big Ten Conference and Southeastern Conference. His meteoric rise in the coaching profession is in large part due to his unique ability to connect with his student-athletes as both a coach and mentor. With that in mind, we look forward to the culture and atmosphere of success he and his staff will instill in and around our football program, and we see him as a perfect fit for our University and this community. Please join me in welcoming Ryan, his wife Tara, and their two sons, Aaron and Cason, to West Lafayette."
Walters now becomes the eighth assistant coach under Bielema to become a FBS head coach following the likes of current Arkansas head coach Sam Pittman, current North Carolina State head coach Dave Doeren, current Northern Illinois head coach Thomas Hammock, former Wisconsin head coach Paul Chryst, former Wisconsin interim head coach Jim Leonhard, former Rutgers head coach Chris Ash, former Kent State head coach Sean Lewis, former Florida Atlantic head coach Charlie Partridge
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