Boilermakers Focused, Navigating Postseason With Help of Cool Brees
By Collin Thomas
Florida Citrus Sports
ORLANDO, Florida — Ahead of Purdue’s last-second win against Nebraska in November 2019, former Purdue quarterback Drew Brees gave the Boilermakers a motivational pep talk during his bye week with the New Orleans Saints.
Just over three years later, Brees is back and again has a chance to help motivate the Boilermakers to a win — this time with an interim assistant coach title for their matchup against LSU in the Cheez-It Citrus Bowl on Monday afternoon.
“To have an opportunity to play in the Cheez-It Citrus Bowl and have Coach Brees be a part of it as well, it’s a great situation,” said Purdue quarterback Austin Burton, a sixth-year senior who will be making his third start with the Boilermakers on Monday.
On Saturday, the former Purdue quarterback and Super Bowl MVP Brees spoke with the media before his alma mater’s Citrus Bowl matchup. But instead of sporting his throwback No. 15 jersey and customary eye black, Brees dressed in a Purdue quarter zip and is listed as Quarterbacks Coach in the program.
“It’s an honor to be here, and it’s an honor to play against an opponent like LSU, and hopefully everybody has a chance to see our brand of football and enjoy what Purdue can do,” Brees said.
Brees said his first and only coaching opportunity will be personal to him. The first meeting between Purdue and LSU gives him a chance to take on a school he considers his second-favorite after a 15-year run in New Orleans that included the Saints’ first and only Super Bowl. To Brees, a matchup against LSU is like a nostalgic family affair.
“I’ll equate it to when you go out in the yard on Thanksgiving Day or Christmas Day to play a backyard football game with your family,” Brees said. “You love them, but you’re trying to beat him.”
Brees said he showed interest in helping the program after the Boilermakers’ Big Ten Championship Game appearance against Michigan this season.
As the quarterback for the Boilermakers from 1997 to 2000, Brees racked up 1,026 completions on 1,678 attempts, 11,792 passing yards and 90 touchdowns, which all still top the Purdue record books. Brees is also the only quarterback in Purdue history to throw more than 3,000 yards in three consecutive seasons. Brees was also named Big Ten player of the year twice – 1998 and 2000.
Brees’ NFL career began with the then-San Diego Chargers, who made him a second-round pick in the 2001 NFL draft. He played for five years out west before moving on to New Orleans, where he finished a 20-year career many.
Brees currently sits second in NFL history with 7,142 pass completions, 80,358 passing yards and 571 passing touchdowns. Brees also brought in 13 NFL Pro Bowl appearances, five All-Pro nominations, two Offensive Player of the Year awards, a Super Bowl MVP award, a Walter Payton Man of the Year award and a Comeback Player of the Year award.
Burton said the quarterback room was ecstatic when they learned Brees would lead the group in the weeks leading up to the Citrus Bowl.
“I don’t think it took much research to know who Drew Brees was, but I think as a room, excited would be an understatement, you know what I mean – to have a Hall of Famer come in your room and to be able to learn so much,” Burton said.
Burton said Brees has been open to helping in any area the players ask him.
“The best part about it is he’s so open to any question, any little thing, whether it’s watching film or on the practice field, he’s very detailed and specific and gets you the right answer all the time,” Burton said. “It’s been awesome to have that resource around, and it’s been a really exciting time.”
Mark Hagen, Purdue’s co-defensive coordinator and defensive line coach, was in his first stint as an assistant in West Lafayette during Brees’ 2000 senior campaign, which ended with a berth in the 2001 Rose Bowl. Hagen said Brees played an integral part in the program then and has remained a positive presence since he set foot on campus amid Purdue’s ongoing coaching transition.
“He epitomizes everything that a Purdue Boilermaker is,” Hagen said. “He’s been everything for our football program since I joined in March of 2000. It’s just his way to give back in a time where there is some change.”
Although Brees said he has generated interest from other programs to be a part of a coaching staff full-time, this is a one time-gig to give back to a program that means the world to him.
“This is interim,” Brees said. “I’m just doing this because I love my university and the opportunity to coach young men like Austin (Burton) and our team, and just get this program through the bowl game get us prepared to go out there and play well against LSU on Monday.
“And then after that, turn back into a pumpkin.”