By Brendan Holba
(The opinions of Mr. Holba May Not Necessarily Reflect Those of CSZ)
In 2022, Louisville fans received an early Christmas gift: a ray of hope that revitalized their spirits. On December 5th, the University of Cincinnati made a substantial $3.5 million payment to Louisville, allowing Scott Satterfield to start a new chapter with the Bearcats following Luke Fickell’s move to Madison to take the reins of the Wisconsin Badgers. This transaction set in motion a series of transformative events that would reshape the program. “Bring Brohm Home,” a fervent wish of one particular member of the Louisville faithful, finally became a reality. The Brohmsquad hit the ground running, preserving nearly the entire top 25 recruiting class and added needed roster upgrades through the transfer portal.
Fast forward to the present, and Brohm’s inaugural season at his alma mater has seen the Cardinals soar to a remarkable 7-1 start with multiple top 25 victories and in contention for the ACC title. Despite being overshadowed on a national level, it’s evident that Jeff Brohm is having a more significant impact on the field than “Coach Prime” or any other high-profile hires.
Brohm is a football man and not one to shy away from hard work. He had a decorated collegiate career at Louisville under the tutelage of Howard Schnellenberger; however, it did not come without its own set of challenges. Brohm broke his ankle just a couple of games into his first full season as a starter. His second season as a starter saw the Cards finish 5-6, with him throwing 9 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. Yet, it was during his senior season that Schnellenberger turned him loose, and he became a Cardinal legend. The team finished 9-3 that year. Brohm threw for 2,626 yards and 20 touchdowns, leading the Cardinals to a Liberty Bowl victory over Michigan State.
Similar to Deion Sanders, Jeff Brohm also played professionally in two sports. In 1989, Brohm was drafted in the seventh round of the MLB draft by the Expos out of Trinity High School, but he chose to play football at UofL instead. The desire to play baseball never left him, though, and after a few workouts in front of scouts, he was taken in the fourth round of the 1990 MLB draft by the Cleveland Indians. In the summers between school and football preparation, Brohm played two seasons for the Indians’ Rookie and A level teams, where he slashed a moderate .214/.357/.644 with four home runs and twelve doubles.
In their professional football careers, Brohm and Sanders had almost polar opposite journeys. “Neon Deion” is considered to be the greatest cornerback in the history of the NFL. He was the fifth overall selection in the 1989 draft and is the only athlete in history to have competed in both the Super Bowl and the World Series. Spanning three decades and sixteen seasons, Sanders was an eight-time Pro Bowler, six-time All-Pro, and two-time Super Bowl champ with the San Francisco 49ers and Dallas Cowboys. All of this led to his induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2011. Brohm, on the other hand, went undrafted in 1994, but signed with the San Diego Chargers as a free agent that season. As the third-string quarterback for the Chargers in ’94, Brohm also made a Super Bowl appearance, but came out on the losing end.
For eight seasons, Brohm would bounce around the NFL, cutting his teeth as a backup before his infamous moment with the Orlando Rage of the XFL. One interview in particular stands out and defines Brohm as a hard-nosed football man. After a vicious hit, Brohm was knocked out of a game against the Memphis Maniax and sent to the hospital during his All-XFL season in 2001. The following week, though, Brohm was back on the field and ready to play, where he conducted a sideline interview that would transcend his coaching style and prowess: “Let me answer that question by asking you two questions – One, is this or is this not the XFL? Yes, it is. Two, do I or do I not currently have a pulse? Yes, I do. Let’s play football.”
Deion Sanders is “Prime” for a reason, but Brohm can be as gritty and hard nosed as they come. Both are coaching the same way they played. At Jackson State and Colorado, swag has been the mantra, and while Sanders has been able to get both teams playing hard it’s the flash that garners national attention. Sanders started coaching in the high school ranks, while Brohm’s first coaching job came in the arena football league. Sanders was met with scandal during his first few years as a coach, and Brohm bounced around from Louisville to Florida Atlantic to Illinois to Alabama Birmingham before landing in Bowling Green, Kentucky, at Western Kentucky University.
Sanders was hired to bring a school back from the brink. The three previous coaches at Jackson State before the arrival of Sanders in Jackson, Mississippi had a combined win percentage of .354 across seven seasons. The impact Sanders made was immediate. Not only did he win games, but he was able to flip consensus five-star recruit Travis Hunter from his alma mater Florida State. After winning big in just a couple of seasons at Jackson State, where he was back-to-back SWAC Coach of the Year, the inevitable happened, and schools across the country clamored for his services.
It would have been easy for Sanders to pick a school that already had an established tradition of winning, but was looking for a boost. Regardless of your thoughts on the persona that is Deion Sanders, he isn’t afraid of a fight, and he chose to resurrect the Buffalo football program to prove that what he did at Jackson State wasn’t a fluke and that he could coach at the Power Five level. Even with conference realignment absolutely gutting the Pac-12, Colorado was still a step up from Jackson State and the FCS. Despite rubbing some the wrong way, Sanders was honest with the players he inherited and immediately began working to bolster the roster into something workable through the portal. “I aint hard to find!” That was his message and with that came many including his two sons and Travis Hunter. Among the more than 50 transfers to Boulder was former UofL punter Mark Vassett. The work “Coach Prime” and his staff did will go down as one of the truly great roster overhauls of all time in college football. However, as countless other programs and coaches can attest to, just because you get big names in the door doesn’t necessarily guarantee wins.
Brohm was elevated to the head coach position in Bowling Green after Bobby Petrino left Western Kentucky to reunite with Tom Jurich and Louisville following the 2013 season. Petrino laid the groundwork and Brohm turned the Hilltoppers into a mid-major powerhouse with eye-popping offensive numbers. In his tenure, Brohm went 30-10 at Western Kentucky before leaving for the challenge of bringing Purdue back to Big Ten prominence. Before his arrival in West Lafayette, the Boilermakers had won a total of nine games in four years. In 2019 an opportunity to leave for Louisville arose, but Brohm felt that his job at Purdue wasn’t complete and he continued to build through the 2022 season. In the end, he left Purdue a better place. They finished ahead in the win column at 36-34, he had three wins against teams ranked in the top three and in a fitting final act guided the Boilermakers to an appearance in the Big Ten title game in 2022.
From the moment that Satterfield journeyed north up Interstate 71, I entrenched myself with #BringBrohmHome and waited intently for the news to break that Louisville football would be back in the hands of someone passionate for football. The excitement surrounding the hire of Brohm lit the city on fire. There was already a strong core of stars like Ashtone Gillote and Jawhar Jordan to build around, so Brohm and staff did not have to pull a complete 180 on the rebuild like Sanders was tasked with in Boulder. These new opportunities with the portal can lead to high expectations for coaches and programs who have a hungry fan base like the Cardinal faithful. Pundits around the nation continue to harp on the fact that Louisville avoids some of the top teams in the ACC this year, and combining that with a roster full of playmakers on both sides of the ball, a ten-win season has been a realistic standard since mid summer. At one point, the oddsmakers had Louisville favored in every single one of their games before the start of the season. It wasn’t just a city buzzing with much-needed hope; the eyes of college football were looking to the Derby City to see what Jeff Brohm and company would accomplish.
Don’t get me wrong, Deion Sanders is “Coach Prime” for a reason. He was an unbelievable athlete in multiple sports, and the way that he loves his players and coaches them up is admirable. No matter where he goes, talent will follow, and he will have a sideline full of 4- and 5-star recruits he can trot out on the field. If he stays in the college game, Colorado or any other school he goes to will reap a bountiful harvest of economic prosperity and publicity. But at the end of the day, that doesn’t win ball games. A coach that is hard-nosed, and demands intensity and fire over flash and publicity wins games.
Coach Prime may be putting Boulder, Colorado back on the college football map, but Coach Brohm is going to stockpile the trophy case on South Floyd Street!