WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – Ryan Walters, considered one of the nation’s fastest rising young coaches, has been named the 37th head football coach at Purdue University, vice president and director of athletics Mike Bobinski announced Tuesday.
In his second season as defensive coordinator for Illinois in 2022, Walters emerged as one of the nation’s best defensive play callers. The Illini posted an 8-4 record, with five wins holding their opponents under seven points and seven wins at 10 points or fewer. Along with guiding the Illini defense to Top 10 national rankings in 17 different defensive categories, Walters was named 247Sports Defensive Coordinator of the Year and On3 Coordinator of the Year.
Walters, 36, becomes the fourth-youngest coach in FBS football behind Kenny Dillingham (32-Arizona State), Kane Wommack (35-South Alabama) and Dan Lanning (36-Oregon).
“I am incredibly humbled and honored to serve as the head football coach at Purdue University,” said Walters. “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!”
Walters elevated Illinois’ defensive unit from the back of the pack into one of the nation’s elite in just two seasons. Following the 2020 season, in which the Fighting Illini ranked 97th nationally in scoring defense (34.9) and 114th in yards allowed per game (466.8), Walters’ first year in Champaign saw his side of the ball rise to 29th (21.9) and 49th (367.0), respectively. This past season, the results were shown nationwide as Illinois heads into the bowl schedule No. 1 nationally in scoring defense (12.3) and No. 2 in yards allowed per game (263.8).
“We are thrilled for Coach Ryan Walters and his family to join us here at Purdue University,” said Bobinski. “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.”
A former safety at Colorado (2004-08), Walters tutored two of the nation’s top defensive backs during his two-year stint in Champaign. Among six Illini defenders to earn All-Big Ten recognition in 2021 was safety Kerby Joseph, who was Illinois’ first All-Big Ten First Team defensive back since 1989. Two more Illinois defensive backs accomplished the feat in 2022, with Devon Witherspoon and Sydney Brown earning first team accolades from the conference. Witherspoon, notably, became Illinois’ first Jim Thorpe Award (top defensive back in college football) finalist in school history this past season.
Walters spent six seasons at Missouri prior to his tenure with the Illini, including three as defensive coordinator. He oversaw an impressive transformation of the Tigers’ defense into one of the Southeastern Conference’s top units. His 2019 defense ranked in the nation’s Top 20 in several categories, including total defense (14th NCAA; 3rd SEC – 312.0) and scoring defense (17th NCAA; 6th SEC – 19.4), while excelling as a Top 10 pass defense (8th in passing yards allowed NCAA; 2nd SEC – 179.3).
Walters previously served as co-defensive coordinator for the 2016 and 2017 seasons in Columbia before being promoted to defensive coordinator permanently ahead of the 2018 season, with Missouri’s overall defensive improvement leading the way to an eight-win season and bid to the 2018 AutoZone Liberty Bowl. Previously during bowl preparation in December 2017, Walters ascended to the role of defensive coordinator before the squad’s 2017 Texas Bowl appearance after assuming control of the entire secondary ahead of that season. He had focused on the safeties in his first two seasons with the program.
Prior to making the move to Missouri in 2015, Walters coached at Memphis where he spent the 2014 season as cornerbacks coach and oversaw a defense that was among the most improved in the nation when the Tigers went 10-3.
A native of Aurora, Colorado, Walters was a football student-athlete at Colorado, where he was a standout safety for the Buffaloes (2004-08). He started 33 times in 46 career appearances as a Buffalo and earned All-Big 12 Conference Honorable Mention his senior season. He began his coaching career as a student assistant at Colorado, working with the secondary in 2009, 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.
From Arizona, Walters moved to Oklahoma as a graduate assistant cornerbacks coach in 2012, as the Sooners went 10-3 and played in the 2013 Cotton Bowl. He moved to North Texas for the 2013 season, where he oversaw cornerbacks and helped lead UNT to a 9-4 record in his first year in Conference USA.
Prior to his arrival at Illinois, Walters was one of 12 coaching participants in the National Coalition of Minority Football Coaches’ inaugural Coalition Academy in April 2020, a first-of-its-kind mentorship program pairing influential athletic directors with minority football coaches.
Walters earned his degree in history from the University of Colorado in December 2008 with dual majors in history and ethnic studies. Walters and his wife Tara have two sons, Aaron and Cason.
Walters’ contract, a five-year agreement, is pending formal approval by the University’s Board of Trustees. Full details will be available following board approval.
An exciting December is ahead for Walters, as he will spend the remainder of the month appointing his staff, recruiting and observing Purdue’s preparation for the Cheez-It Citrus Bowl (Monday, Jan. 2, vs. LSU). The Boilermakers are playing in the program’s 21st bowl game and fourth bowl in the past six seasons.
Walters will be introduced at a welcome event that will be streamed live on Purdue Football social media at Noon ET on Wednesday, Dec. 14, from the Kozuch Football Performance Complex.
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