After fashioning one of the nation’s most ferocious defenses in the 2022 college football season, Ryan Walters was named as the head coach of the Purdue Boilermakers for the 2023 campaign. One of the most celebrated hires in the previous coaching cycle, Walter’s profile provides insight into the standout young coach.
Ryan Walters Coaching Profile
- Purdue (head coach, 2023)
- Illinois (defensive coordinator, 2021-2022)
- Missouri (safeties, 2015; co-defensive coordinator and safeties, 2016; co-defensive coordinator and secondary, 2017; defensive coordinator and secondary, 2018; defensive coordinator and safeties, 2019-2020)
- Memphis (cornerbacks, 2014)
- North Texas (cornerbacks, 2013)
- Oklahoma (graduate assistant, 2012)
- Arizona (defensive backs, 2011; graduate assistant, 2010)
- Colorado (student assistant and secondary, 2009)
Walters’ Early Career
While he was born in Los Angeles, Walters’ football journey began in Colorado where his father played for the Buffaloes. Following in the family’s footsteps, the Purdue head coach was a standout for Colorado in the mid-late 2000s. There, he was a defensive enforcer at safety, logging multiple interceptions in three consecutive seasons and tallying 205 career tackles.
At the end of his playing career, Walters remained with the Buffaloes, working as a student assistant with the secondary unit that he’d been such an integral part of. Following the end of the 2009 season, he moved away from Boulder, accepting a graduate assistant position at Arizona where he’d earn his first full-time role as the Wildcats’ defensive back coach for 2011.
After spending the 2012 season with Oklahoma as a graduate assistant, helping the Sooners to a Cotton Bowl appearance, Walters took on the cornerback coach job at North Texas as the Mean Green transitioned to Conference USA play. In his only year with the program, the up-and-coming coach helped the defensive tie for second in CUSA with 18 interceptions.
His ability to extract the very best out of the talent at his disposal saw Walters lead a defensive turnaround at Memphis in 2014. The Tigers’ passing defense allowed four fewer touchdowns and secured six more interceptions than the previous season under his tutelage. The success led to national attention and a move to the SEC for the 2015 season.
Arriving in Colombia in 2015, Walters was initially hired as the safeties coach for Missouri given his previous secondary success. However, he quickly ascended the ranks, becoming the co-defensive coordinator for the Tigers in 2016. He held the role for two seasons before being promoted to full-time defensive coordinator ahead of the 2018 campaign.
Under Walters, Missouri became one of the best defensive units in not just the SEC, but nationally too. Allowing just 179.3 passing yards and 19.4 points per game, the defense helped power the program to its highest in-season AP Poll ranking since 2015. While his performances led to a contract extension at Missouri, he became a target for programs across the country.
Although he reportedly interviewed to be the head coach of his alma mater, Walters came to Illinois for the 2021 college football season. During his two seasons in Champaign, the new Purdue head coach established himself as one of the best defensive minds in the game. His Illini units were synonymous with ferocious and aggressive football and gained national acclaim.
After a significant rise in performance in 2021, the 2022 campaign was a coming-out party for Walters and the Illinois defense. The unit allowed just 12.3 points per game, ranking first nationally. Meanwhile, their 263.8 yards allowed per game ranked second. The impactful coordinator helped Devon Witherspoon become Illinois’ first Jim Thorpe Award winner.
A hot commodity in the 2022/2023 coaching cycle after earning multiple Coordinator of the Year titles, Walters was announced as the Purdue head coach on Dec. 13, 2022. Considered one of the best young minds in the game, his appointment made him the eighth youngest head coach in the FBS and the youngest in the Big Ten.
His appointment met with acclaim from those who worked closely alongside him at his previous two stints.
“I was so excited to hear that Ryan was hired at Purdue,” former Missouri head coach Barry Odom enthused. “His leadership skills and development of student-athletes is unmatched. He will move the program forward and I know he and his family will pour into Purdue and the community. I’m proud of him!”
“Congratulations to Coach Walters on taking the head coaching job at Purdue,” Illinois head coach Bret Bielema said. “Ryan is a talented coach with a bright future. We thank him and his family for everything they did for our program. This is something that I had seen coming for a while now.”