Bob Diaco, Purdue's New Defensive Coordinator, Shares His Positivity

JD Arland

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — When people talk about new Purdue defensive coordinator Bob Diaco, one word almost always comes to mind.


That’s how defensive end Derrick Barnes and linebacker Jaylan Alexander both described Diaco. Even all these years later, the former Iowa linebacker hasn’t lost any drive for the game.

Diaco is as locked in as they come. He’s loud, in-your-face, and intense from the start of practice right through the last whistle. But there’s one important distinction that separates Diaco from the stereotypical “drill-sergeant” coordinator. He’s also intensely positive. Diaco is consistently first to congratulate his players during scrimmage. He’s made new chants and rituals for the defense, and he even participates in some workouts.

“I love what we’re doing and I love the players,'' Diaco said after Wednesday's practice. "They’re trying hard. How can you not be positive?” 

Diaco was hired in December 2019. He's been coaching for 20 years, with time as a Head Coach for UCONN as well. He was most notably the Defensive Coordinator for Notre Dame in 2012, where he won the Broyles Award for the nation's best assistant coach. Diaco is no stranger to the Big Ten, as the former Defensive Coordinator of Nebraska in 2017. Purdue is his 12th stop over those two decades of experience. 

Diaco and his defensive assistants are a vocal bunch. Over the last two practices, they’ve shown a lot of individual attention to players during each drill. 

It’s a classic case of tough love. Players earn respect through execution, and are immediately corrected if they make a mistake. That’s the kind of special connection the Boilermakers’ new coordinator has to this team. He says he coaches each of them as he would coach one of his own kids.

“I have three children myself. I would appreciate for them to be coached a particular way. So I feel like I should coach these young men in a similar way,” said Diaco.

With all this intention put into each step of coaching, Diaco clearly has a defensive scheme in mind, but that scheme is one thing he’s not vocal about. Purdue fans often criticize the Boilermakers' rushing defense and will look to Diaco to make a difference. Last year, they gave up 25 touchdowns on the ground, and gave up almost 200 yards per game (192.5). 

“There’s not a blanket statement from me on stopping the run or taking the football away.” Diaco said. “I do understand that if you don’t stop the run, you’re going to lose.”

This summarizes the overall secrecy in defensive schemes so far at practice. Diaco does not allow cameras on his side of the field and will not talk specifics with the media.

But it’s February. It’s only his third day as the defensive boss. Giving this defense some time to grow close to one another in private might not be such a bad thing. The defense is cohesive, energetic, and generally fun to watch in practice. Hi-fives and shouts of encouragement fill the air during every drill and scrimmage.

“He’s a fun dude,” fifth-year senior Semisi Fakasiieiki said. “We’re just having fun out here, getting better every day.”

Diaco has already put the fun back into the game for these guys. For a dreary, snowy February, that’s a pretty big accomplishment.