[Photo courtesy of Purdue Sports Information]
Much of Mark Herrmann’s career since his last pass attempt as a quarterback in the National Football League has been spent helping young people prepare for the next phase of their lives.
That only seems appropriate as upon completing a record-breaking career at Purdue, Herrmann was constantly seeking to do whatever he could to stay one step ahead of the competition and survive in the NFL.
“I did what it took to compete, to be able to make the roster and then get a little playing time,” he said of his time in the league, mostly as a backup with five teams. “You try to find an edge that will kind of separate yourself and I always tried to prepare as if I was going to be the starter. I think that enabled me to kind of outlast a lot of guys and I was able to piece together an 11-year career at the highest level.”
Whether it was in his role as the NCAA’s associate director of education programs, as coordinator of football operations at an Indianapolis-based sports performance company, or in his current role as the director of corporate and foundation relations at Purdue’s Krannert School of Business, the 58-year-old Herrmann has more often than not been occupied with helping provide a platform with which others can succeed.
Herrmann graduated from the business school in 1981 and returned to his alma mater in the summer of 2014 when he accepted his current position. Among his roles is aligning the school’s mission to what is important for companies and foundations that are interested in partnering with the university.
While a lot has changed on campus in the 30-plus years since Herrmann was leading the Boilermakers to three consecutive (1978-80) bowl appearances, his level of preparedness and conscientiousness has not. That is, in large part, why he finds his current role most rewarding.
“There was a part of me that was anxious to come back to Purdue and see where I could fit in,” he said. “I am thrilled to be back on campus. There are a lot of good things happening at Purdue and it is a chance for me to give back a little bit at a school that was so good to me. It has worked out beyond expectations, really.”
The same might be said of his playing days in West Lafayette where he was a four-year starter. The Boilermakers had never appeared in three straight bowls before and it would not happen again until the late-1990s. Purdue won all three games and Herrmann was named offensive MVP each time.
The Carmel, Ind. native completed his career as the NCAA’s all-time leader in passing yards (9,946) and as a senior in 1980 finished fourth in the Heisman voting behind winner George Rogers, Hugh Green and Herschel Walker. He was enshrined in the College Football Hall in 2010.
“When you select a school you are never sure how your career is going to go and I was very fortunate that coach Jim Young had enough belief in me and thought that I could handle starting as a freshman,” he said of the coach who arrived at Purdue in 1977, the same year as Herrmann and then proceeded to go 5-6. “It was a tough year, no question. I had to learn a lot, took a beating and made some mistakes. But I wouldn’t trade it for anything. We had the ability to throw the football and he used my talents by designing the offense around me. I am very grateful for that and I had a great group of teammates that helped me succeed and we had great success as a team.”
The ability to lead and make sure everybody is focused on the same goal are among the many elements of a football career that dictate how Herrmann has carried himself since hanging up his helmet.
“There are countless things I took away from football,” he said. “You are very dependent on the guy next to you, so I think that element of teamwork has stuck with me forever. Being able to budget your time, to overcome challenges and adversity and being able to rise above have certainly carried over into my professional career. We are all going to have setbacks along the way and it is how you react [that counts].”
While such tenets have long served Herrmann regardless of what role he finds himself, they also comprise the heart of the message he imparts during his frequent discussions with Purdue students. After all, they are going through a critical juncture of their lives, something with which Herrmann appreciates and understands. He spent four years on that campus as a student-athlete, was a member of a fraternity (Sigma Chi) and the school’s Iron Key, a leadership honorary society.
“Any time I get to talk to students, not only athletes but students in general, we talk about those things that I have learned over the years such as the challenges that are involved and the things that you have to overcome,” he said. “So many times in our careers you get knocked down and you get adversity thrown in your face. Again, it is how you react. Any time I get a chance to interact with our students I share some of my experiences and those are the kinds of things I offer.”
The Herrmann family has much to offer when it comes to Purdue. Mark’s wife of 35 years, Susie, and their three children, Brady (30), Whitney (28) and Torey (23) are all Boilermakers.
“We’re gold and back through and through,” he said. “We just have a great love for this university. It is really fun for me to be around the energy of young people and there is much to learn from our faculty, students, deans and everything. It has really been a great experience.”