Walters, 36, has spent the past two seasons at Illinois and was a finalist for the Broyles Award, which goes to the nation's top assistant coach. He replaces Jeff Brohm, who left last week to become head coach at Louisville, his alma mater. Illinois' defense rose to No. 1 in several key statistical categories this fall and finished the regular season first in fewest points allowed and second in fewest yards allowed.
He received a five-year contract from Purdue that is pending board approval.
"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," Purdue athletic director Mike Bobinski said in a statement. "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."
"I am incredibly humbled and honored to serve as the head football coach at Purdue University," Walters said in a statement. "I am grateful to Director of Athletics Mike Bobinski and to President [Mitch] 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 also was a top candidate for the head-coaching vacancy at Colorado, his alma mater, which hired Jackson State coach Deion Sanders to replace Karl Dorrell. A safety and team captain who started 33 games for the Buffaloes, Walters began his coaching career at Colorado before making stops at Arizona, Oklahoma, North Texas, Memphis and Missouri, where he served in a defensive coordinator role from 2016 to 2020 under coaches Barry Odom and Eliah Drinkwitz.
Illini head coach Bret Bielema lauded the "talented" Walters in a statement Tuesday, while promising to announce his replacement in the "coming weeks.".
He's the third Black coach hired in the FBS this season, joining Sanders and Western Michigan's Lance Taylor. Walters is the first Purdue coach with a primarily defensive background since Leon Burtnett in the 1980s.
Walters also becomes the fourth-youngest coach in FBS football behind Arizona State's Kenny Dillingham (32), South Alabama's Kane Wommack (35) and Oregon's Dan Lanning (36).