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How college football is paying tribute to Joe Tiller

The innovative head coach was 74.

Champs Sports Bowl: Purdue v Maryland Photo by Doug Benc/Getty Images

Joe Tiller, the coach who led Purdue to three nine-win seasons and a pair of Alamo Bowl wins around the turn of the century, died on Saturday at 74.

Tiller is the last coach who made Purdue consistently good. He’s the winningest coach in school history, having gone 87-62 from 1997 to 2008. He won’t go down as the best coach in school history — Jack Mollenkopf will — but Tiller was both really good at what he did and beloved by Purdue’s players and fans. He was one of the first coaches to deploy a true spread offense, and his success helped take that scheme national.

On Saturday, as Purdue takes on Minnesota at home, both teams will pay tribute to the legendary coach.

There will be a number of tributes at Purdue’s home stadium for the game. The Boilermakers will wear helmets that reflect the same ones worn when Tiller was the coach, along with a tribute sticker. Members of Tiller’s first 1997 team will be honored in the third quarter, and there will be a moment of silence before to the national anthem, along with a video tribute.

“I remember growing up and watching the Purdue teams play in his days, and it was an exciting brand of football," Purdue coach Jeff Brohm said during his Monday via the Journal & Courier. “It was a little bit different than maybe some of the other teams in the Big Ten, and they found a way to win.”

Travis Miller writes at Boilermakers blog Hammer & Rails:

Coach Tiller was more than just Purdue’s all-time winningest coach. He revived a culture at Purdue that had been long dormant. He built a program where they said it could not be built (making it all the more sad that it was torn down once he retired). He was lionized as a hero and stood by Purdue University even when other schools came calling. When it was time for him to retire he stepped aside and rode off to Wyoming, never interfering with those that came after, but always proud to see the Boilers do well.

Purdue hired Tiller away from Wyoming after a 10-2 1996 season, which will stand up as one of the best in that school’s history. He returned to the state of Wyoming in retirement, and he stayed there until his passing on Saturday.

Here’s Drew Brees, Tiller’s star QB while he played at Purdue:

From Purdue’s announcement of his passing:

"Today is a very sad day for me and the entire Purdue family. Coach Tiller was an important person in my life and to so many other guys who played for him. He did so much more than teach us how to win. He taught us life lessons and how to be great leaders and men. My thoughts and prayers are with Arnette, Julie, Renee and Mike."

Here’s how the program sums up Tiller’s impact:

Prior to Tiller's hiring in November of 1996, Purdue football had played in a total of five bowl games. In the preceding 15 years, the Boilermakers managed merely a 54-107-5 record. Tiller introduced the spread offense to Purdue, featuring three, four, even five wide receivers and forcing defenses to cover the field from sideline to sideline. It was a radical change from the smash-mouth Big Ten style and, in the basketball-crazed state of Indiana, was dubbed affectionately "basketball on grass."

A lot of college football coaches spoke about Tiller’s impact on them:

Former Purdue players did, too:

Some other reflections on the legendary coach:

And here’s Tiller, telling us about when he knew Brees would be great:

In a sense, Tiller’s still helping Purdue now.

Purdue shifted away from the spread offense in the years after Tiller left, and the program was usually terrible. Tiller was an early adopter of the spread, and he helped bring along an offensive revolution that’s made the spread a key fixture in the college game.

One of the coaches now on the cutting edge: Jeff Brohm, whom the Boilers hired away from WKU to lead them this season. Brohm’s gotten Purdue off to a great start using an innovative scheme that evolved from strategies like Tiller’s.