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.
Football lost an ELITE man & coach with the passing of Joe Tiller. Honored to recognize him & his contributions to the game on Saturday #RTB pic.twitter.com/7IpNBT7Cga— P.J. Fleck (@Coach_Fleck) October 5, 2017
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.”
#TillerTribute#BoilerUp #LetsPlayFootball pic.twitter.com/CINfZojlAi— Purdue Football (@BoilerFootball) October 4, 2017
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:
Joe Tiller "was ahead of his time." Great stories from Nick Saban on coaching against the #Purdue legend while at Michigan State #BoilerUp pic.twitter.com/rfBtkXNaBB— Grace Remington (@Grace_Remi) October 5, 2017
So sorry for the loss of former Purdue Head Football Coach, Joe Tiller. Thoughts and prayers to his family, former players and friends. #RIP— Mark Dantonio (@DantonioMark) September 30, 2017
"A great coach but a great man...I'm very thankful that he was a part of my life." -@Coachsumlin on passing of @Boilerfootball's Joe Tiller pic.twitter.com/eXofS81tg8— Texas A&M Football (@AggieFootball) October 1, 2017
My heart is heavy today as we learn of Coach Tiller's passing. I'm forever indebted for what you did for my family and I. RIP Coach T! https://t.co/pyaBPvvGZC— Mark Hagen (@CoachHagenIU) September 30, 2017
Former Purdue players did, too:
So sad to hear about Joe Tiller passing away. Praying for his family. Forever grateful for the chance he took on me.— Dennis Kelly (@DennisKelly67) September 30, 2017
Rest in peace Coach Joe Tiller you put me in the best opportunity to become A graduate at Purdue, and also become a better man #thankyou— Kawann Short (@kk_mr93) September 30, 2017
I’ll be forever grateful for Coach Tiller and the opportunity he gave me in playing Boilermaker football. Great coach, better man. RIP— Ryan Kerrigan (@RyanKerrigan91) September 30, 2017
The reason Purdue is such a special place, his impact stretching much further than on the football field. Rest In Peace Coach Tiller.— David Blough (@David_Blough10) September 30, 2017
Joe Tiller shaped me as a football player and as a man. Loved his toughness on the field, commitment to his wife & perfectly timed jokes.— Craig Terrill (@TerrillMusic) September 30, 2017
RIP Coach Tiller. Help Turned me from a short fat black kid to an NFL champion. Changed my life, I'll always love you for that. Rest easy, see you when I get there, coach— Chukky Okobi (@Chukky412) September 30, 2017
Some other reflections on the legendary coach:
"One of the most innovative and beloved coaches in the history of the Big Ten."@RobStoneONFOX reflects on late Purdue legend Joe Tiller pic.twitter.com/tmvlZf0m68— FOX College Football (@CFBONFOX) September 30, 2017
Very sorry to hear about the passing of former Wyoming & Purdue HC Joe Tiller. Innovative offensive coach & a better man. RIP Coach.— Kirk Herbstreit (@KirkHerbstreit) September 30, 2017
As a kid who grew up watching B1G football, Joe Tiller opened my mind to things I never knew existed in this sport. #RIP— Tom Fornelli (@TomFornelli) September 30, 2017
And here’s Tiller, telling us about when he knew Brees would be great:
When did the late Joe Tiller know @drewbrees was the guy for @BoilerFootball?— Purdue On BTN (@PurdueOnBTN) September 30, 2017
He reflected on it in this segment. https://t.co/jkFvL80w0q
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.