Joe Tiller, whose career at Purdue could certainly be described as legendary, passed away a little before 7 a.m. Saturday morning.
The Boilermakers' all-time winningest football coach died from complications from a lifelong illness. He was 74 years old.
At Purdue, he'll forever be remembered for the on-field success that defined his career in West Lafayette, but also for the humility and humor with which he conducted himself.
Tiller retired to Buffalo, Wyo., following the 2008 season, winner of 87 games over 12 seasons at Purdue, which he led to 10 bowl games — highlighted by the 2001 Rose Bowl — in those dozen seasons.
In so doing, Tiller left a lasting legacy not only for success but for influencing offensive football in the Big Ten and nationwide. He was one of the pioneers of the spread offense, the pass-happy, three- and four-wide receiver system that would rewrite Purdue's record books, and much of the conference's, as well.
Tiller's offensive system — and mentality — immediately invigorated Purdue's “Cradle of Quarterbacks” tradition, contributing to the greatness of college football and NFL legend Drew Brees, as well as long-time professional quarterback Kyle Orton, among others.
Receivers like Brian Alford, Taylor Stubblefield, Tim Stratton, Chris Daniels and Dorien Bryant posted exorbitant numbers in what was dubbed "Basketball on Grass" while complemented effectively by a high-pressure defense that birthed Purdue's "Den of Defensive Ends," yieling the likes of stars Rosevelt Colvin, Shaun Phillips, Akin Ayodele and Ryan Kerrigan, among many others.
The former Wyoming coach transformed the Boilermakers from Day 1, leading a moribund program to a memorable 9-3 season in 1997, highlighted by one of the greatest wins in school history in Week 2 over Notre Dame, and capped by a win over Oklahoma State in the Alamo Bowl.
Then came Brees.
Purdue won nine games again in 1998, capped by an improbable come-from-behind upset of fourth-ranked Kansas State — one of college football's elite teams that year.
After a New Year's Day bowl berth in '99, Tiller and Brees led the Boilermakers to their proverbial promised land — the 2001 Rose Bowl — by virtue of earning a share of the Big Ten championship.
The 2003 season — that team can easily be considered Tiller's best, top to bottom, because of the wealth of professional-level defensive talent it included — again played on New Year's Day — in the Capital One Bowl.
Purdue endured just two losing seasons until Tiller — in 2005 and '08, the latter being an injury-riddled season turned upside down by Purdue's move to bring in Tiller's successor-in-waiting, Danny Hope, from the outside.
Tiller leaves behind a robust coaching tree, a list that includes Illinois State coach and close friend Brock Spack, Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin, NFL assistant coaches Greg Olson, Terrell Williams, Lou Anarumo, Joel Thomas and Gary Emanuel, Georgia OC and former NFL assistant Jim Chaney and more.
Born in Toledo on Dec. 7, 1942, Tiller is survived by wife Arnette and three grown children — daughters Renee and Julie and son Mike.
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