Joe Tiller put Purdue back on the college football map. In the process, he became the winningest coach in school history.
Taking the reins of a program that had just one winning season (with the help of a forfeit victory) and no bowl game appearances since 1984, Tiller engineered 10 bowl berths in 12 years from 1997 to 2008, an average of more than seven wins per season and a Big Ten championship in 2000.
Tiller's teams qualified for 10 of the 15 bowl games in school history: 1997 Alamo, 1998 Alamo, 2000 Outback, 2001 Rose, 2001 Sun, 2002 Sun, 2004 Capital One, 2004 Sun, 2006 Champs Sports and 2007 Motor City Bowl.
As for Tiller, he compiled an 87-62 record, a .584 winning percentage. In Big Ten games, he was 53-43, a .552 winning percentage. Tiller's 149 games coached are the most in Purdue annals.
Tiller topped Hall of Famer Jack Mollenkopf for the most wins by a Purdue coach with his 85th victory - a 32-25 verdict over Central Michigan at Ross-Ade Stadium on Sept. 20, 2008.
On Nov. 13, 2004, Tiller won his 100th career game with a 24-17 victory over Ohio State at Ross-Ade Stadium.
Tiller served as head coach of the East team in the East-West Shrine Game on Jan. 15, 2005, and earned a 45-27 victory. He played for the West team in 1963 and became just the fifth individual to play and coach in the Shrine Game.
In January of 2008, Tiller was awarded the Order of the Griffin, one of Purdue's highest honors that is given to individuals whose commitment to the University goes well beyond the call of duty, and whose strength and vision have greatly benefited the institution.
Tiller was appointed head coach emeritus by the Board of Trustees on Nov. 21, 2008.
Tiller's 18-year head coaching record, including six seasons at Wyoming, is 126-92-1, a .578 winning percentage.
`We Will Win Again'
A new era in Purdue football began Nov. 22, 1996, when Tiller was introduced as the school's 33rd head football coach.
The question everyone asked Tiller when he took over the program was, "How long will it take to build a winning program?" Tiller's response: "We're not going to wait for four years to figure this out. If I would wait four more years, I would hardly have any hair left. We're here to win a championship. We've won in the past, and we will win again in the future."
Tiller delivered quick results. After losing to Toledo in the 1997 season opener, Purdue reeled off six straight wins. The dream season started with a 28-17 upset of No. 12 Notre Dame on Sept. 13, 1997. The victory broke an 11-year losing streak to the Fighting Irish. On Oct. 25, 1997, the Boilermakers defeated Illinois 48-3 to clinch just its second winning record since 1984 (Purdue was 5-4-2 in 1995 by virtue of a forfeit victory).
Purdue finished with a 9-3 record (6-2 in the Big Ten - tied for second place), including a 33-20 victory over Oklahoma State in the Alamo Bowl, and a No. 15 national ranking. For a program that finished 3-8 overall in 1996, the six-game turnaround was the second best in the nation (behind only Western Michigan - 2-9 to 8-3). It also marked the second-greatest turnaround in school history behind the 1943 team that went 9-0 under head coach Elmer Burnham one year after the 1942 squad finished 1-8 under Burnham.
After his first season at Purdue, Tiller was named National Coach of the Year by both Football News and Kickoff magazines, the GTE Region 3 Coach of the Year (Big Ten, Mid-American Conference and Conference USA) by the American Football Coaches Association and the Big Ten Dave McClain Coach of the Year. He also was a finalist for the Paul "Bear" Bryant National Coach of the Year and a finalist for National Coach of the Year by The Sporting News.
The Beat Goes On
Despite having 17 players make their first collegiate start in 1998, the Boilermakers' success continued. They finished with a 9-4 record (6-2 in the Big Ten - fourth place) and defended their Alamo Bowl title with a thrilling, come-from-behind 37-34 victory over fourth-ranked Kansas State.
For the second straight season, Purdue broke the school record for points (444) while also establishing standards for first downs (315), passing yards (4,208), total offense (5,719) and touchdowns (57). The Boilermakers ranked seventh in the nation in passing offense (331.5).
Third Straight Winning Season
In 1999, the Boilermakers rolled to a 4-0 start and No. 10 national ranking (ESPN/USA Today) before playing five of their next six games against top 25 opponents. Purdue wound up with a 7-5 record (4-4 Big Ten - tied for sixth place) after losing to Georgia 28-25 in overtime in the Outback Bowl. The Boilermakers ranked fourth in the nation in passing offense (328.0) and eighth in total offense (456.0).
Great Expectations Realized
With quarterback Drew Brees returning for his senior season, expectations were sky-high for the 2000 campaign. With a 3-2 record in September, the Boilermakers faced a crossroads in October and delivered. They went 4-0 for the month (for just the fifth time in school history), winning all four games in come-from-behind fashion: 32-31 over sixth-ranked Michigan, 41-28 at 17th-ranked Northwestern, 30-24 in overtime at Wisconsin and 31-27 over 12th-ranked Ohio State.
The Boilermakers went on to capture their eighth Big Ten championship (first since 1967). They shared the crown with Michigan and Northwestern and earned the second Rose Bowl invitation in school history by virtue of wins over both the Wolverines and Wildcats. Purdue lost to No. 4 Washington 34-24 in the 87th Rose Bowl Game to finish with an 8-4 overall record (6-2 Big Ten). The Boilermakers ranked fourth nationally in total offense (471.2) and sixth in passing offense (312.5).
Tiller was an assistant coach for the 2001 Hula Bowl.
Best Job Yet
Having lost five offensive starters to the National Football League, Tiller faced a formidable challenge in 2001. He responded with perhaps his best coaching job yet. While trying to find consistency on offense, the Boilermakers relied on defense and special teams to post a 6-6 overall record (4-4 Big Ten - tied for fourth place) and earn a trip to the Sun Bowl, where they lost to No. 13 Washington State 33-27.
Frustrating But Rewarding
Tiller admits that the 2002 season was frustrating, as the Boilermakers went 7-6 overall (4-4 Big Ten - tied for fifth place), losing their six games by a combined 26 points (4.3 per game). Tiller praised his players for staying positive, and the reward was another bowl trip, a return to the Sun Bowl and a convincing 34-24 win over Pac-10 power Washington.
After falling to 105th in the nation in total offense the previous year, the Boilermakers skyrocketed to seventh, averaging 452.2 yards per game. Purdue became just the 13th team in Big Ten history to lead the conference in total offense and total defense (317.2).
Purdue Football: It's Big
With 16 starters returning, big things were expected of the 2003 Boilermakers. After a season-opening loss to Bowling Green, Purdue rebounded to go 9-4 overall (6-2 Big Ten - tied for second place). The Boilermakers won all three of their trophy rivalry games and returned to the New Year's Day bowl scene with a trip to the Capital One Bowl to play Georgia. Purdue overcame a 24-0 deficit to the Bulldogs, only to fall 34-27 in overtime. In the final polls, Purdue was ranked 18th by The Associated Press and 19th by ESPN/USA Today. The Boilermakers ranked eighth in the nation in turnover margin, 10th in rushing defense, 13th in total defense and 14th in scoring defense.
Tiller was one of 11 coaches under consideration for the Bobby Dodd National Coach of the Year Award.
Staying The Course
The 2004 Boilermakers opened with five straight wins and climbed to No. 5 in the national polls. Four straight losses followed - by a combined 10 points - but Tiller, his staff and the players stayed the course and rebounded with victories over Ohio State and intrastate rival Indiana. They wound up 7-5 overall (4-4 Big Ten - tied for fifth place) following a last-minute 27-23 loss to Arizona State in the Sun Bowl. Purdue won all three of its trophy rivalry games for the second straight year, beating Notre Dame for the Shillelagh, Illinois for the Cannon and Indiana for the Old Oaken Bucket.
The Boilermakers ranked fourth in the nation in passing offense (321.2) and 13th in total offense (446.5). They set a Big Ten record with 763 yards of total offense against Indiana. Taylor Stubblefield became the NCAA career receptions leader with 316 catches and was a finalist for the Biletnikoff Award, presented to the nation's outstanding receiver. Defensively, despite losing seven starters to the NFL, Purdue allowed merely 17.2 points per game to rank 15th nationally.
All 11 starters returned on defense in 2005, resulting in lofty expectations. But after winning its first two games and climbing to No. 11 in The Associated Press national rankings, Purdue lost six in a row and failed to qualify for a bowl game for the first time under Tiller. The Boilermakers rebounded to win their last three games, including a 41-14 Old Oaken Bucket victory at Indiana on Nov. 19. The end result was a 5-6 overall record (3-5 Big Ten - eighth place).
Back To Bowling
Despite a turnover of five assistant coaches and being the nation's only team to play 13 regular-season games without a bye week, the Boilermakers returned to the bowl scene in 2006, finishing 8-6 overall (5-3 Big Ten - tied for fourth place) with a 24-7 loss to Maryland in the Champs Sports Bowl. Purdue, which had 20 players make their first career starts, became one of 16 schools to play in a bowl game in at least nine of the last 10 seasons.
The Boilermakers led the Big Ten in passing offense (291.6) and in total offense (415.7). Those averages ranked sixth and 13th nationally. Curtis Painter, with the benefit of playing one more game, broke Drew Brees' Big Ten season record with 3,985 passing yards. Mike Otto set a school record with 50 career starts at left offensive tackle - every game he played over four seasons.
A youth-laden defense was anchored by Anthony Spencer, who led the nation with 26.5 tackles for loss en route to becoming the first Purdue defensive lineman to earn first team All-America honors since tackle Ken Novak in 1975 and first defensive end since Harold Wells in 1964. The Boilermakers forced 23 fumbles, the second-most in school history, and recovered 17 fumbles, tied for the fifth-most nationally.
A school-record 15 football players earned Academic All-Big Ten honors.
The Boilermakers won their first five games of 2007 en route to finishing 8-5 overall (3-5 Big Ten - tied for seventh place). They defeated Central Michigan 51-48 the Motor City Bowl in dramatic fashion, on Chris Summers' 40-yard field goal as time expired. In that game, Painter established school records with 546 passing yards and 540 yards of total offense.
Purdue, which set the school season record by scoring 446 points, led the Big Ten in scoring offense (34.3) and total offense (435.9) and ranked 12th nationally in passing offense (307.2). Dorien Bryant finished his career as the Boilermakers' all-time leader with 6,219 all-purpose yards, the fourth-most in Big Ten history.
Winning In Wyoming
Tiller returned to Purdue after posting a 39-30-1 record as head coach at Wyoming from 1991 to 1996.
In 1996, Tiller led the Cowboys to a 10-2 record, the Western Athletic Conference title game and a No. 22 final national ranking by The Associated Press. He led Wyoming to its first top 25 finish since 1988. The Cowboys had the nation's longest winning streak for four weeks, ending at 12 games. Tiller was selected one of six finalists for the Paul "Bear" Bryant Coach of the Year Award and was one of 10 finalists for the Football News National Coach of the Year.
Tiller's six seasons were highlighted by the Cowboys winning the 1996 WAC Pacific Division title and a share of the 1993 WAC Championship, earning a trip to the 1993 Copper Bowl. Following the 1993 and 1996 seasons, he was named the GTE Region 5 Coach of the Year (WAC and Big 12) by the American Football Coaches Association.
From 1993 to 1996, Tiller compiled a 30-17 record. He was the first coach to lead the Cowboys to four consecutive seasons of six-plus wins since Lloyd Eaton (1966-69).
During his tenure, Wyoming ranked in the top 20 nationally in passing offense and the top 30 in total offense each season. The 1996 Cowboys were No. 1 in passing offense (359.2), No. 3 in total offense (498.9) and No. 9 in scoring offense (38.7).
Individually, wide receiver Marcus Harris finished ninth in Heisman Trophy balloting and garnered the Biletnikoff Award in 1996. He set three NCAA records (4,518 career receiving yards, 24 100-yard games and the first player to have three consecutive 1,400-yard seasons). In 1996, Harris led the nation in receiving yards (137.5) and ranked second in receptions (109). Quarterback Josh Wallwork was tops in total offense (350.8) and fourth in passing efficiency (154.7).
Tiller's players set school season and career records for rushing, passing and receiving yards. Before Harris, Wyoming's Ryan Yarborough established the NCAA record for career receiving yards (4,357 from 1990 to 1993). So when he left Wyoming, Tiller had coached the top two receiving yards leaders in NCAA history.
Wyoming had three first team All-Americans in 1996: Harris, offensive tackle Steve Scifres and kicker Cory Wedel; two first team Academic All-Americans (for the first time in school history); and six first team All-WAC players.
The 1995 Cowboys had two first team All-Americans, one NCAA Postgraduate Scholarship recipient, two College Football Association National Scholar-Athletes and five first team All-WAC selections. They also led the WAC in academic all-conference selections for the first time in school history with eight.
The Road To Success
In 1989 and 1990, Tiller was assistant head coach, offensive coordinator and offensive line coach at Washington State (under Mike Price). While with the Cougars he recruited and helped develop longtime NFL quarterback Drew Bledsoe. Prior to that, Tiller was offensive coordinator and offensive line coach at Wyoming (under Paul Roach) in 1987 and 1988. The Cowboys won back-to-back WAC titles and went to two Holiday Bowls.
Tiller's first stint at Purdue was from 1983 to 1986 as assistant head coach, defensive coordinator and defensive line coach (under Leon Burtnett). Among the players he coached was perennial NFL All-Pro defensive back Rod Woodson. In 1984, the Boilermakers played in the Peach Bowl.
From 1974 to 1982, Tiller spent nine seasons with the Calgary Stampeders of the Canadian Football League. He was an assistant coach (offensive and defensive lines) from 1974 to 1976, interim head coach for six games in 1976 (2-3-1 record), assistant general manager from 1977 to 1980 and director of administration and player personnel from 1980 to 1982.
Tiller was an assistant coach at Washington State from 1971 to 1973, spending one year as defensive line coach and two years as offensive coordinator and offensive line coach (under Jim Sweeney).
In 1965, Tiller began his coaching career as an assistant (offensive and defensive lines) at Montana State (under Sweeney). He was with the Bobcats through 1970.
The Tiller Family: In front, Arnette and Joe; in the middle, son-in-law Jason Fish (Julie's husband) and daughter Renee; in back, daughter Julie and son Mike.
A native of Toledo, Ohio, Tiller attended Rogers High School and earned a B.S. degree in secondary education from Montana State in 1965. He was an honorable mention All-America offensive tackle and team captain for the Bobcats. Tiller was drafted by the Boston Patriots of the American Football League in 1964 (18th round) but did not sign. He played for Calgary of the CFL during the 1964 season.
Tiller (born Dec. 7, 1942) and his wife, Arnette, have three children: Renee, Julie and Mike. They also have two golden retrievers, Sami and Maggie.
Tiller is a member of the American Football Coaches Association and is in constant demand as a public speaker. In 2004, he was instrumental in the formation of the Northwest Indiana chapter of the National Football Foundation, promoting youth football. The chapter was renamed in his honor in June of 2007. His autobiography, Tiller: Not Your Average Joe, was published in 2006.