To judge what kind of football coach that Joe Tiller was, you have to look at the Purdue football program before and after his time as their head coach.
Tiller replaced Jim Colletto who in 6 seasons as the Boilermakers coach posted a 20-43-3 record. Tiller took over a team that had gone 3-8 in 1996. Colletto was hired to replace failed coach Fred Akers. At Texas, the very conservative Akers had some good seasons with chances to win national titles twice.
But, at Purdue, Akers failed miserably while guiding the team to a very unimpressive 12-31-1 record. Akers replaced Leon Burtnett who led the team to a 21-34-1 record. At least Burtnett had one winning season and took the team to one bowl game.
The picture is pretty clear that winning in football is a pretty tough task at Purdue.
Joe Tiller coached Wyoming to a 10-2 record in 1996 and then the Boilermakers fired Jim Colletto and hired Tiller.
In Tiller’s first recruiting class, he brought in a too short quarterback from Austin, Texas by the name of Drew Brees. Despite being the nephew of former Longhorn quarterback great Marty Akins, Brees had no interest in the University of Texas, and they had no interest in him either for some strange reason. He liked Texas A%M, supposedly, but they thought he was too short and didn’t bother. Supposedly, Purdue is the only school to even offer Drew Brees a future NFL Hall of Fame quarterback who has been a Super Bowl winning quarterback in New Orleans. Amazing.
As a true freshman, Brees was a back up to Billy Dickens who threw for over 3,000 yards and 21 touchdowns while leading the Boilers to a surprising 9-3 record. The Joe Tiller era at Purdue was underway in impressive fashion.
Billy Dickens graduated and Drew Brees took over the starting role in 1998 and the sophomore responded in spectacular fashion. Brees threw for just under 4,000 yards
Tiller led his Boilermakers to a 9-4 record in 1998, but the season was capped off in super exciting fashion when Purdue upset 4th ranked Kansas State in the Alamo Bowl.
This was possibly Bill Snyder’s best Kansas State squad and they had been unbeaten all season until they were shocked in the Big 12 Championship game by Purdue. In one of the best games of the year, Purdue came back and beat Kansas State, 37-34.
The following season was something of a disappointment for Tiller’s Boilermakers when they finished 7-5. However, they played 7 ranked teams and all of their losses but to the 4th ranked Michigan Wolverines. They were in the game in the other 4 losses and the season could have easily been different.
Quarterback Drew Brees finished 4th in the Heisman Trophy voting after throwing for nearly 4,000 yards again.
The 2000 season was a special one in Purdue’s history. I wrote about it here: 2000 Big 10
Purdue was only 8-4 on the season, but they won the Big 10 and earned a berth in the Rose Bowl. Brees, of course, had another fantastic season and finished behind winner Chris Weinke of Florida State and Josh Heupel of national champion Oklahoma.
But, it wasn’t all Brees. Every starting offensive lineman from that team played in the NFL. Plus, he had talented running back Montrell Lowe and receivers John Standeford and Vinny Sutherland. Tight End Tim Stratton was also a star.
The seasons went downhill after the Brees gang graduated. The best season after the Rose Bowl year was 2003 when the Boilermakers won 9 games with 4 losses and a Capital One Bowl berth.
Joe Tiller coached Purdue until the 2008 season and finished with an 87-62 total record. He also developed quarterback Kyle Orton and receivers like Taylor Stubblefield. Joe Tiller never recruited any highly ranked players, yet he remained competitive in the Big 10 against some strong teams like Ohio State and Michigan.
It may take a lot of coaching abilities to win at Purdue. Since Tiller’s last season things have not gone well.
Danny Hope replaced Tiller and was fired after going 22-27 in 4 seasons. They hired promising Darrell Hazell and he was fired after suffering through a 9-33 record.
However, things might be looking up for Purdue since they hired Jeff Brohm away from Western Kentucky. He is off to a 2-2 start but losses have been to Louisville and Heisman winner Lamar Jackson and the Michigan Wolverines. In spite of the 2-2 record, the Boilers look much improved
and Brohm could be the next Joe Tiller.
Joe Tiller passed away on September 30th, 2017 at the age of 74. When Tiller retired after the 2008 season, he moved back to Wyoming where he lived out the remainder of his life. While he was coaching, Tiller made a huge difference in his player’s lives. Guys like Drew Brees will never be the same because of Tiller’s influence on them.
He also had a huge influence on the game of football. He took what people said could not be done and he did it. He changed Purdue from a cellar dweller to a yearly contender for the Big 10 down. Tiller was innovative and was a pioneer in the spread offense that is so popular in today’s game.
Ironically, Tiller passed away on a Saturday during football season. Football was a game that he loved dearly.