Joe Tiller, the winningest football coach in school history, wound up his career with an 87-62 record, including 53-43 in Big Ten Conference games and 10-2 against their rival Hoosiers. Tiller’s 149 games coached are the most in Purdue history.
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 smashmouth Big Ten style and, in the basketball-crazed state of Indiana, was dubbed affectionately “basketball on grass.” The result was 10 bowl games, including the 2001 Rose Bowl, 2001, 2002 and 2004 Sun Bowl, an average of more than seven wins per season and a Big Ten Championship in 2000. Tiller coached 64 players who went on to the National Football League (NFL), six All-Americans and two Academic All-Americans.
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 by the American Football Coaches Association and the Big Ten Dave McClain Coach of the Year
Having lost five offensive starters to the NFL, 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.
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.
In 2004 the Boilermakers climbed to No. 5 in the national polls before 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. 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. Purdue allowed merely 17.2 points per
game to rank 15th nationally.
In January of 2008, Tiller was awarded the Order of the Griffin, one of Purdue’s highest honors, which 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.