Joe Tiller, who led the Purdue football program to unprecedented success that it still is trying to replicate nearly a decade later, died Saturday in Buffalo, Wyo., the Journal & Courier reports. He was 74. No cause of death was given, but Tiller reportedly had been battling major health issues in recent months. Texas A&M Coach Kevin Sumlin, who coached with and under Tiller at numerous stops over his career, said in July that Tiller “isn’t doing too well.”
After he was hired away from Wyoming in 1997, Tiller made a near-immediate imprint on a floundering Boilermakers program that had only one winning season over the previous 18 years. In just his second game, Purdue upset Notre Dame, and soon the Boilermakers were back in the top 25 for the first time since 1984. Purdue then won 24 games over the next three seasons (a quarterback named Drew Brees also had something to do with it), capping the run with a share of the Big Ten title in 2000 and the program’s first Rose Bowl berth since 1967.
Brees and a number of other former Purdue players and coaches visited with Tiller at his Wyoming home over the summer.
Tiller went 87-62 at Purdue from 1997 to 2008 and is the program’s all-time winningest coach. In the nine seasons since his departure, the Boilermakers have won only 33 games with just one winning season and two bowl berths. Tiller also scored five wins over Notre Dame and led Purdue to a 10-2 record against Old Oaken Bucket rival Indiana, ending his Boilermakers career with a 62-10 shellacking of the Hoosiers in his final game.
“Those are our two measuring sticks,” Tiller said after that game. “When we step onto the field, we can’t lose to those rascals. If you do, you have to live with it for a year.
“Fortunately, in our period of time here, we’ve been on the good end of the stick. This is what Purdue football is all about.”
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