Former Purdue coach Joe Tiller, who led the Boilermakers to the 2000 Big Ten championship and became the school’s all-time coaching wins leader, died early Saturday at his home in Buffalo, Wyoming. He was 74.
Tiller coached Purdue from 1997 to 2008, going 87-62 with only two losing seasons.
He retired after the 2008 season and spent much of his time at his Wyoming home. Tiller had been in poor health for several months, although he was hoping to return to Purdue next week for the Minnesota game, where the school will celebrate the 20th anniversary of Tiller’s first Boilers team.
New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees and other players from Tiller’s 1997 team are scheduled to attend the Minnesota game.
“Today is a very sad day for me and the entire Purdue family,” Brees said in a statement. “Coach Tiller was an important person in my life and to so many other guys who played for him. He did so much more than teach us how to win. He taught us life lessons and how to be great leaders and men. My thoughts and prayers are with Arnette, Julie, Renee and Mike.”
Several of Tiller’s former players and coaches visited him in Wyoming in July to celebrate Tiller’s 50th anniversary with his wife, Arnette. Texas AM coach Kevin Sumlin, a former Purdue player and assistant for Tiller, asked for prayers for Tiller at SEC media days.
Tiller’s family issued a statement in July that Tiller had some problems stemming from a genetic disease diagnosed about 20 years ago, and was receiving treatment.
Tiller’s “basketball on grass” offense revolutionized the Big Ten upon his arrival, and Purdue shattered team and league records during his first four seasons with the Boilers. Purdue’s 1998 team still holds the Big Ten passing yards record (4,208).
“Joe took a chance coming back to Purdue, and all Boilermakers, and me in particular, are grateful,” former Purdue athletic director Morgan Burke said. “Joe was the best evaluator of talent I have ever seen. His dry wit endeared him to his players, and he knew how to coach and motivate them. I know the Purdue family joins me in expressing our condolences to Arnette and all of his family.”
A Toledo, Ohio, native, Tiller played offensive line at Montana State and for the CFL’s Calgary Stampeders before beginning his coaching career at his alma mater in 1965. He served as Purdue’s defensive coordinator from 1983 to 1986 and landed his first head-coaching job at Wyoming in 1991, going 39-30-1 in six seasons at the school.