College football lost a great contributor to the game with the passing of Joe Tiller this past Saturday. The winningest coach in Purdue history and one of the innovators of the spread offense was 74 years old.
Tiller had many highlights during his career as head coach at Wyoming and Purdue, as he took each program to heights either has been able to achieve since his respective departures from those schools. Here are the five greatest moments of his football life.
5. Purdue’s All-Time Winningest Coach (2008)
There were not many bright spots in Tiller’s final season in West Lafayette, except one. The second of Purdue’s four wins was Tiller’s 85th for the Boilermakers, pushing him ahead of Jack Mollenkopf to become the program’s all-time winningest coach. It was not without drama. Down 25-24 to Central Michigan with a minute to go, Purdue running back Kory Sheets broke loose for a 46-yard touchdown run to secure the win and Tiller’s legacy.
4. WAC Champions (1993)
After suffering losing seasons in his first two years at Wyoming, Tiller’s Cowboys put together an 8-4 campaign and shared the WAC title with BYU and Fresno State. The significance may not have been fully appreciated at the time, but the Cowboys have not won a conference championship since then.
3. Basketball on Grass (1998)
Tiller is one of the fathers of the wide-open spread offenses we see today. He also gave the offense its greatest moniker, “Basketball on grass.” The college football world took notice of the spread attack in 1998, when the Drew Brees-helmed Boilermakers went 9-4 and upset then-No. 4 Kansas State. Purdue’s 4,208 passing yards that season remains a Big Ten record.
2. Big Ten Coach of the Year (1997)
Tiller inherited a Purdue team that went 3-8 in 1996 and immediately turned it around. The Boilermakers went 9-3 and beat Oklahoma State 33-20 in the Alamo Bowl to finish the season ranked No. 17. Tiller’s immediate success earned him the Big Ten Coach of the Year award.
1. Big Ten Champions (2000)
Purdue had not won a Big Ten title since 1967 and had only been to five bowl games before Tiller’s arrival. He took the Boilermakers to bowl games in 10 of his 12 seasons and in 2000, brought them back to Pasadena. Purdue reeled off wins against No. 6 Michigan, No. 17 Northwestern and No. 12 Ohio State to earn only the second and last Big Ten championship in the program’s history.
— Written by Aaron Tallent, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Tallent is a writer whose articles have appeared in The Sweet Science, FOX Sports’ Outkick the Coverage, Liberty Island and The Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter at @AaronTallent.