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Joe Tiller’s passing reminds us of indelible mark left on Purdue, Big Ten

Joe Tiller, one of college football’s true innovators, passes away at age 74

It seems like Purdue football has been bad forever these days. However, things were just about as bad today as they were back in 1996. Then the Boilermakers brass went to Wyoming and picked Joe Tiller to lead their program.

With Tiller’s hire, a new and innovative offense called the “spread offense” came to the land of power-I rushing offenses…and the rest they say is history.

Sadly, Tiller passed away today at the age of 74.

Tiller was 87-62 in 12 seasons in West Lafayette, led Purdue to eight or more wins in six of those 12 seasons and took Purdue to the 2001 Rose Bowl as conference champion.

You knew things were different in West Lafayette immediately, as Purdue went 9-3 in Tiller’s first season in 1997.

What we know as the spread offense today was infamously dubbed “basketball on grass” by Tiller. He had names like Drew Brees, Kyle Orton and Curtis Painter to execute his high-powered passing attack to near perfection.

In an age where three yards and a cloud of dust was the norm, Tiller’s spread attack was as foreign as it came. Not only did other teams begin to follow suit over the years, he made defensive football change in the Big Ten.

Athletic ability more than power became essential to success in the Big Ten — and Tiller’s offense made that happen on both sides of the football. Don’t let anyone tell you anything different.

But, those Tiller Purdue teams were more than innovative offenses. Purdue played some great defense for large parts of Tiller’s time at at the helm of the program, and put multiple defensive stars in to the NFL too.

Tiller wasn’t just a genius X’s and O’s guy, he knew how to put together a staff. Names like Brock Spack, Kevin Sumlin, Jim Chaney, Greg Olson, Mark Hagan, Danny Hope, Terrell Williams, Ted Gilmore, Bill Legg, Bob DeBesse, Randy Melvin, Gary Emanuel and Scott Downing all made stops in West Lafayette while Tiller was the head coach there.

Purdue’s innovative offense became less so as the 2000’s went on and ultimately it became time to move on. However, it is also a testament to his coaching ability that the program has never really been the same since his departure.

He will certainly be missed as a coach, but also as one of the better people to ever grace a sideline in the Big Ten. Modest, unassuming but commanding, Tiller’s impact off the field is almost as great as his impact on it.

College football and the world has lost an influential man.

R.I.P. Joe Tiller.

Andy Coppens is the Founder and Publisher of Talking10. He's a member of the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA) and has been covering college sports in some capacity since 2008. You can follow him on Twitter @AndyOnFootball

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