Retired ex-Purdue football coach Tiller still thinks about comeback

By CLIFF BRUNT
ISL Editor

Every once in a while, retired ex-Purdue football coach Joe Tiller still gets the itch to return to the sidelines.

Then, he thinks about Sunday through Friday.

Former Purdue coach Joe Tiller. From Purdue Athetics Communications.

Former Purdue coach Joe Tiller. From Purdue Athetics Communications.

“There were times this year when I thought about tossing my name in the hat, but it’s an all-encompassing job,” the 69-year-old Tiller said before receiving an award recently. “I don’t think coaching is in my future, but you never say never.”

Tiller, a television football analyst for the Big Ten Network last season, outlined a scenario in which he could coach again.

“If I did it, it would be for two or three years, and I’d have to have a replacement lined up, and I don’t know if anybody is interested in that,” he said.

Just as quickly as the thoughts of roaring crowds on Saturday afternoons and the chess match with opposing coaches made him smile, he thought about the freedom of traveling with no restrictions and the fact that he no longer spends his weeks watching film or recruiting.

“I’ve become like a player,” he said. “I look forward to the games. I don’t want to practice, all the prep work it takes.”

Tiller doesn’t seem to have changed much. He still has that sense of humor and quick wit, still equally at ease with fans and university leaders, disarming both with his unique charm.

Some of that ease comes from a lifetime filled with victories. Tiller was one of the most successful football coaches in Purdue history, making his mark by bringing a spread passing attack from the West to the snow and cold of the Midwest with unprecedented success. He led the Boilermakers to the Rose Bowl after the 2000 season, a level the program has yet to duplicate. Quarterbacks Drew Brees, Kyle Orton and Curtis Painter rewrote the conference record books and made Tiller look like a genius.

As teams caught up with Tiller’s offense and borrowed his ideas, his teams started to struggle. Mobile quarterbacks began having success against the Boilermakers’ defenses, which lacked the athletic ability to match up. Meanwhile, Purdue remained loyal to its pocket passers, though Painter and Brandon Kirsch were fairly mobile. Tiller adjusted late in his career by recruiting Caleb TerBush, a running threat much different than the gunslingers of Purdue past.

Tiller retired after the 2008 season, leaving the program with an 87-62 record. He handed the reins over to Danny Hope, and the Boilermakers returned to postseason play last year with a 37-32 win over Western Michigan.

Tiller said Hope is doing a good job, despite the disapproval from some fans who believe the program has been mediocre. Some didn’t want Hope to get the extension he received after last season, but Tiller thinks it is wise for the school to stick with him.

“It looks like they’re making progress, and that’s what you’re looking for,” Tiller said. “Let’s take another step. Unfortunately, in this day and time, people want you to take one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind. They don’t want you to take a small step.”

Tiller said the true test for Hope will come when all remnants of Tiller’s program are gone.

“It’s probably another year or two before you know if they’ve made significant progress or slow progress, whatever, and all of that irrelevant as long as they’re making progress,” he said.

None of those things, of course, are primary concerns for Tiller. He has had too much fun fishing and bouncing around between games at Wyoming, Purdue and his alma mater, Montana State.  He appears ready to return to the Big Ten Network.

“I agreed to do because it’s something I’ve never done before,” he said. “It’s a challenge. I still look forward to things like that, and so I agreed to do it. They have called and asked if I want to do it again, so they must have liked me.”

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