Purdue's Tiller preparing for sendoff

November, 20, 2008
11/20/08
5:51
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

 
 Paul Jasienski/Getty Images
 Joe Tiller leaves Purdue as the school's all-time winningest coach.

Joe Tiller wanted to keep the focus on Purdue's rivalry matchup against Indiana. He found out very quickly that it would be nearly impossible to do so.

Tiller's Monday began with a luncheon at the quarterback club, where those in attendance held up "Thank you, coach" placards. As usual, Tiller had a witty response. 

"Are those left over from coach [Gene] Keady's retirement?" he joked, referring to Purdue's longtime basketball coach. 

When Tiller did his television show later that day, the final segment was devoted to his career at Purdue. 

"I didn't particularly care for that much but I appreciate [it] immensely," he said. "So it's starting to sink in a little bit."

Tiller will coach his final game at Purdue on Saturday (ESPN2, noon ET) before retiring to Wyoming, where he'll trade playbook and whistle for rod and reel. He leaves as Purdue's all-time winningest coach (86-62 record) after spending 12 seasons at the school and guiding the Boilermakers to 10 bowl games. 

The 65-year-old admits things could get emotional on Saturday, but until then he's trying to concentrate on the game. 

"You get a little nostalgic," said former Wisconsin coach Barry Alvarez, who coached his final game at Camp Randall Stadium in 2005. "You start thinking of your career. You start to reminisce about all the players and the good times. You start thinking a little bit about the future and what you're going to do and what it's going to be like without football because that's what you've done all your life.

"That's all he's done. That's all I ever did."

Tiller will leave his mark at Purdue, but he also made a strong impact on his coaching colleagues and the way they view offensive football. He was the first coach to introduce the spread offense to the Big Ten in 1997, and Purdue quickly surged behind the "basketball on grass" system.

Purdue reached bowls in each of Tiller's first eight seasons, produced superstars like Drew Brees and set the trend for the spread, which is now used in some form by eight of the 11 teams in the league.

"We had about a two-year honeymoon here at Purdue," Tiller said. 

"He's the one that brought the spread offense to the Big Ten," said Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald, who won National Defensive Player of the Year honors in the two seasons before Tiller arrived at Purdue. "Before he did that, Mike Alstott could play at Purdue and Pat Fitzgerald could play at Northwestern. Neither of us would be recruited by either school any more. He really changed the landscape."

Purdue had recorded only one winning season in the 12 years prior to Tiller's arrival. He guided the Boilermakers to the 2001 Rose Bowl, and the program hovered in the middle of the league for most his tenure. 

This fall hasn't been the ideal sendoff for Tiller. Purdue is 3-8 and tied for last place in the league with Indiana. Tiller never had lost more than seven games in 17 previous seasons at Purdue and Wyoming.

"He brought consistency to that program -- they'd go to a bowl and then miss bowls for a long stretch of time -- so this is really an aberration to see this type of year in his last year," Alvarez said. "It's not indicative of his entire career."

Tiller joked about the season when asked if he had been dreading his final game, saying, "You would have to be a masochist if you would want to continue this for another eight weeks."

Danny Hope takes over as Purdue's head coach after Saturday, but Tiller will remain around the program until mid-March or so, attending clinics and functions, and possibly assisting with talent evaluation for recruiting. Then, he'll head to Wyoming, where the fish await. 

Among his Big Ten colleagues, Tiller will be missed.

"You get what you see," Alvarez said. "There are no false pretenses. If he has something on his mind, he says it. People appreciate that in this business."

Added Penn State coach Joe Paterno: "The Big Ten's lost some awfully good football coaches and awfully good people in the last few years, and he's certainly one of them."

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