The success of any college football program ultimately begins with finding the right head coach. Those men who have won the most generally share an ability to lead, strategize and recruit better than their contemporaries, and they are remembered long after their time in charge is complete.
This week on the Big Ten blog, we're taking a look at the top five coaches over the years for each program. Some are more widely recognized than others, but all had a positive impact on the fortunes of their respective programs.
Next up: Purdue.
1. Joe Tiller, 87-62 (1997-2008)
Tiller's accomplishments at Purdue are even more remarkable when juxtaposed against the coaches that came before and after him. From 1991-96, Jim Colletto produced one winning season with no bowl games and never finished better than tied for sixth in the Big Ten. From 2009-12, Danny Hope went 22-27, though his teams did reach two bowl games. Now, the Boilermakers are struggling to escape the league basement. Under Tiller, however, Purdue qualified for a bowl in 10 of his 12 seasons. His 2000 team, led by quarterback Drew Brees, finished in a three-way tie for first in the Big Ten and reached the Rose Bowl, only the second appearance in Pasadena in program history. Tiller's 87 victories represent a school record, and he's one of only three Boilermakers coaches to finish with a winning career record since the end of World War II.
2. Jack Mollenkopf, 84-39-9 (1956-69)
Mollenkopf's first season in 1956 represented his only losing year at Purdue. He guided the Boilermakers to their only Rose Bowl victory in 1967, as Purdue knocked off USC 14-13. The Boilermakers wouldn't make it back to the Rose Bowl until 2001 under Tiller. Purdue finished second in the Big Ten twice with Mollenkopf at the helm and third on four different occasions during his tenure. And from 1966 to 1969, a Purdue player finished in the top three in the Heisman Trophy voting each season. Mollenkopf was inducted in the College Football Hall of Fame in 1988.
3. Noble Kizer, 42-13-3 (1930-36)
Kizer played football at Notre Dame under legendary coach Knute Rockne from 1922-24 and was a member of the Fighting Irish national championship team in 1924. He found instant success as Purdue's coach, finishing third his first season in 1930 and tying for first in each of the next two years. College football historian Parke H. Davis retroactively named his 1931 team, which finished 9-1, as a co-national champion. He served as Purdue's athletics director from 1931 to 1936 and again from 1938 to 1939. His .750 winning percentage remains the best at Purdue for anyone who coached at least three years.
4. Jim Young, 38-19-1 (1977-81)
Young earned Big Ten coach of the year honors in just his second season at Purdue in 1978, when the Boilermakers finished 9-2-1 and won the Peach Bowl. In fact, Young's teams reached three consecutive bowl games and won each one, including the 1979 Bluebonnet Bowl and the 1980 Liberty Bowl. Young's 1979 team finished 10-2 and set the school record for victories in a season. From 1978-80, Purdue's overall record of 28-7-1 was better than any other Big Ten program. He resigned after the 1981 season for family reasons and then spent one year as an associate athletics director at Purdue before moving on to coach at Army. His career record at Arizona, Purdue and Army was 120-71-2, and he was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1999.
5. James Phelan, 35-22-5 (1922-29)
Phelan's first two teams finished with losing records before he guided the Boilermakers to winning campaigns in five of the next six seasons. Over those years, his teams went 32-12-3. His final team in 1929 finished 8-0 to cap the first undefeated season at the school since 1892. It remains the only outright conference championship in program history. Phelan left Purdue to become head coach at Washington and later coached in the pros. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1973.