Coach Tiller Love Fest, Pt. 3 (J's Perspective)

A lot of what I could say about Coach Tiller was said by my co-editors earlier this week. This is a guy who we'll always appreciate -- and probably more and more over time -- but who we also took some issue with in his recent seasons.

Among the BS staff, I was the last domino to fall in terms of complete and utter support for Joe. As many have mentioned, he brought us a measure of success at a time when success -- any success -- was like an ice-cold glass of water in the middle of the desert. And he didn't just bring some success, like 12/26 bowl games in Detroit -- right away we began winning 8 and 9 games and hitting primo locations in Texas, Florida and, ultimately, California.

The problem is, like many athletes, coaches, etc., Joe peaked too soon. Had he started his career winning 6-7 games against a mediocre schedule and going to mediocre bowls and then culminated with the Rose Bowl or other Jan 1 bowls, he'd be so beloved they'd replace the Boilermaker staue with one of Joe fly-fishing.

But that's not how it happened. Joe is one of those "victim of his own success" guys. Once he got us thinking we were actually good, we wanted to get that feeling over and over, like a junkie getting high off the feeling of beating good teams and being talked about on College GameDay in a way other that derision.

Joe was our dealer and the crank was GOOOOOOD. Only problem was, after a while, Joe's supplier must have run out... or he was just too old to go risking his hide to get us the good stuff. So instead we got a knock-off, lower-quality version of the Joe Tiller Drug. We'd do what Minnesota is doing this year -- we'd knock off patsies and build up our record, then coast home and hope for 6-7 wins to make a bowl game, keep the old alums happy and keep the athletic department happy. It must be nice knowing that doing your job moderately well (sometimes not even that) is enough to keep your seven-figure salary rolling in without question.

And what I said earlier this week about the parallels between now and when Joe arrived are scary, at least to me. Back then, both Purdue and IU were football jokes and we wound up 3-8 on the season. Recruiting was a problem, nobody took Purdue football seriously anymore and the cupboard was kind of bare. But couldn't that sentence also refer to 2008? That's what bothers me. It's not that Joe is wrapping up with a poor season -- that happens. It's that it feels like this poor season is the result of a steady decline and one that's not easy to fix. Remember, every lackluster performance or weak effort might have a potential recruit watching -- and when you're already behind the 8-ball because your school isn't synonymous with Jan 1 bowls and the like, it's not good to take on more water. (Jeez, could I use any more metaphors in this post?)

When did it really end for Tiller? Well, as I (and others) have said before... he had all his eggs in Kyle Orton's 2004 basket. That was the culmination to me. We had steadily improved as a program through the Rose Bowl appearance. Brees left and, like any program, we had to take a small step back in order to get better. And get better we did. 2003 was a season of promise marred by tons of tight losses. But it wasn't like this year -- in '03 you could see the potential was really there and ready to break through. And Orton was coming back.

Then we began 5-0 and GameDay came to town. We were #5 in the nation. People were talking about Purdue. And they had a Wisconsin team ranked somewhere around 11 in our house. And you know the rest. Leading by ten with about 7 minutes to go, it all went horribly wrong. As Boilerdowd pointed out to me, people had been on Orton to make things happen and not be as conservative and so he tried to. Problem was, he tried to the side where there was nobody to stop the Wisconsin defense from returning a fumble all the way to the house.

We've talked about it before -- as have others -- but that fumble truly broke Tiller's spirit. I think he felt that was his best chance. We hadn't had any early-season stumbles like in other years (no Bowling Greens had tripped us up) and we looked good. A cohesive team, with a real defense. And even though I'm comfortable saying they wouldn't have beaten both Michigan and OSU that year, I don't think it's unreasonable to say the Boilers could have easily gone 10-2 that season had they beaten Wisconsin. Tiller knew that. And he was sunk. He hasn't been the same since.

In the end, I believe Joe Tiller was exactly right for our program at the time. As Tim said so well, he made us believe that winning was possible and that we didn't have to perpetually suck. For that, we'll always be thankful. He didn't accomplish everything he set out to do, but we did get to a BCS bowl game (and the ole "ten bowls in twelve years") and he's 9-2 against IU and almost .500 against Notre Dame. Not the worst credentials ever.

It's just that when you know (as we do) that so much more was actually possible... that's when you find yourself being a little wistful for what could have been.

Coach Tiller Reflection Fest (Big Ten Bloggers' Perspective)

Coach Tiller Love Fest, Pt. 2 (Tim's Perspective)

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