Perspective: The Tiller Years So Far

In 1997 Tiller took over at Purdue and after a hiccup against Toledo, our Boilers beat a ranked UND team. This energized the fan base and led to the first of five eras of Purdue football:

The Golden Age
During this period, Purdue fans believed their Boilers could compete and beat about any team in the nation. The fanbase was energized and Ross-Ade began to become a difficult venue for visiting teams as throwing cups was replaced by the "1-2-3-4 First Down" chant and the students jumping around as they prepared for the kickoff after one of many touchdowns.

Wins over Notre Dame, Penn State, Ohio State, Wisconsin & Michigan (even a couple victories versus top-10 opponents) put fuel on the fire that Purdue was becoming a legitimate power. These teams were regularly ranked in the top-15-20 and played in the Prime Time slot on ESPN & ABC regularly. "Basketball on grass" becomes the nickname for this wide-open offense as Dicken and Brees sling the ball about 90% of the plays to five-wide offensive formations. The team on both sides of the ball is fast, undersized and tenacious.

Two bowl wins during four consecutive appearances (2 Jan.1 bowls) help define this as one of the best four-season spans for Purdue football. A loss to the Rose Bowl capped this period.

The Dark Age
In 2001, an heir to Drew Brees out of California started the season 3-0...but after winning some close games, it seemed that this new guy wasn't a perfect fit for Purdue (fashion major). "Basketball on grass" became all but a memory as multiple young quarterbacks jockeyed for the starting job. Purdue is even a run-first offense during a few games in this period as Joey Harris reaches 1,000 yds. rushing, becoming the first running back to do so under Tiller. This era is marred by Tiller's only loss to IU, two losses to Notre Dame, and Joe Tiller's poor decision-making (benching Montrell Lowe after fumbling one-too-many times & the two-quarterback system).

Fans seemed to accept this period as one of rebuilding and most Purdue fans thought it would be a mere 3-4 seasons before Purdue would return to Pasadena as Big Ten Champ. Purdue recorded no "big" wins and was in the lower-middle of the Big Ten. Back-to-back Sun Bowl appearances kind of say it all. This period ends during the second quarter of Purdue's bowl game versus Washington in 2002 as Orton begins to assert himself as the next member of the cradle.

The Bronze Age
As Orton shook off the cobwebs of a pre-bowl game Joe Tiller party, we began to see that Orton might be the next great Purdue QB, if things continued to progress. Much like Orton's sturdy-but-meek persona, this Purdue team played hard, but simply didn't have the will to be great. This era is marked by Purdue competing with about everybody, but not being able to beat the top-15 teams...and usually losing by less than a touchdown. One cosmetic change that occurred during this period was the metallic beige jerseys with nearly impossible-to-read white numbers & white pants were introduced and later changed back.

2004 looked to be a break out year, instead, we saw (arguably) the Tiller Era peak as Purdue fumbled away the national spotlight and a top-10 ranking versus Wisconsin. While 2003-2004 were sometimes entertaining, they were extremely frustrating and heart-breaking. Significant wins in this era include beating both UND & PSU on the road as well as Ohio State at home...the problem is none of these teams were all that great. Purdue also lost to a MAC school during this period at home.

The Black Age
This is just one season, but it was truly an embarassment, both on and off the field. In 2005, Purdue lost five games in a row, was embarrassed by Notre Dame and missed a bowl game for the only season during Tiller's time at Purdue. Alcohol, drug and even batter-related arrests lit up the police blotter as Purdue players were arrested time and time again. On top of that, a team that was supposed to contend for the Big Ten title (and the national title according to one magazine) let large egos and bad attitudes define it. Tiller chased after Urban Meyer's success by trying to implement the triple-option into the spread. We were told to give it time...the fans did not, nor did Tiller, thankfully. Many fans find this team hard to root for because they not only do not win, but are also simply an unlikeable group. This era ends as Tiller finally decides to permanently bench Kirsch and Painter wins the final games of the regular season.

The Beige Age
This era begins in 2006 with a sense of renewed hope as a young Painter runs a bit of the option and a lot of the spread. No longer are five receivers used, in fact, it's usually a three wide, single-tight end formation. These teams put up good numbers verses bad and OK teams, but simply stall when facing tough defenses. Ross Ade is seldom full and even when it is, the home field advantage is not what it used to be. The song "Shout" is introduced as a way to keep old people and 13 year-old girls involved as the contest gets to the home stretch.

The national media no longer sees Purdue as worthy of regular top-25 rankings as the Boilers simply do not compete with the top of the Big Ten any longer. This era is marred by sound beatings by Penn State and Wisconsin at home and thrashings by Michigan & Ohio State and possibly the ugliest bowl loss during the Tiller era against a team that was not that good. The fan base is splintered as a debate on the elusive "next level" rages. Much of the fanbase asks, "aren't 7 or 8 wins good enough?" While others ponder, "how did we win that many games?" The defense drops to as low as 114th in the nation at one point and seems to be vulnerable to both the run and the the same time, the offense is simply predictable and unimaginative despite the fact that it has more weapons than ever under Tiller. While this chapter is not completed, it seems that with two very similar seasons that next year is important as it can help history's perspective on both Painter, Tiller & Spack.


What was that?