One by one, Big Ten coaches stood at the dais overlooking a cavernous ballroom and saluted Joe Tiller, offensive innovator.
As the league’s media session kicked off, the coaches made obligatory jokes about Tiller’s impending retirement from Purdue and his fly-fishing fixation, but they spent more time discussing the instant impact he had upon arriving in the league in 1997.
“We didn’t have the indoor facilities, we couldn’t throw the football because we couldn’t practice year-round,” Penn State coach Joe Paterno said. “And then Joe came in and he started to open up offenses and created a lot of problems.”
Tiller’s shotgun spread offense — a pass-heavy system with four- and five-wideouts that earned the nickname “Basketball on Grass” — was a novelty in a league known for crowded backfields and conservative play-calling. Purdue immediately put up huge offensive numbers, breaking records and sending the Big Ten into a panic.