Funeral services have been scheduled for former Wyoming head football coach Joe Tiller, who passed away Saturday morning Sept. 30 at the age of 74 in Buffalo, Wyo. There will be a viewing at St. John the Baptist Catholic Church in Buffalo, Wyo. on Tuesday, Oct. 10 from 1 to 7 p.m. That will be followed by a rosary and time for guests to share memories of Coach Tiller. A funeral mass will be held on Wednesday, Oct. 11 at 11 a.m., also at St. John the Baptist Catholic Church in Buffalo.
The family requests that in lieu of flowers, donations be made in Joe Tiller’s name to the Cowboy Carousel Center in Buffalo, Wyo., which is a project that Coach Tiller and his wife Arnette have been involved with for many years, and the Fabry Support & Information Group, to help Fabry patients with the cost of treatments. Tax-deductible donations may be made online through Harness Funeral Home in Buffalo, Wyo. or through the Harness Funeral Home, 351 N. Adams, Buffalo, WY 82834.
Tiller became the head coach at Wyoming in December 1990. It would be his first head-coaching position at the collegiate level. He would guide the Wyoming Cowboys through one of their most successful periods in school history from the 1991 through 1996 seasons. In his third season as head coach, Tiller’s Cowboys captured a share of the 1993 Western Athletic Conference (WAC) Championship and appeared in the Copper Bowl.
In 1996, Wyoming finished with a 10-2 record, had the nation’s longest winning streak and won the WAC Pacific Division, earning a spot in the inaugural WAC Championship Game. The Cowboys concluded the ’96 season ranked 22nd in the national polls, and reached a high ranking of No. 15 in the Coaches Poll that season. Tiller’s ’96 Cowboys also led the nation in passing offense and featured the Biletnikoff Award winner in Marcus Harris, who set the NCAA record for career receiving yards.
Tiller was named the WAC Coach of the Year in 1996 and was named the American Football Coaches Association (AFCA) Region Coach of the Year in 1993 and ’96. Tiller would conclude his time as head coach of the Cowboys with a 39-30-1 (.564) record in six seasons.
Prior to becoming Wyoming’s head coach, Tiller had served as the Cowboys’ offensive coordinator and offensive line coach for the 1987 and ‘88 seasons under then head coach Paul Roach. The ‘87 and ‘88 Cowboys won back-to-back WAC titles, went undefeated in conference play both seasons and earned consecutive trips to the Holiday Bowl. The 1987 Cowboys reached a high ranking of No. 21 during the season, while the ‘88 Cowboys were ranked as high as 10th and finished the season ranked 20th.
Tiller spent two years (1989 and ‘90) as the offensive coordinator at Washington State between his times as an assistant coach and head coach at Wyoming.
“We had an opportunity to build a very special football program here at Wyoming,” said former Wyoming head football coach and athletics director Paul Roach, who hired Tiller for his first head-coaching position.
“Working with Joe here in the late 80s and early 90s, I grew to have a great appreciation for his talents as a coach. That combined with his experience at numerous other universities put him in a great position to be a head coach and that is why I asked him to come back to Wyoming and take over our program. He exemplified great character as a person and a coach. Through the years, we developed a great friendship. Joe had a major influence on the young men who played for him and the men who worked with him. He will be missed by many, and we want his family to know just how much he meant to so many people.”
“In addition to being one of the most successful coaches in our history, Coach Tiller was a great friend of the University of Wyoming,” said University of Wyoming Athletics Director Tom Burman. “He was of course a highly successful head coach and assistant coach here at UW, but what made Joe special to me was seeing how much he appreciated his time here, and seeing how generously he gave back to the university. He gave back through the time he was willing to provide us, whenever we asked, and he and Arnette generously gave back to the university financially. He was still touching lives at the University of Wyoming until the day he passed away. Our thoughts and prayers go out to Arnette and their family.”
“Coach Tiller provided me an invaluable resource when I came to Wyoming as the head football coach,” said current Cowboy head coach Craig Bohl. “I always appreciated Joe’s candor, and his willingness to share his insights with me. As a coach, he was one of the most creative offensive minds in college football, and he was at the forefront of innovations in both the vertical and horizontal passing games. At the core, his teams were tough, physical football teams. The game of football has lost one of the great coaches and we’ve lost a great man.”
Tiller left Wyoming following the 1996 season to become the head coach at Purdue University where he coached from 1997 to 2008. He became the winningest coach in Purdue history, amassing an 87-62 (.584) record and a 53-43 record in Big Ten conference games. He led the Boilermakers to 10 bowl games, a Big Ten Championship in 2000 and an appearance in the 2001 Rose Bowl. He was named National Coach of the Year and the Big Ten Coach of the Year in 1997. His Purdue teams were ranked in the Associated Press poll for 80 weeks and reached a high ranking of No. 5 in 2004.
He concluded his head-coaching career with a 126-92-1 (.578) record in 18 seasons -- six at Wyoming and 12 at Purdue.
Coach Tiller was inducted into the Indiana Football Hall of Fame in 2012 and the Purdue Intercollegiate Athletics Hall of Fame in 2013. Joe Tiller Drive, located north of Ross-Ade Stadium on the Purdue campus, was named in his honor in 2015. He was also inducted into the Montana State Athletics Hall of Fame in 1998.
A native of Toledo, Ohio, Tiller graduated from Montana State with a bachelor’s degree in secondary education in 1965. He was an All-America offensive lineman at Montana State in 1963 and played for the West team in the East-West Shrine Game following the 1963 season. He would later serve as head coach of the East team in the East-West Shrine Game in 2015, winning the game 45-27. He became only the fifth individual to play and coach in the game.
He was drafted in the 18th round by the Boston Patriots of the American Football League in 1964, but did not sign. Instead, he played for Calgary in the Canadian Football League in the 1964 season.
Following his time playing in Calgary, he earned his first full-time coaching position in 1965 at his alma mater, Montana State, staying there through the 1970 season. He would continue his coaching career under his college coach, Jim Sweeney, at Washington State from 1971-73.
In 1974, Tiller began a nine-year coaching career at the professional level with the Calgary Stampeders of the CFL from 1974-82. From 1974-76 he was an assistant coach and served as the interim head coach for six games in 1976. He was the assistant general manager from 1977-80 and served as the director of administration and player personnel from 1980-82.
He returned to college coaching, serving his first stint at Purdue from 1983-86, where he was the assistant head coach.
In 1987, he joined Paul Roach’s staff at Wyoming.
Tiller is survived by: his wife Arnette; daughters Renee and Julie; son Michael; daughter-in-law Hilda; grandchildren Paulina, Lily, Gus and Tori; and his two brothers, Charles and Marvin.