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Gold and Black Illustrated, Vol 27, Digital 6

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Page 59 of 117

GOLD AND BLACK ILLUSTRATED VOLUME 27, ISSUE 6 60 I t's not quite time for their mid-life crises. But the members of the Boilermakers' amaz- ing 1997 team, the ones who posted one of the greatest single-season turnarounds in Big Ten football history, are now turning 40, give or take. By now, many have figured a few things out in their professional and personal lives, at least the ones we have spoken to appear to have. But what are the life lessons taken from a team that put an end to 13 consecutive losing seasons and enjoyed a 9-3 record that just might have the most enjoyable Boil- ermaker season ever? Well, from the lens of looking at it 20 years later, here is what came to the forefront: Lesson No. 1: Get Culture Right When Coach Joe Tiller took the job at Purdue in No- vember 1996, there was a sense the program just needed a jump start, an ability to get over the hump. Jim Colletto, Tiller's predecessor, had improved things and there was talent left for Tiller, but Purdue was accustomed to losing to the point that it almost ex- pected it. And in six seasons, Colletto couldn't change that mindset. "When you come in as a new coach, you want to re- build and do your own thing," said Billy Dicken, a senior quarterback on the 1997 team who now is a co-offensive coordinator for Brock Spack at Illinois State. "In my view, the biggest thing for us was how Coach Tiller did not bail on the seniors. He leaned on the se- niors to help the turnaround — he showed he believed in us — when he didn't have to do that. It might have made more sense for him to move on without us." Tiller and his staff started to change many other things early on. Seventeen players left the program after a new, more rigorous training program was installed, including the infamous 6 a.m. workouts in February. From a personnel standpoint, Tiller's most provocative move was suspending Chike Okeafor, something that still riles Okeafor to this day. "We may not have liked what happened to Chike, but we knew these guys meant business," said Rosevelt Colvin, who was named team captain as a junior heading into the 1997 season. "They weren't messing around." Said Spack, Tiller's defensive coordinator who had served on Colletto's staff three years earlier: "It was a tough go during the first winter conditioning program for many of our players. It was a culture shock. They didn't know what the workload was going to be like. "You couldn't do it today — because college foot- ball has gotten soft — but back then you could and those guys who hung in there were the backbone of what we were able to get done." Lesson 2: Stay Calm Under Pressure It may have been Tiller's age, (54 when he was hired by athletic director Morgan Burke), or it may have been his experience. It may have just been his personality. Whatever it was, the new Boilermaker boss never showed panic, never seemed to flinch in crisis, something the previous staff did too often. The story has been told many times about the '97 sea- Tom Campbell Defensive coordinator Brock Spack credits Rosevelt Colvin's buy-in to the new coaching staff as the key to the culture change in the locker room in 1997.

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