Nebraska athletic director Bill Moos tells you with a measure of pride that he possesses one of only five life-size cutouts of the late Joe Tiller.

You don't believe him? Well, Tiller stands right there in Moos' personal restroom just off his North Stadium office.

"Every morning I go to hang my coat up, I open the door and see Joe -- and my upper lip starts to sweat," says Moos, recalling some particularly challenging days of playing offensive line at Washington State in 1972, when Tiller was his position coach.

"Every time I think I've got it tough, I open that door and go, 'Whoa, this is a piece of cake compared to what I'm remembering," Moos says.

He remembers a different time in college athletics. It was a time when student-athlete welfare was more of a concept than a practice. It was a time when coaches weren't written up for staring down a (soft) player. Coaches could, you know, coach.

"If student-athlete welfare came up in those days, people would kind of scratch their head and say, 'What the hell is that?'" Moos says.

He remembers when college teams had as many as 20 hard-hitting, full-pad spring practices that were essentially designed to thin the roster. This was during an era of freshman teams and no scholarship limits. His freshman class at Washington State began with 56 players, but was whittled to eight by the time he graduated.

He remembers Tiller firing a football at the helmet of a reserve lineman who made the mistake of undoing his chinstrap during a practice. The lineman's helmet popped right off. Moos quickly made sure his chinstrap was on tight. 

That sort of image runs through Moos' mind nowadays as he encounters the big cutout of Tiller. Keep your chinstrap on tight.

Tiller, who died in late September of 2017 at age 74, obviously had a profound impact on Moos. The passion in Moos' booming voice is unmistakable as he discusses those days. In fact, Moos uses Tiller to help illustrate how much of an impact a coach can have on a team and its individual players, a sentiment that seems germane to the current Nebraska football discussion.

After all, the Huskers are a darling of national pundits, projected by many to finish in the national top 25 this season after going 4-8 in each of the last two seasons. Pundits evidently believe NU second-year head coach Scott Frost's impact on the program will be quick and enormous.

Moos doesn't make any bold predictions regarding Nebraska in 2019. In fact, he has said he would regard six regular-season wins as a genuine step forward for the program. But, make no mistake, he marvels at the work of Frost.

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"I believe every young person today craves discipline; they just don't always know it," Moos says. "When they get into a structure like Scott Frost has here, they know it and embrace it. The group he inherited (from Mike Riley) did not have discipline. They were not in shape. They didn't have the stature. Now this roster looks like Scott Frost because the players know what's expected of them.

"Scott represents that. Not only that, he has the credentials. He did it! I'm liking what I see."

In some ways, it reminds Moos of his days at Washington State. It also reminds him of what Tiller later did as Purdue's head coach (1997-2008). Before Tiller's arrival, Purdue had played in a total of five bowl games. The program was largely a national afterthought. But Tiller introduced the spread offense to the school, a pretty radical change from the smash-mouth Big Ten style. In the basketball-crazed state of Indiana, his system was dubbed affectionately "basketball on grass."

The result was 10 bowl games (including the 2001 Rose Bowl), an average of more than seven wins per season and a Big Ten championship in 2000.

"You could say, 'Well, it was Drew Brees that got Purdue to the Rose Bowl,'" Moos says. "That's wrong. It was Joe Tiller. Without Joe Tiller, there wouldn't have been a Drew Brees."

Without Frost at Nebraska, there would be no Adrian Martinez in Lincoln. Just sayin'.

Without Tiller at Washington State, Moos says, he wouldn't have become an all-conference player. He remembers a few of Tiller's pep talks word-for-word.

"He pulled everything out of us that we had -- everything," Moos says.

That's coaching. The great ones help athletes dig down and find more than they think they have left in the tank.

As Tiller suffered in the weeks before his death, Moos called him and told him all he meant to him. Moos was all set to attend the funeral in Buffalo, Wyoming, before a situation cropped up. The funeral was on the day he interviewed for his current position. He felt Tiller would want him in that interview -- would want him to win that interview.

Flash back to Oct. 28, 2017, the day of Moos' first game as Nebraska athletic director. Yes, it was at Purdue. He walked into the visiting A.D.'s suite and encountered a portrait of Tiller and Brees. He couldn't believe his eyes.

"I just thought to myself, 'The good Lord is shining on Bill Moos,'" he says. "I'll never forget the lessons I learned from this great man."

Reach the writer at 402-473-7440 or ssipple@journalstar.com. On Twitter @HuskerExtraSip.


Husker columnist

Steven, a lifelong Nebraskan, newspaper enthusiast and UNL grad, joined the Journal Star in 1990 and has covered NU football since 1995.

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