Indiana coach Hoeppner dies at 59
June 19, 2007
BLOOMINGTON, Ind. (AP) – Terry Hoeppner won nine games as Indiana’s coach, but he will always be remembered as the program’s rock.
The man hired to revive Indiana’s foundering football program in 2004 – and had a 3-ton limestone boulder placed in the north end zone of Memorial Stadium – died of complications of a brain tumor Tuesday morning at Bloomington Hospital with his family at his side. He was 59.
Hoeppner waged his personal battle with the same zeal that made him a popular coach.
“I think if you measure the man strictly by wins and losses, I think you’re underselling a lot of attributes,” athletic director Rick Greenspan said Tuesday. “He has really touched a lot of people, inspired a lot of people, and his memory will live on in these players and other people for a long time.”
In two seasons, Hoeppner reinvigorated the program by embracing fans, students, boosters and, of course, players. He even nicknamed Memorial Stadium “The Rock.” Now his legacy will be passed to Bill Lynch, a longtime friend who was named interim coach on Friday.
Although Hoeppner spent 19 seasons as a coach at Miami, the northeastern Indiana native’s heart was always back home in Indiana.
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When Indiana hired Hoeppner in December 2004, Greenspan put a rose in a crystal bowl and placed it on the podium, symbolic of the school’s expectations for its 26th football coach. Hoeppner welcomed it, referring to John Pont – the only coach to lead Indiana to a Rose Bowl – and recalling the chant “Punt, John, Punt,” which was popular during the Hoosiers’ 1967 Big Ten championship season.
His death hit friends, colleagues and players hard.
“I called my wife, told her, then closed my office door and cried for about 10 minutes,” said Mark Deal, a Varsity Club employee who has known Hoeppner since 1980. “We’ve had people here for 20 or 30 years, and Terry Hoeppner did more here in two years than most people do in a lifetime.”
Hoeppner’s spirit and motto – “Don’t Quit” – were evident amid the sorrow.
His wife, Jane, asked university officials to proceed with plans for a groundbreaking that was already scheduled. Hoeppner, two of her children, Hoeppner’s mother and sister all attended the ceremony to kick off a $55 million project Hoeppner had lobbied hard for.
Players said they were unaware of the severity of Hoeppner’s illness until team meetings Tuesday.
“No one knew,” fullback Josiah Sears said. “I don’t think the coaches knew till this weekend. They broke the news to us, at 6:30 this morning, that it was a grave situation and that it would be a tough fight. At 7:30 they told us he had passed on.”
Hoeppner had taken three medical leaves since doctors removed a tumor from his right temple in December 2005. But he rarely slowed down.
A little more than a month after the first surgery, he presided over the Hoosiers’ signing day news conference. By March 2006, he was going full bore at spring practice.
In mid-September, a CT scan revealed another brain growth. Hoeppner left the team for another operation, but sneaked into Indiana’s coaching box three days after surgery to watch his team play Southern Illinois. He missed just two games.
“The courage he showed through this whole thing was remarkable, just remarkable,” said receivers coach Billy Lynch, son of the interim coach.
Hoeppner continued making public appearances until late February. On March 18, he announced he was skipping spring practice. He was hospitalized again last week.
Around the Big Ten, conference officials and colleagues offered condolences.
Most notable was Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald, who took over when Randy Walker, Hoeppner’s predecessor at Miami, died suddenly last summer of an apparent heart attack.
“We all remember the moving reflection he (Hoeppner) gave at coach Walker’s memorial service just less than a year ago,” Fitzgerald said. “Like coach Walk, he was one of the great role models in our coaching profession. This is a truly sad day for college football.”
Hoeppner grew up a Hoosiers fan, attended college at Franklin, near Indianapolis, and coached on the prep level in his home state.
The exuberant coach drew comparisons to Bill Mallory, who won more games than any other Hoosiers coach. Hoeppner also added a game-day ritual called “The Walk,” in which fans and players parade through a parking lot of tailgaters to the stadium.
Winning was more difficult.
In eight seasons as a head coach, six at Miami, Hoeppner was 57-39, and he took the RedHawks to consecutive bowl games in 2003 and 2004. But he went 9-14 in two seasons at Indiana and could not end the Big Ten’s longest bowl drought.
But it was always about more than football for Hoeppner. His grandchildren occasionally attended practice, and his wife was a frequent visitor at weekly news conferences.
Hoeppner often discussed the close friendship he had with Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, whom he coached at Miami.
“He has been a second father, a teacher and a friend,” Roethlisberger said in a statement Tuesday. “He believed in me and I owe everything to him for where I am in life.”
Besides his wife, Hoeppner is survived by three children – Amy, Allison and Drew – and four grandchildren – Tucker, Spencer, Tate and Quinn. Funeral arrangements have not yet been announced.
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