I never wanted to write this. I still don't (you can ask Cobra). But the near calamity of the situation, Cobra being up my crack about it for two months, and the recent media involvement has forced my hand on posting about the situation regarding Terry Hoeppner and the coaching vacancy at Indiana University.
Let me first begin by catching you up.
Terry Hoeppner is the head football coach at Indiana University. He arrived at IU in 2005 after leading the Miami (Ohio) University Redhawks. Hoeppner, an Indiana native, dominated the MAC until 2005 when he decided to return home and resurrect the ailing IU football program. Hoeppner is an energy coach and a motivator, which was exactly what Indiana needed. He favors a spread offense and bend-don't-break defensive schemes designed to take advantage of turnovers. At the end of his first season at IU, he was diagnosed with brain cancer and had to have a tumor removed. In September of 2006 it was determined that he would have to have additional procedures and sat out two weeks of the regular season. In February of 2007 he made his last public appearance and in March stated that he would be skipping spring practice and the spring football scrimmage set in April.
Before I continue again, let me say this:
Bruce Paine loves Terry Hoeppner like flowers love the sun. Terry Hoeppner is the perfect coach to rebuild Indiana University football. Hep is a Hoosier, which means something not only to the IU faithful but to recruiting the state. He is an energy coach, a high motor coach that radiates enthusiasm and charisma. He leads from the front, both by sparking new traditions and adhering to old ones. He is the first on the field and last off. He is beloved and effective. Even in a state where the sports fans take things so seriously that Caesar's wife must be beyond reproach, Mrs. Hoeppner makes a good impression as well. The following quotes are from IU's athletics site, and pretty accurately reflect how the fanbase in southern Indiana has responded to Hoeppner.
"Hoeppner made an immediate impact in his first year at the helm of the Hoosier program. In addition to leading Indiana to its first 4-1 start since 1994, Hoeppner rejuvenated an IU fan base that enjoyed a 39-percent increase in per-game attendance, a 46-percent increase in overall season ticket sales and a 110-percent increase in student season ticket sales."
"During his head coaching career, Hoeppner has mentored 11 eventual NFL draft picks, including 2004 NFL Rookie of the Year and Super Bowl XL champion quarterback Ben Roethlisberger of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Roethlisberger says that the IU program is in terrific hands. "I can't say enough about Coach Hoeppner. He is an inspiration, a second father to me. I love him to death," he said. "I told him that I will always support him, because he has always supported me. He's a wise man who made a wise decision. Going home (to Indiana) has got to be a good feeling." Roethlisberger says Hoeppner is the consummate player's coach. "Indiana players are getting a great coach and a great mentor," Roethlisberger said. "He's touched so many lives in so many ways. He's going to do great things at IU. The players are going to love him. He's a players' coach."
The Current Pulse
In late February of 2007, Hoeppner attended a luncheon in Indianapolis and delivered a speech. It was the last time he was seen as a public figure. In March he delivered a press release that he would not be attending the spring game because his recovery demanded the time away. As the spring has passed, IU has gotten closer to the September 1st opener against Indiana State, tension has been growing. Within the last few weeks Bloomington's local paper, The Herald-Times, has run several articles on the topic of Hoeppner's return, and the Indianapolis Star published a question and answer session with Indiana University's Athletic Director, Rick Greenspan. The article drew a little national attention and on June 7, The Associated Press put together an article about how IU had an opportunity to cut Hoeppner loose from his contract because of a disability provision that would allow the university to fire Hoeppner if he was unable to perform as a coach. ESPN.COM posted the article and it can be seen here. The Associated Press overstepped itself with its article, the title, "With Hoeppner's health in question, contract status uncertain," indicates that the university is looking for an out. It is not. Hoeppner's contract status is not uncertain. He is IU's head football coach. His HEALTH is uncertain, and he has been exercising his rights in keeping details about his health to himself and his family. Rick Greenspan does not rate high on Bruce Paine's chart for a variety of reasons, but he is inching ever closer to my good side. He refused to speak to the AP on this topic after several of their attempts to gain an interview. He respected Hep's desire for confidentiality. It was a high-class move on his part when the AP was playing Busch League ball. (I guess I won't be working for the AP any time soon.) Greenspan has been forthcoming with the information he feels at liberty to discuss, and has clearly stated that he won't invade Hep's privacy. Classy, classy move. He has admitted that the situation is frustrating, but given the circumstances, he is doing a bang up job "dancin with the one that brung him" and the Painster likes loyalty. He has made it clear that Hep's health is the prime concern and that IU football will soldier on in his absence and in his name. Greenspan likes to be on the playing field. He likes to be close to the players and he likes to take his suit coat off on gameday and make himself feel like he is in the trenches. He also likes to put a dip in while he is down there, which is kind of funny but gross on the whole. He also has a reputation for bullying his way around the athletic department and cutting people loose so he can make room for a little nepotism. These things generally don't get a guy on Paine's good side, but he is standing behind his coach, and that covers a multitude of sins.
Media is quietly camping out IU practices and the training facilities to get pictures of Hep on the off chance he appears. He isn't. The players are being very tight lipped in what Bruce Paine believes is a very good sign of discipline and leadership. Two players were contacted for this article and none were willing to give quotes or have their names listed. I don't mind. One player commented that Hoeppner continues to watch film of the team's practices and scrimmages, and give emails and phone calls to players on a regular basis to break down technique and stay in contact, they even visit or eat meals together occasionally. When Greenspan commented on the Spring Game he used every shift+F7 synonym he found for "good" to describe the way the team looked these last two months. In addition, no recruit has backed out of a commitment to the program. Wide receivers, highly sought after in Hoeppner's spread offense, seem undeterred. Marquelo Suel, a 6'3" standout receiver at Fort Wayne's Harding High School, has not changed his verbal commitment despite the situation. Indiana University, it would appear, is unwilling to turn its back on Terry Hoeppner despite the doubt, concern, and millions of dollars banking on the football squad.
I am under the suspicion that when Terry Hoeppner had a tumor removed in December of 2005 doctors were unable to determine if it had "clear margins". When doctors remove brain tumors they test the surrounding tissue to discover whether or not the tumor has "fingers", if it does, it often leads to the discovery of subsequent tumors. After a short remission, I believe the operation he underwent in 2006 was to discover if shadows appearing on brain scans were scar tissue or more cancer and that it turned out to be the later. Radiation and chemotherapy are devastating to the body's ability to rebuild itself and cytotoxic treatments are always scary. It has been said to me, though not directly by a memebr of the team, that the players are scared for Hoeppner because his appearance is degenerating. That is often the case when one undergoes chemo and radiation and does more to convince me of my assumptions.
Though many seem to think that immediate action is necessary, I don't believe it is. What harm would there be in Terry Hoeppner taking a year off to get healthy? He is committed to recruiting the state, and much of this year's recruiting was done by Assistant Head Coach Bill Lynch. Indiana will not attract a better head coach than Terry Hoeppner, even though it appears to be on the upswing, the school is still a basketball school and football will always be a backseat sport. Bill Lynch seems to be more than aware of the dynamics of the situation, and he possesses head coaching experience from Butler, Ball State and DePauw. He is not as charismatic as Hep, he doesn't have the frontman ability and prefers a more reserved approach, but he is a solid X's and O's guy who has energy and grit. He can hold the fort. If he is unwilling to, that may be problematic, but there has been no indication that that is the case. If Hoeppner is undergoing treatment, it may be six months to a year before he is ready to retake the helm, and it would seem that the fanbase should be ready for that eventuality. If they do not have the patience for it, they should reconsider. I think it would behoove them to support a coach who is dedicated to the community. At 60, his two year extension into 2012 makes it appear as though he would like to retire a Hoosier. If Hep is unable to continue coaching again it would indeed be dire. If his condition is such that a return would be unlikely I think that Hoeppner would be more than willing to step down, since he has not, I believe he fully intends to return.
This represents a fork in the road for Indiana University, its football program, and its fans. If they turn their back on Terry Hoeppner and his family while they are in the midst of a personal crisis, it would be a loss for the community and a sad reminder that money rules college athletics and that IU (not known recently for promoting from within) has completely abandoned the idea of loyalty. If they stick with Hep, then they have something to hang their hats on, something that galvanizes people and makes them want to be a part of his recovery. Stick with Hoeppner. Stand beside him and let him know he has something to fight for.
The Cobra Brigade would like to convey its well wishes to the family of Terry Hoeppner and its encouragement to the coaches and players who carry on in his stead.
You can email Bruce Paine at firstname.lastname@example.org