Bloomington, Ind. – He may not be the one on the field wearing the pads, but Indiana head coach Terry Hoeppner is the crank that turns the motor of Hoosier Football – and for the first time since he stepped foot in Bloomington he will not be pacing the sidelines come Saturday.
Hoeppner will be undergoing resection surgery Wednesday morning to remove a possible recurrent tumor on his brain, meaning the Hoosiers will be without their head coach and leader for the second time since he took over the Indiana program. Hoeppner also missed some important recruiting time over the winter after undergoing surgery Dec. 27 to remove the original tumor.
"With his attitude and how upbeat he is, it makes it shocking, but it doesn't make it as depressing," said senior wide receiver Lance Bennett. "When we heard the news it was shocking. You could hear a pin drop in the team room.
"Last December we weren't here, everyone was at home, so we didn't know how he was feeling. Now that we're here and we see him he looks fine. He's coaching like he always does. He's running around fine. So I think this time was much more shocking for us."
After beginning the 2005 football season with a 4-1 start, Hoeppner has the Hoosiers back to their winning ways so far in 2006 with a 2-0 mark heading into Saturday's home contest against Division I-AA Southern Illinois. Without Hoeppner to lead the team during the next few weeks of practice and the next few games, the team will turn to interim head coach Bill Lynch, and it will have to find a new source of energy before kickoff.
"(Hoeppner) does carry a lot of energy and he is a great coach," said senior safety Will Meyers. "As captains we're going to have to step up to provide that energy, some of that boost to get everybody going. We had a great practice today. Everyone had a lot of energy, moving around, talking a lot. We're just going to have to do what we think he would want us to do."
Among the traditions that Hoeppner has started since he came to Bloomington is the pregame "Walk to the Rock" where the players follow their coach through the parking lots near the Memorial Stadium and into the locker room. Saturday's game will mark the first time the team will make that walk without Hoeppner leading the ranks.
"It's not just going to be the ‘Walk to the Rock,' it's going to be everything," said Bennett. "Everybody from captains down is going to have to step up. Anytime any person is not present, especially the head person, everyone is going to have to chip in for that missing piece. It's going to take the whole team to do that. We (captains) couldn't carry that load ourselves if we wanted to."
In his short time at Indiana, Hoeppner has been able to foster a feeling of family throughout the football program. On a day where the mood could have been somber and depressing, Hoeppner's football family instead stood by his side to support him.
"My number one concern was for the team, for recruiting, for the program and for everything we've been working so hard for," said Hoeppner. "A Fortune 500 principle is a test of your business if it can operate with or without you and I tested that principle in January and we came through with flying colors.
"I met with the team at 2:30, and the reason I didn't want to say it any earlier, because I wanted the team to know," said Hoeppner. "I didn't want them to read about it or hear about it from someone else. We're a team. When I met with them, to a man they were supportive."
That support for Hoeppner has become common for this football team after seeing their coach lead by example and instill those values into his players.
"It was a tough meeting," said Meyers. "We had no idea what was going to be said so we kind of took it like a first punch. You kind of get hit with it, then you kind of settle down. That's what happened. We realize it's just two weeks, not that big a deal. He's still going to be there. We're still his team and he's still our head coach.
"We're already closer than family and you can see that in how he wanted to tell us first. This is just going to make us even closer, support him more and understand how football isn't the end all and not the most important thing."
Hoeppner is expected to miss between two to four weeks based on his recovery from his first surgery in December. With the first Big Ten matchup of the season coming on September 30 against Wisconsin, Hoeppner hopes two weeks is all it will take.
"I told the team I'm going to hustle back," said Hoeppner. "I'm going to get back as soon as I can."
Players React to Hoeppner's Surgery
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