Bloomington, Ind. – While IU Coach Terry Hoeppner was recuperating in Bloomington Hospital following brain surgery Wednesday, the IU Hoosiers were back on the practice field preparing for Saturday's contest with Southern Illinois.
That task was made a little bit easier thanks to the directive Hoeppner gave the coaching staff and the team yesterday when he told them he'd be taking a leave of absence.
"It would be a challenge (to stay focused) if he hadn't told us we couldn't waver," IU quarterbacks coach Matt Canada said after practice Wednesday. "He was very clear when he left our staff room and very clear when he left the press conference and very clear when he met with the team - it wasn't going to be a distraction and it wasn't going to be an excuse."
Wednesday's practice suggested Hoeppner's message resonated with the team and the staff. With interim head coach Bill Lynch in charge, the Hoosiers were not only sharp for the most part, but as boisterous and full of energy as they've been this fall.
That stood in stark contrast to Tuesday, when the mood was much more sullen following Hoeppner's announcement.
"It was shocking," said freshman Ray Fisher. "It was my birthday yesterday, and to get news like that on your birthday, everyone was down. It was a sad meeting, but he told us he's going to be okay. So we'll go out and focus on football and do what we have to do Saturday."
This week's practice has also marked the return of quarterback Blake Powers, who missed the Ball State game with an unspecified leg injury. Powers is not only battling redshirt freshman Kellen Lewis for the right to start this weekend, but also the inclination to let his thoughts turn from practice to Hoeppner.
"You just have to try to focus on football," Powers said. "That's what Coach Hep wanted us to do. He wanted us to come out here and practice hard. The last thing he wanted us to do was lose focus. So we tried to stay focused on football and be ready for the game Saturday."
On Saturday the Hoosiers will square off with Southern Illinois, a I-AA team that will have had 16 days to prepare for the Hoosiers. That game will mark a return to the sidelines for Lynch, who has spent his time in the coaches box since returning to the IU staff as Hoeppner's assistant head coach/offensive coordinator. But with Hoeppner sidelined, Lynch will be taking on a new role.
While Lynch has assumed the reins of the program for the time being, he said that Wednesday was business as usual at practice.
"I didn't do anything different than I do any other practice," Lynch said. "We have a great staff. Coach Hep, when we met with him yesterday before he met with the team, we are going to do things the same as usual. We did our normal Wednesday practice, other than we came in here (Memorial Stadium) because the practice fields were wet.
"Other than that, we ran, we had the same meeting times, the same special teams, the same number of offensive plays. So we did everything as usual. We didn't do anything different that way and we won't."
Part of that "business as usual" approach is getting the point across that everyone has a role in making sure the team doesn't lose focus on the 2006 season with Hoeppner sidelined. That was a message that Lynch delivered at practice Wednesday, putting the onus on everyone to do their part.
"That's something that we emphasized with the guys - we all have to do our job," Lynch said. "If everyone does their job, the program will move on."
Players, Staff Focused on "Doing Their Job"
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