Hoeppner anxious to begin next season

It was a lonely Tuesday for Coach Terry Hoeppner yesterday. Normally, that's the day the IU coach holds his first weekly practice, but the Hoosiers season came to an end last Saturday at Purdue. "I guess I would describe it as withdrawal," said Hoeppner. While he and his staff have been busy recruiting, his mind is already focusing on getting back with this team and working towards next year.

It was a bit of a lonely Tuesday for Coach Terry Hoeppner this week. Normally, that's the day the football coach holds his first weekly practice, but after losing to Purdue last week the Hoosiers season came to an end.

"I guess I would describe it as withdrawal," said Hoeppner.

But while Hoeppner misses the camaraderie of his weekly practices, that doesn't mean he isn't still very busy. College football recruiting is a year-round activity these days and of course he is already working towards next football season.

"We are going to get together with the returning team next Monday when they get back and give them a plan for the winter," said Hoeppner. "We start winter ball when they return for the second semester on January 9th. Spring practice starts the Tuesday after spring break on March 20th. The spring game will be tentatively set for April 14th, but that's got to be firmed up first."

Hoeppner says his players weren't having any trouble turning the page and getting ready for next season.

"I met with several players this morning who are finishing up their classes this week," said Hoeppner. "It's good news that they are excited. ‘We can't wait coach, we can't wait'. That's encouraging to me and that will motivate me until we get back with them."

When he meets with his team again Hoeppner will immediately begin work on improving his team's shortcomings in 2006. The coach says his team made major strides this year, but that they still have a long way to go in several areas. When asked which areas concerned him the most his thoughts immediately turned to defense.

"What's the most important statistic?," Hoeppner asked before answering his own question. "Defensive points allowed. That correlates, because if you really think about it, it makes sense. If you don't let them score you are not going to lose the game.

"We gave up too many points on defense, but I think the way we played the last game really gives us something to build on."

Hoeppner was impressed with the aggressiveness and intensity his defense played with at Purdue. His defenses have always been predicated on creating turnovers and on Saturday they forced the Boilermakers into five turnovers. While Hoeppner was happy that his defense created many turnovers this season, he is still setting the bar much higher for his unit.

"What we didn't do, and defenses I have always coached in the past have been very aggressive in terms of scoring points, we didn't score enough points on defense…those kind of points are really significant.," said Hoeppner.

"Lovie Smith with the Bears says our number one goal on defense is to score. I would love to be in a position with our players and with our experience (to do that)."

This off-season Hoeppner will concentrate on improving his defensive unit in those areas, but his focus won't just be on defense. Turnovers were also the main topic of discussion when he talked about his offense.

"What we saw from our offense on Saturday I think we can build on that, too," said Hoeppner. "We got to learn to hang on to the football. I don't think I have ever had a team lose that many fumbles in a game. That's just not acceptable."

Hoeppner was pleased with the strides his special teams unit made this season. Sophomore Marcus Thigpen was an absolute terror on kick returns before an ankle injury brought his sky-high return average back down to Earth. The Hoosiers punt and kick coverage units were also greatly improved.

"Special teams we are improved, but we need to find a punter," said Hoeppner, who loses senior punter Tyson Beattie to graduation. "We were playing a lot of young guys on special teams so that will pay great dividends, because we put a lot of emphasis on it and paid off."

While some units are farther ahead than others, Hoeppner is holding each group accountable for getting much better this off-season. After finishing with another losing record in 2006, Hoeppner knows that plenty of work remains to be done before his team can break their 13-year bowl game drought, something they came very close to doing this year.

"We can't get better at every place," said Hoeppner. "This winter will be really important. We have laid a foundation in a lot of ways in a lot of areas, but there is so much to do that we cannot say OK we just need to put in a good winter. We just got a taste so we ought to be really, really hungry now."

"I Shall Return"

When Hoeppner was asked if he thinks health concerns could get in the way of his return to the IU sidelines next year he emphatically said he fully intends to return. Quoting General Douglass MacArthur Hoeppner said, "I shall return". The coach went on to say that he feels great, and thinks his surgery was honestly a blessing in disguise in many ways.

"In some ways, this has been, personally, a very satisfying year," said Hoeppner. "The support, the opportunities it's given me, the support I've had from so many people. The players, the IU community, the Bloomington community, the state of Indiana, it happens every day. The overwhelming support and enthusiasm from fans.

"Did we accomplish everything that we could have? No. But we've affected a lot of people, we've laid a foundation, and the spirit is great, not only with the team, but within the Hoosier Nation. I will return next year, and for as long as they'll keep me around here. Within reason, I'm not going to try to break Joe Paterno's longevity record for coaching."

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