Bloomington, Ind. – It's a sad day for the IU football program.
This afternoon, IU Athletics Director Rick Greenspan announced that Bill Lynch will take over for Terry Hoeppner as the Hoosiers' football coach during the 2007 season. Hoeppner will remain on medical leave as he continues to deal with health issues that began in December of 2005 when he underwent surgery to remove a brain tumor.
Lynch, meanwhile, sheds his title as Assistant Head Coach and takes over a program that has been shrouded in uncertainty for the better part of 18 months.
It's undoubtedly a decision that Greenspan came to begrudgingly and with a heavy heart.
Since being diagnosed with the brain tumor Dec. 24, 2005, and undergoing surgery three days later, Hoeppner has dealt with a series of setbacks. A second brain surgery last Sept. 13 forced him to take his first leave from the program, as Lynch assumed the program's reigns for the first time. But Hoeppner was back sooner than expected, missing just two games before returning to the sidelines for the Hoosiers' Sept. 30 contest against Wisconsin.
Hoeppner coached the Hoosiers for the remainder of the 2006 season, but was forced to take a second leave this spring before the start of spring practice. He's been away from the program ever since, creating a great deal of concern about his condition and his ability to return.
After today's announcement, those fears were obviously justified.
"We had hoped this most recent medical leave of absence would follow a similar pattern (to his first leave of absence) and he would return invigorated, rested and healthy," Greenspan said. "Unfortunately, Terry has been out for a longer period than we had hoped, and we need to move forward and make appropriate leadership decisions with the start of our fall camp just weeks away.
"Our collective care and concern as a University for Terry and his family has never been stronger."
Greenspan said he's had ongoing conversations with Hoeppner's family since he's been on leave, and that Hoeppner has been back in the hospital for the last several days. Greenspan said Hoeppner is expected to be released from the hospital today to return home.
But with the season rapidly approaching, a decision needed to be made, according to Greenspan.
"We needed clarity as we're approaching Aug. 4 and the beginning of fall camp," Greenspan said. "Terry's continuation on medical leave gives Bill a chance to run the program during Terry's absence, but gives Terry all the inspiration to not quit."
Greenspan and Lynch alerted the IU football team to the change during a team meeting Friday morning. Also present at the meeting was Hoeppner's wife, Jane, who addressed the team as well.
"She was great – she was strong," Lynch said. "She gave a really appropriate message about life, and the challenges that go with every day. Don't take anything for granted, and give it your all every day. She's a lot like Terry. I thought it was very appropriate, certainly from the heart."
Greenspan said he will revisit the coaching situation at the conclusion of the 2007 season. IU could, hypothetically, reinstate Hoeppner as head coach if his condition improves. But on the surface, the odds of Hoeppner's return appear remote.
And that's what makes this one of the saddest days in the history of a program that has suffered through many a dark day on the field. When Greenspan introduced Hoeppner as the Hoosiers' new head coach in January of 2005, it appeared IU had the perfect man for one of the toughest jobs in college football. A Franklin, Ind., native, Hoeppner grew up as an IU fan and had the sort of passion and charisma that lit a fire within a program that hadn't been to a bowl game since 1993.
Hoeppner talked about filling Memorial Stadium, going the Rose Bowl, and about getting the best in-state players to come to Bloomington. And in his first two years on the job he took steps – some big, others small – in that direction. IU's attendance has been on the rise in each of the past two seasons, and the Hoosiers' came within one win of earning their first postseason bowl berth in 13 years last fall.
"The thing Terry did for this program, this university, is give the kids in the program and the fans around the state the belief that Indiana football could win," Lynch said. "Our kids have bought into that and believe that."
Now, with 14 starters returning from last year's 5-7 squad – including standout quarterback Kellen Lewis and wide receiver James Hardy - the responsibility falls to Lynch to guide the Hoosiers in the pursuit of Hoeppner's goals.
It's a responsibility that Lynch has accepted, and one he and the team hope to see through.
"The one mission we have is to carry on the vision Terry brought," Lynch said. "Not only in Indiana football, but in Indiana University and in how he sees the kids in our program developing, graduating, and as he often says, you're going to be a champion on the field, in the classroom and in life. That's what Terry's always been about."
DECKER: A Sad Day for Indiana Football
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