|IU celebrates Hoeppner's efforts hours after his death|
|Written by Admin|
|Tuesday, 19 June 2007 21:43|
Terry Hoeppner, the Hoosiers' football coach the past two seasons, died Tuesday morning from complications of a brain tumor with his family at his side. He was 59.
By midafternoon Hoeppner's wife, mother, sister and two of his children were sitting inside a tent outside the football stadium, kicking off Hoeppner's pet project - a $55 million upgrade to the school's athletic facilities.
``Earlier today Terry passed away, and when I asked Jane, Allison and Drew (Hoeppner's children) if we should cancel this, they said 'Absolutely not, this was his dream, this was his dream job and this is what he would want to see happen,''' Rick Greenspan, Indiana's athletic director, said as his voice cracked.
What was supposed to be a grand day for Indiana athletics, quickly turned into a surreal, emotional memorial service.
Before the Hoeppner contingent arrived clad in Indiana's crimson and cream, a band played the fight song while athletes and boosters mingled. Refreshments were served afterward, and when Greenspan gave his ceremonial shovel for the groundbreaking to Jane Hoeppner, she pumped her fists in the air.
Throughout the ceremony, however, there were tears in the crowd and at the podium.
One person after another fought hard to avoid choking up, and Greenspan's voice cracked several times, once needing a cup of water once to contain his emotions.
Fullback Josiah Sears also struggled to find the right words even as he read from prepared text.
``That poem that President (Adam) Herbert read, he (Hoeppner) knew that poem like the back of his hand,'' Sears said. ``I'll always remember that poem, 'Don't Quit.' But after President Herbert read it, I didn't know what I was going to say.''
Hoeppner's death hit everyone in the Indiana football community hard.
Players were stunned by the news since many were unaware how serious Hoeppner's illness was until the first of two early morning team meetings Tuesday. Three players said they had no idea he was so ill, and even after being told he had died, some were still in disbelief.
``I was in denial, at first, I refused to believe that he wasn't coming back,'' defensive back Tracy Porter said.
Hoeppner's friends and colleagues at Indiana and around the Big Ten offered condolences to the family and reflected on some of the joyous moments they spent with the man who almost single-handedly reinvigorated a program that hasn't had a winning season since 1994.
Indiana basketball coach Kelvin Sampson talked about the symbolism of Tuesday's morning rain in Bloomington, comparing it to Hoeppner's eternally sunny personality. But the sun was shining brightly during the ceremony.
Joe Tiller, the football coach at rival Purdue, called Hoeppner a fierce competitor, and Ohio State coach Jim Tressel said he was a difference maker who will be missed throughout college football.
Ben Roethlisberger, who played for Hoeppner at Miami (Ohio) before joining the Pittsburgh Steelers, called Hoeppner a second father.
``I will miss him more than words can describe,'' Roethlisberger said in a statement.
School officials, coaches and players repeatedly reflected on Hoeppner's greatest trait - perseverance - and many repeated some of the lines they routinely heard from the coach.
``So stick to the fight when you're hardest hit, it's when things seem worst that you must not quit!'' Herbert said, reading from the end of the poem.
What struck Sears, who took two deep breaths before speaking to the crowd, was the speech Hoeppner's wife gave during last week's team meeting when players were told Bill Lynch would replace Hoeppner on an interim basis in 2007.
She did not speak to the team Tuesday but hugged some of the players, including Porter, outside the tent.
``She said, 'He's not quitting, he's fighting, he's getting better,''' Sears said.
Hoeppner's condition deteriorated quickly Tuesday.
At a 6:30 a.m. meeting, players were told the situation was ``grave.'' An hour later, they reconvened for another meeting and learned Hoeppner had died.
``I told Jane that he never quit, he just ran out of timeouts,'' Greenspan said, a light moment on an otherwise somber day.
Hoeppner's ability to embrace fans, students, coaches and, of course, his players made him beloved in Bloomington and throughout the state.
Although he was only 9-14 in two years with Indiana and never got the Hoosiers to a bowl game, his enthusiastic, energetic style provided the kind of excitement that had been lacking before his hire in December 2004.
He created ``The Walk,'' a pregame ritual in which players strolled with fans through a parking lot of tailgaters on their way to the stadium. And he had a three-ton limestone rock moved to the back of the north end zone. That's how he nicknamed the stadium, ``The Rock.''
Some were skeptical initially.
``At first, I thought, 'What's he doing, the stadium already has a name,''' Porter said. ``But it's a pretty solid symbol of what he brought to the program.''
In eight seasons as a head coach, six at Miami, Hoeppner was 57-39, and he took the RedHawks to consecutive bowl games in 2003 and 2004.
Besides his wife, Hoeppner is survived by three children - Amy, Allison and Drew - and four grandchildren - Tucker, Spencer, Tate and Quinn. Funeral arrangements were not immediately announced.