|IU's Lynch looks to focus on football after Hoeppner's death|
|Written by Admin|
|Tuesday, 26 June 2007 13:53|
The new Indiana football coach would rather use his businesslike style and Terry Hoeppner's vision to send the Hoosiers a message: Just play football.
``People who are not involved with the program think the motivation is going to carry you,'' Lynch told The Associated Press on Tuesday, one week after Hoeppner died from complications of a brain tumor. ``But about five minutes into the first game, you'll realize the other team has players, too. We have a good football team and the makings of the team Hep wanted, but we've got to get better.''
Lynch isn't new to the head coaching circuit.
In 14 seasons at Division I-AA Butler, Ball State of the Mid-American Conference and DePauw, a Division III school, Lynch went 81-67-3. He also stepped in for two games last season when Hoeppner had his second brain surgery and again this spring when Hoeppner took his third medical leave.
But this is new territory, even for a coaching veteran of nearly 30 years.
Lynch's promotion came four days before his longtime colleague and friend died, and most coaching manuals do not include how-to chapters about replacing community icons or helping dozens of 18- to 22-year-old students cope with death.
``These are young guys who have had a traumatic event take place in their life,'' Lynch said. ``I'm sure it will take time. It's not something you figure out in a week. We've got professional people around, people who they can rely on for advice.''
He also takes over a program with rising expectations, thanks in part to an uncharacteristically soft schedule this fall. Indiana plays three Mid-American Conference teams and a Division I-AA school while avoiding perennial Big Ten powerhouses Michigan and Ohio State.
Many fans believe the Hoosiers are close to ending the Big Ten's longest current bowl drought, dating to 1993, and at Hoeppner's public memorial service Saturday, his wife, Jane, told players they would go to a bowl game this year.
While Lynch believes Indiana can do it, that will not be his season-long rallying cry.
``We've talked about going to a bowl game for three years, and we do have high expectations,'' Lynch said. ``But as Hep would say, let's not put any limitations on those expectations.''
Clearly, Lynch would prefer to talk football.
Instead, with nearly 1 1/2 months before players report for practice, Lynch and his players are anticipating a litany of repetitive questions.
- How will the team honor Hoeppner?
- How will players respond after the emotional 18-month battle Hoeppner waged?
- How will Lynch handle his first full season as a Big Ten coach?
- And, of course, can the Hoosiers achieve their first winning season since 1994?
``The grind for our kids is going to be answering those questions,'' Lynch said. ``But when you've been doing it for 30 years, like I have, you expect it.''
Lynch has tried to lead by example. But the emotional strain is also evident on Lynch's face and in his words.
Rather than the bubbly personality he exhibited at Ball State, Lynch has been more stoic, repeating catch phrases such as ``the program never stops'' and ``we're all in this together,'' which he hopes players will embrace.
``I've said before there is no way you replace Terry Hoeppner, no way you follow Terry Hoeppner,'' Lynch said. ``His charisma and enthusiasm and positive approach to life is what were so endearing. I'm not trying to replace him in that way. But we have a responsibility to the players and to the program and there's a vision that we've all bought into.''
So what will Lynch say?
Work hard, play smart and make Hoeppner proud by playing 13 games this year.
``A lot of what you tell them is a gut feeling,'' Lynch said. ``If you plan your speeches right now, that's how it will come across. What we need to do is compete every day and get better, that's what Hep would have wanted.''