When you think of greatness, Indiana University football shouldn’t be at the front of your mind. But for the past two seasons, that program has been led by a man whose sole pursuit was to bring it to that level, and to put a product and players on the field the Hoosier Nation could be proud of. He was a man who was completely unlike any other. Universally loved and respected, he made us all believe in IU football again. Tragically, Terry Hoeppner died this morning at 6:50 a.m., from complications resulting from a brain tumor he had removed 18 months ago. He was 59-years-old.
When he arrived in Bloomington, all I knew about him was that he was a native Hoosier, he had been the head coach at Miami of Ohio and had turned Ben Roethlisberger into an elite quarterback. Roethlisberger loved his former coach so much that he made sure Hoeppner was in attendance when he led the Steelers to their Super Bowl XL title.
What I quickly learned about Coach Hep was how great he was. I had the pleasure of meeting him about a half dozen times and I don’t think I’ve ever talked to a nicer, happier, more fun-loving guy. Seriously, you wondered if the guy ate too many Happy Meals as a kid or something. He was always smiling, made himself available to every interview request, every charity event and every opportunity to pump up the Hoosier football program. His record at IU was 9-14, but the turn around he led with the program has been amazing. PostmanE over at We Are The Postmen details how today IU will break ground on an expansion of athletic facilities, largely gained through Coach Hep’s efforts.
From genius marketing campaigns, to bringing the fans and players closer together, to being boundlessly energetic and optimistic, Coach Hep did whatever he could to make people believe in his team and his program. And it worked. His “Coach Hep Wants You” posters (playing off of the classic Uncle Sam pose) plastered all over the state were both funny and convincing, and the “Defend The Rock” campaign was fantastic. I don’t know anyone who has ever had a negative thought about the man. We all loved him. We still all love him. After the team’s upset victory over Iowa this year, Hep was on the verge of tears talking about how much he loved the players and fans, as those players and fans mobbed each other around him. That was Coach Hep right there. So passionate, so dedicated, so happy.
When word came that he had a brain tumor in December 2005, I was on winter break and couldn’t believe it. When we all found out the surgery had been a success and he was declared healthy, the entire campus breathed a sigh of relief. Since September he had left the team several times to deal with “complications” from the surgery and treatment of that tumor. Just last week it was declared that he would miss the entire 2007 season while he recovered. And no one questioned it, we just wanted him to get better. When I woke up today, my heart sank.
To those of you who never got to meet him, I am truly sorry. Just trust me that this is a sad day for college football and the world in general. Above all we have lost a great human being and any time that happens we should all take pause to remember them. So, rest in peace Coach Hep. Thank you for making us believe again. Thank you for giving all you had to the university, students and program you loved. We will miss you, we will remember you and we will certainly never forget you.
Our thoughts and prayers are with his wife Jane, and his three children.