Remembering Coach Hep
Hoeppner left lasting impression on college football
Posted: Tuesday June 19, 2007 12:50PM; Updated: Tuesday June 19, 2007 3:17PM
For the second time in less than a year, the college coaching fraternity is mourning the loss of one of its own. For the second time in less than a year, a Big Ten program finds itself grieving the death of its leader. For the second time in less than a year, the folks at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, are lamenting a tragedy involving one of the most revered figures in their history.
Indiana coach Terry Hoeppner passed away Tuesday at the age of 59 following an 18-month battle with a brain tumor. The seriousness of his condition became known last week when the school announced Hoeppner had returned to the hospital and that offensive coordinator Bill Lynch would coach the Hoosiers this season, but few outside of Hoeppner's immediate family could have had any inclination that the end was so near.
As rare and sad as it is to see the death of an active head coach, Hoeppner's passing came just 51 weeks after Northwestern coach Randy Walker died at 52 of a sudden, fatal heart attack. The cruel irony is that these weren't just two unrelated coaches; they were the closest of friends, Hoeppner having served as Walker's defensive coordinator at Miami and succeeding him as head coach there in 1999. Both were known as friendly, passionate, charismatic men who left an impression on peers, players and anyone with whom they came into contact.
"It's just very sad," said Pat Fitzgerald, the former Walker protégé who took over as Northwestern's head coach last year following Walker's passing. "They were woven from the same wool, so to speak. Tremendous teachers, tremendous integrity, great passion for football. As far as football goes, the lives Coach Hep touched, it's very similar to everything people said last year about Coach Walk."
Last week, after writing an item about Hoeppner's health status, I received this unsolicited e-mail from one of the lives he touched, a reader named Rob in Milwaukee:
I read with sadness the news regarding Coach Hep. Two memories stick in my mind about the decency of the man. Two years ago, my daughter Annie Rose and I went to the Big Ten Kickoff Luncheon. As Annie and I were visiting each school's booth, I noticed that while a large crowd of people were gathered at the OSU, Michigan, and Penn State tables, nobody was visiting with Coach Hep and his two players. I said, "Come on, Annie, let's go over here and meet these guys." Coach Hep couldn't have been nicer to my young daughter. He made her feel like a million bucks, and for that I will always remember the guy. The next year, Coach Hep gave a very moving tribute to his good friend Randy Walker, which was right from the heart, and didn't leave a dry eye in the house.
Similar sentiments began pouring in throughout the sport Tuesday.
"Terry Hoeppner was the embodiment of the very best qualities that are admirable in a coach," said Michigan's Lloyd Carr. "He was a man of integrity and passion; he loved his players and he loved the game. He represented the highest ideals of intercollegiate athletics. His legacy will endure but his presence will be greatly missed."
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