Indiana players inspired by coach Hoeppner's fight

Updated: September 13, 2006, 8:49 PM ET
Associated Press

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Interim coach Bill Lynch told his Indiana players Wednesday afternoon that head coach Terry Hoeppner was resting after undergoing about two hours of brain surgery.

The Hoosiers honored Hoeppner with a spirited practice as they prepare to face Southern Illinois at home Saturday.

"We tried to focus on football, that's what coach Hep wanted us to do," quarterback Blake Powers said. "As a team we had to come together."

Hoeppner was expected to miss two to four weeks after having surgery to remove a possible tumor from the right side of his brain Wednesday morning. Doctors were uncertain what caused the growth that was found during a routine MRI exam Friday.

It was the second time in less than nine months that Hoeppner had the procedure. In December, he had surgery to remove a tumor from his right temple.

About 15 minutes before the team's meeting, Lynch got the news Indiana's coaches and players were waiting for.

"Coach Hoeppner came through this morning's surgery well and is resting comfortably with his family at his side," IU athletic director Rick Greenspan said at the Hoosiers' practice Wednesday. "We are eager to assist the Hoeppners in any way we can and look forward to having Terry back on the Indiana sidelines."

Before and after Tuesday's practice, Hoeppner had urged his players not to get distracted by the surgery, which he had termed elective and outpatient.

Some said that wouldn't be easy.

"I'm not going to put it in the back of my mind. I'm going to use it to get excited, to play for coach Hep," defensive end Kenny Kendal said. "We're going to keep it up and use it to get excited because he's going to be watching, he's going to want us to win."

On Wednesday they responded with what Lynch described as a spirited effort.

Those outside the program also kept Hoeppner in their thoughts.

Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who played for Hoeppner at Miami of Ohio and is a close friend, said the two had talked before Wednesday's surgery.

"He's like a father to me. I love him to death," Roethlisberger said. "I know he'll be OK because he's a fighter and a competitor. The way he made it out to me, it's not as serious as everyone's making it out to be. He'll be OK. He's a fighter."

If Hoeppner had his way, he might do more than watch.

When asked whether he would coach from his bed, Hoeppner smiled and responded, jokingly, that he would keep reporters apprised of the situation.

Lynch didn't brush it off so quickly.

"One of the things we talked about was there would be a guy watching tape Saturday or Sunday, whenever he gets it, and he'll be grading them," Lynch said. "He might call during the game, too, I don't know."

Players expressed confidence in Lynch, who has 14 years of head coaching experience.

"He [Hoeppner] is our team captain, and we've got coach Lynch stepping in, who is also a head coach coaching next to a head coach," receiver Lance Bennett said. "I feel everybody has to step their role up."

Greenspan took on the role of supporter at Tuesday's news conference announcing the surgery. He offered prayers for Hoeppner and his family and urged Hoosiers fans to do the same. Afterward, Greenspan, who often cites the importance of rebuilding an Indiana program that hasn't been to a bowl game since 1993, made his priorities clear.

"Football is a huge part of what we do, but it's not who we are," he said. "We talk about dealing with adversity and that varies in significance. Really, what we want to do first and foremost, is what we can for Terry and his family."

Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press