Hoeppner at work two weeks after brain surgery

Updated: September 27, 2006, 10:30 AM ET
Associated Press

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Indiana's Terry Hoeppner walked into his weekly news conference Tuesday and got right back to business.

He took off his trademark hat and tried to talk about football, even if everyone else wanted to know about his health.

"I love coaching football games," he said. "I enjoy the preparation, I enjoy the recruiting, but my passion is coaching football games, so it's good to be back."

Hoeppner said doctors removed scar tissue, not another tumor from his brain on Sept. 13.

He said he wasn't taking pain medication, had no restrictions and that doctors gave him, his wife, Jane, and his family the best possible news.

"The surgery happened to be on Jane's birthday, and so she got scar tissue for her birthday," he said. "Right now, I'm good to go, and I'm ready to go."

Hoeppner temporarily turned over the reins of the Hoosiers to assistant head coach and offensive coordinator Bill Lynch two weeks ago after announcing he would have his second brain surgery since December. Doctors said then they would remove a possibly recurrent tumor, which turned out to be scar tissue, according to Hoeppner.

The prognosis: Hoeppner would miss two to four weeks.

But the amazingly resilient 59-year-old coach made sure his absence was on the shorter end. Aside from the new scar on the right side of his head, it appeared as if little had changed.

The major issues confronting Indiana -- a quarterback controversy, questions about the Hoosiers' top player, James Hardy, and a beleaguered ground game -- were still front and center when Hoeppner returned Tuesday.

Even consecutive losses to Southern Illinois and Connecticut didn't faze the usually optimistic coach.

"I came up with this great plan for this week," Hoeppner said. "I told the guys 'We're going to coach better this week and you're going to play better this week. We're in the Big Ten now, so let's go do it."'

Players welcomed the message but were more impressed by the messenger.

"It's amazing to see him come back in two weeks," said receiver Hardy, who is also returning to the team this week after a two-game suspension. "Mine was minor compared to his. But I wanted to make sure my coach was all right. He's more than a coach to me, he's a friend."

While doctors told Hoeppner to spend at least two weeks recovering, Hoeppner couldn't stay away from his passion even that long.

Three days after surgery, he attended the Southern Illinois game in one of the school's luxury suites.

Last Wednesday, he advised the board of trustees about a proposed $55 million upgrade of athletic facilities -- something he called essential to the program. The trustees approved the project Friday.

On Saturday, Hoeppner again attended the game at Memorial Stadium, and the next day, he resumed coaching duties.

Clearly, though, this was no typical news conference.

Hoeppner opened by thanking the hundreds of coaches in the high school, college and professional ranks who sent him notes offering support. He also thanked his family, coaching staff, players and the Indiana administration for aiding his recovery.

"I challenged them [the players] with the plan," he said of Sunday's team meeting. "I didn't talk to them real long, but I had some personal things to say. ... You know they've got a lot going on as a college student and a college player and any outside distractions are probably not the best thing I could have done. But if I had it to do all over again, I would."

Players believe Hoeppner's return has already provided an emotional boost to a team that seemed dispirited after a second straight poor performance in Hoeppner's absence.

"We're excited to get him back," safety Will Meyers said. "Any time your leader goes away for a little bit of time and then comes back, there's a lift."

But Hoeppner won't have much of a grace period.

The first decision will be what to do at quarterback when the Hoosiers (2-2) face Wisconsin this Saturday. Indiana rotated Blake Powers and Kellen Lewis throughout last Saturday's game against Connecticut, a strategy that didn't work well as the offense never really got in sync.

Indiana's poor rushing game also has caused consternation. UConn held the Hoosiers to zero rushing yards Saturday, and Indiana is the only Big Ten team averaging fewer than 139 yards per game on the ground. The Hoosiers are at 73.5.

It's not what Indiana players had in mind when Hoeppner instructed them before the surgery not to use his absence as a distraction or an excuse.

But now the Hoosiers have an opportunity to give Hoeppner a more meaningful welcome back gift.

"It's great to see him back," Meyers said. "It's great to have our leader back, especially after losing two in a row."

Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press