Indiana begins Spring practice today, but will take the field without its coach, Terry Hoeppner, who is taking the Spring off due to "personal health matters."
The university nor The Indianapolis Star was not specific, but it's about 100 percent this is related to the tumor Hoeppner had removed from his temple in December 2005. The illness led to a second brain surgery just before the start of last season, which cost the coach all of two games on the sideline, where he appeared with a baseball cap covering his scarred dome for the final ten contests of the year. The story gives no indication of chemo or any other strength-zapping therapy, but IU athletic director Rick Greenspan alludes to a need for Hoeppner to "receive proper medical care" and said the coach "indicated a need to take some time to regain his strength and energy." SMQ has no personal experience with cancer in an otherwise healthy, active person, but those are not encouraging words.
It is very important to note here that Hoeppner does, as of now, plan to return this fall for the 2007 season.
Hoeppner doesn't seem like necessarily the most ebullient, entertaining coach out there, or an innovator, but he is obviously tough, mentally and physically, and one of those guys with a ridiculous work ethic who genuinely cares about his players and program. In this case, he draws a lot of strength from it, too. One of the best moments of last season was following Indiana's upset of Iowa in Bloomington, when it looked suddenly like a bowl bid was a real possibility for the Hoosiers, and Hoeppner's postgame interview was interrupted by his wife rushing into the frame mid-sentence. Hoeppner was talking exclusively then about his players and the Indiana fans, and it seems clear that his commitment to Indiana football is part of what's keeping him going like a overly-caffeinated 22-year-old intern through one of the most serious physical ailments imaginable. He's only been at the university two years, but it's hard to think of a stronger connection with a program than that.
There's no clip to the aforementioned interview that SMQ can find, but you can listen to Hoeppner describe his optimism and priorities as a coach here.