BLOOMINGTON, Ind. - Terry Hoeppner never quit when the odds were against him, and he doesn't plan to start now. But after missing nearly four months on medical leave, the Indiana Hoosiers had to make a decision.
Athletic director Rick Greenspan announced Friday that Bill Lynch will take over as interim coach this season while Hoeppner continues undergoing chemotherapy and radiation treatments.
"Unfortunately, Terry has been out longer than we had hoped and we had to move forward,'' said Greenspan, who is a former Illinois State athletic director. "Every time I think how tough this has been on myself, I think back to what Terry has endured. I don't think there's been one time Terry expressed sympathy for himself.''
It was an emotional day for Greenspan, who solemnly read prepared remarks in the same room that contained so much excitement when Hoeppner was hired 2½ years ago. Back then, Hoeppner embraced Greenspan's expectations, symbolized by a rose being placed inside of a crystal bowl.
This time, the room was understandably stoic with Hoeppner and his family noticeably absent.
Hoeppner, who went 9-14 in two seasons as Indiana's coach, has had two brain surgeries and taken three medical leaves since December 2005. The current absence has been the longest and he hasn't been seen publicly since late February.
The duration of this departure prompted Greenspan to recently express concern about Hoeppner, and when he was hospitalized again this week, Greenspan made the decision.
Hoeppner, who turns 60 in August, has spent the past several days in the hospital and was expected to return home later Friday. His wife, Jane, who issued the first statement detailing Hoeppner's treatment, also spoke to Indiana players during a morning meeting in which they were told about Lynch.
"She was great,'' Lynch said. "She was strong, and she gave a really appropriate message about life and the challenges that go with it. She said, 'Don't take anything for granted,' and it certainly came from the heart.''
Indiana officials have kept Hoeppner's condition confidential, giving few updates since the March 18 announcement that he would not coach the team during spring practice. Hoeppner issued no statement in the official news release.
When asked directly if he could confirm Hoeppner had cancer, Greenspan responded: "I won't say that, but I think it's apparent by the definition.''
Greenspan did not address whether the school would consider invoking a clause that could void Hoeppner's contract if a doctor rules he's "permanently disabled.'' He also said there have been no discussions about a resignation.
"I don't know that we've ever had that conversation, and I don't know that it's necessary,'' he said.
Extending Hoeppner's medical leave keeps open the possibility of a return in 2008.
Until then, the Hoosiers will use Hoeppner's motivational messages as their inspiration.
"This battle requires us to focus our energy and attention on aiding his recovery in every way we can,'' Jane Hoeppner said. "Our family is confident that Bill and the staff will do a great job this season. These comments would be incomplete without Hep's ultimate statement to all of you - don't quit.''
Lynch, the offensive coordinator and assistant head coach, has been the temporary replacement during each of Hoeppner's absences, including two games last season after Hoeppner's second surgery. Indiana lost both times.
Greenspan said Lynch's contract will be adjusted to reflect his new position, and his new salary will be made public in a few days.
Still, it was tough for Lynch and his players to accept. Lynch and Hoeppner have been friends for three decades, and throughout spring practice Lynch shuttled practice tapes to Hoeppner's house.
"They've been through a lot, especially the older kids,'' Lynch said. "He's a 100 percent football guy, and if he could be here, he would be here. But I think any time you hear it, there's a reality to it and that hit them today.''
At rival Purdue, coach Joe Tiller said the Boilermakers were praying for Hoeppner and his family.
"We are saddened to hear that Coach Hoeppner will not be on the sidelines this season,'' Tiller said. "His courageous battle serves as an inspiration to everyone.''
Hoeppner was 48-25 in six years at Miami, where he led the RedHawks to two consecutive bowl games with his prize pupil, Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. Hoeppner joined the Hoosiers in December 2004 and signed a two-year contract extension last December that takes him through the 2011 season.
Lynch had an 81-67-3 record in 14 seasons as head coach at Ball State, Butler and DePauw and helped coach the Hoosiers quarterbacks in 1993 and 1994. He returned to Indiana after Hoeppner was hired.
Indiana's star receiver James Hardy said Lynch and his assistants have helped bring the team closer together, and senior offensive lineman Charlie Emerson urged his teammates to play even harder.
"We are all pulling for coach (Hoeppner) because we know he will never quit fighting,'' Emerson said.