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Monday, May 2, 2016

New IU coach wins over players with enthusiasm

Monday, August 29, 2005

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Terry Hoeppner's neatly trimmed crewcut gives him an old-school look.

But Hoeppner doesn't always act the part of a graying 58-year-old coach.

There is the bubbly personality that sometimes gets him talking so rapidly he can't stop. Players embrace his contagious enthusiasm and even support Hoeppner's musical tastes after hearing him criticize the "old" music that blared during a spring practice. It hasn't taken Hoeppner long to instill a more hip-hop atmosphere.

"He's a young old guy," wide receiver Lance Bennett said. "The Jets coach likes to say if you don't have a little kid inside you, you shouldn't be playing football. I feel like this coaching staff still has a little kid inside them."

By any standard, Hoeppner is no kid.

He's been a fixture around the Indiana high school ranks for more than three decades.

He spent the last 19 seasons at Miami University and took the RedHawks to their second straight bowl game last season, the first time they achieved that in 30 years. He then was picked to replace the fired Gerry DiNardo at IU.

When players are around, they see Hoeppner as an older version of themselves.

"It's just like Lance said, he's got a little teenager in him," converted linebacker John Pannozzo said. "His taste fits our taste."

To the Hoosiers, that means fun is fashionable and winning is back on the menu.

It's a message long overdue at Indiana, which has been mired in a losing rut for a decade. Indiana hasn't many memorable moments since 1994, their last winning season. The Hoosiers haven't been to a bowl since 1993 and haven't finished in the Big Ten's top three since 1991.

Hoeppner is old enough to remember the good old days when chants of "Punt, John, Punt," a play on coach John Pont's name, carried the Hoosiers to the 1967 Big Ten championship.

Yet he's young enough to be an idealist.

When introduced as Indiana's new coach in December, Hoeppner opened his news conference by asking that the crystal bowl with a rose remain on the podium as a reminder of what he came to Bloomington to do -- lead the Hoosiers back to the Rose Bowl.

Eight months later, Hoeppner hasn't changed his tune.

His office looks like a tidy teenager's room decorated with game balls, autographed footballs, prized photos and even that crystal bowl.

"I think you have to be consistent with that message," Hoeppner said. "I think they can probably start giving me back the messages now. Winning is the byproduct of what we do on a daily basis."

The transition has come with pitfalls.

At first, some players acknowledge they were skeptical of Indiana hiring a fourth coach since 1996, but it didn't take as long to win them over as it did for Hoeppner to start learning about his team.

"It's a little unnerving not knowing their names," he said. "You want it to happen overnight, but there wasn't a lot of occasion right away to get to know them. That was the hardest part."

Hoeppner persevered, and by spring ball, he didn't just know the names; he was converting them into believers.

Seniors once concerned the new coach might rebuild the program with younger talent suddenly found themselves welcoming the new environment.

"I told them 'You are my guys and you are my team,"' Hoeppner said. "Some of the seniors told me that meant a lot to them because some weren't happy about the change."

His youthful approach also changed minds.

"He's really enthusiastic," Pannozzo said. "At first, I thought it would be tough. But he welcomed us. He has shown a lot of us that this is going to be a really positive change."

Hoeppner enters his first season at Indiana with almost unanimous support, a wide-open offense and an attacking defense that has created excitement. He's spent long hours touring the state in search of talent.

And the players believe that Hoeppner's hip approach and fun-loving style will make things better at Indiana.

"He's real fun to be around, he makes you laugh. He's trying to make it fun for everyone," sophomore cornerback Tracy Porter. "You really couldn't tell how old he is."

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