BLOOMINGTON, Ind. (AP) - Terry Hoeppner, hired to revive Indiana University's foundering football program, died Tuesday of complications from a brain tumor, just two seasons into a rebuilding program that energized fans. He was 59.
Hoeppner, who had two brain surgeries in 18 months, spent the last four months on medical leave. He died at 6:50 a.m. at Bloomington Hospital with his family at his side, school spokesman J.D. Campbell said.
Officials at a team meeting informed players taking summer classes about their coach's death and those out of town were called. Receivers coach Billy Lynch, son of interim coach Bill Lynch, described the meeting as tearful.
"You just expect someone that's as tough and competitive as he is to, no matter the obstacle whether it's cancer or anything else, show up one day," said the younger Lynch, who coached with Hoeppner at Miami (Ohio) and followed him to Indiana after the 2004 season. "I was just laughing with the guys, telling them that Terry would probably tell us to suck it up, get going and defend 'The Rock' because that's who he was."
It was Hoeppner who added "The Rock" nickname to Memorial Stadium after moving a three-ton limestone boulder into the north end zone before his first season with the Hoosiers in 2005.
"I'm really touched by it. I've been with my share of coaches now and it's just really hard to see him go like that," said IU offensive lineman Kyle Thomas, who added that he was surprised to find out that Hoeppner's condition was so serious.
Lynch said he had not yet spoken with Hoeppner's wife, Jane, who had addressed the team Friday.
"I'm sure she'll rely strongly on her faith, which is, no pun intended, her rock," Lynch said.
IU team physician Dr. Larry Rink confirmed in a statement that Hoeppner was being treated for the brain tumor over the past 18 months. During Hoeppner's illness the school released few details about his condition or treatment, citing federal privacy laws and the family's desire not to make the illness public.
Hoeppner, who went 9-14 in two seasons, had taken three medical leaves since December 2005. He hadn't been seen publicly since late February. Late last week, the school said assistant Bill Lynch would replace him as coach for the 2007 season.
In December 2005, doctors removed a tumor from his right temple a year after IU athletic director Rick Greenspan hired Hoeppner. In September, a CT scan revealed another growth in the same area of Hoeppner's brain.
"Terry's fight was courageous and will serve as an inspiration to those who have known him," Greenspan said in the statement. "This is a truly sad day for our community and all of our thoughts and prayers are with the Hoeppner family and to those whose lives he has touched."
Jane Hoeppner said in a statement announcing Lynch's hiring that her husband was undergoing radiation and chemotherapy treatments. He had been hospitalized last week, but was expected to return home Friday.
Reaction at Indiana was muted. No memorials were visible Tuesday morning, although an apartment complex across the street from the stadium still had a sign that read "Coach Hep Wants You," Hoeppner's motto to increase attendance.
Team officials and players, including the elder Lynch, were expected to speak before the groundbreaking on a $55 million project that will upgrade the football and basketball facilities. Hoeppner testified in support of the project on Sept. 20, less than a week after his second surgery.
Hoeppner was hired in 2004 to rebuild Indiana's football program.
A native of northeastern Indiana, Hoeppner grew up a Hoosiers fan, attended college at Franklin, near Indianapolis, and coached on the prep level in his home state.
In eight seasons as a head coach, six at Miami (Ohio), Hoeppner was 57-39, and he took Miami to consecutive bowl games in 2003 and 2004.
Even after spending 19 seasons as an assistant and head coach at Miami, Hoeppner still had a fondness for the Hoosiers, and it didn't take long for the fans to embrace him.
He also was respected by intrastate rival Purdue coach Joe Tiller. Hoeppner's team lost both games he coached against the Boilermakers.
"I know Hep was a fierce competitor, and he battled an unforgiving disease," Tiller said in a statement. "We hope they (his family) find comfort in knowing that he is no longer in pain and is in a much better place."
After the September surgery, the energetic Hoeppner, whom players often called younger than his age, returned sooner than expected. Three days after surgery, he sneaked into Indiana's coaching box at Memorial Stadium and watched the Hoosiers lose to Division I-AA Southern Illinois. Two weeks later, he resumed coaching. The Hoosiers finished 5-7, missing being bowl eligible by one game.
Hoeppner later inferred that test results from the second surgery showed what doctors removed was only scar tissue, not cancerous, and university officials never acknowledged Hoeppner had been suffering from a terminal illness.
Hoeppner continued making public appearances until late February. In March, he announced he was skipping spring practice to regain his "energy and strength."
Hoeppner is survived by his wife, three children - Amy, Allison and Drew - and four grandchildren. Funeral arrangements have not yet been announced.