Within the past year, Miami University's famed Cradle of Coaches have lost three greats. Last summer, it was Northwestern coach Randy Walker. In November, Bo Schembechler left us. And yesterday, Indiana coach Terry Hoeppner moved on as well. A lot has been written about Hep's death the last 24 hours and I'm here to offer a somewhat different perspective.
Coach Hep had the longest tenure for a football coach in the long, rich history of Miami University, walking the sidelines for 19 years. How this tribute piece will differ from the others is that I enrolled at Miami in 1999...the same year Coach Hep got his big break and was named head coach.
Now, I'm not going to lie and say that I was the biggest Hep fan. I wasn't. If anything, he would've saw me as an enemy. After all, my college website (which was hilariously awful) called for us to fire him and hire Ditka. But nevertheless, my 4 years in Oxford as a college football-loving drunk was led by Hep and that's something that can never be taken away.
We had our ups and downs in those 4 years. I never missed a home game and Kuehn and I always managed to get one or two road trips in every Fall to support the team. The main issue with the Redhawks in those 4 years is that we had the tendency of Always beating the teams that we should but never accumulating any big wins. I think my real problem about his tenure and the reason I could never jump on his bandwagon was simply because he couldn't beat Byron Leftwich and Marshall. Which is kind of petty. After I graduated in May of 2003, the Redhawks, behind the cannon of Big Ben Roethlisberger, went 13-1 and finished #10 in the nation at the end of the season. There it was, there was my hook, Hep had me. The following year, behind the rag arm, Super Bowl (3rd string with the Colts) winning QB Josh "Hurricane" Betts, the 'Hawks went back to a bowl game but Hep announced before the game that he was leaving to go Indiana and fulfill a dream of his to go back home.
Of course I was hurt a bit. The guy was responsible for building on the foundation that Randy Walker initially laid and took the program to new heights. But he was ready for a new challenge. He left the program way better than when he received it and to that I applaud him.
I told all my Big Ten friends after he went to IU, just watch, he'll get that program to a bowl game and soon. And while the record does not show it, look at the jump in attendance for IU football, the quality of player that was coming to campus, the general buzz around Bloomington, and the upgrade of facilities. In two short years, Coach Hep has turned IU upside down. The football team has a legitimate fanbase now. IU is breaking ground on a new football stadium. He made football in Bloomington relevant again.
I had read on some blogs that there were rumors that he was having complications from his brain tumor again. I hoped it wasn't true. I lost a grandfather 2 years ago to a brain tumor as well and I know first hand the kind of damage it can do. I hoped Hep could fight it. I hoped that he would win the biggest game of his life against his toughest foe. Byron Leftwich has nothing against cancer.
And then I read yesterday that he had succumbed. My initial reaction was "No, no, no. Shit." Coach had passed away.
I was driving home from work last night listening to The Sports Bash and Doug Gottleib had current Miami head coach, Shane Montgomery, on. Just listening to Sugar Shane talk about how much Coach Hep meant to him personally was almost heartbreaking. You can tell just from reading quotes here and there that Coach Hep had an impact on everyone he had ever met. That he was the nicest guy in the world. And that he was a beloved figure to his family, friends, and peers.
A few quotes from some Miami family members:
Dan Dalrymple - Head Strength and Conditioning Coach, New Orleans Saints
Former Miami University Football Player/Coach/Strength and Conditioning Coach
"I always think about Terry Hoeppner's passion, his love of football and his love for his players. He had unbridled enthusiasm and a zest for life and coaching. He has touched the lives of numbers of players and his legacy will go on because of the type of person he was. He had an impact on everyone he met. "
Brad Bates - Director of Athletics, Miami University
"I am forever inspired by Terry Hoeppner--he led by words and actions, from near and far, by example and intellect and as a perpetual teacher and student. Terry was a great teacher, a better coach, an even better colleague and, most of all, friend."
Amber Gerken - Former Athletic Trainer for Redhawk Football and Dear Friend of This Blog
"I can't come up with a particular story per se but you could tell that he truly cared about his student athletes not just on the field but off as well. I have seen multiple coaching staffs in different places, but Coach Hep's seemed to mesh which I am sure had a lot to do with him. He took pride in his job and you could see just how much he loved it. He embraced his university and its community to which his team sang their alma mater too. Even when the hard hits came- like the Marshall incident- he stood tall and persevered through with his head high which isn't always easy. He was a great man- a 'Cradle of Coaches' Coach- and he will be missed. "
Here is a video of my greatest memory of Coach Hoeppner's Redhawks while I was in college. Yes, I was there and yes I ran on the field after the game and talked smack to the Akron players.
Hep, you were MY coach when I was at Miami and I will never forget that...you will be missed. My condolences go out to Terry Hoeppner's family, friends, and the many people who were priviledged enough to meet him.
Rest in peace, Coach.