THE NAMES STAY ON THE JERSEY
By Pete DiPrimio
February 7, 2005
BLOOMINGTON — Terry Hoeppner has just sipped from the same cup that turned Dr. Jekyll into a monster. His eyes narrow. His lips tighten. His hands clench into fists.close window
"You don't want to be accountable?" the new Indiana football coach says. His voice rises, quivers.
"You don't want to take personal responsibility?" He spits the words like verbal pellets.
"That (TICKS) me off!"
We sit in his Memorial Stadium Complex office. At least I do. Hoeppner is in memory mode. He's back at Miami of Ohio, in his second year as head coach. His players want to impress him. They say they want to take their names off the back of their jerseys. They play for Miami, they say, not for themselves.
This is the same approach USC coach Pete Carroll now takes with his national championship juggernaut. It is the approach used for Indiana basketball. Team above individual. Glory for all.
Most coaches would find favor, but Hoeppner is not most coaches. Even now, five years later, you feel the power in his passion.
"You don't want your names on your jersey!" Hoeppner glares at me as if I had made the suggestion. "I'm not letting you take them off. I'm making you accountable."
This is the power of a man who believes he will restore glory to Hoosier football, who insists you can reverse a decade of losing by strategy and heart and belief.
Not want your name on your jersey? Are you kidding me?
"I want guys who are accountable and responsible," he says. "Then you can't hide. Who's No. 6? Oh, I see. The name is right there for (the) whole world to see."
Hoeppner hunches forward, eyes blazing, Mr. Nice Guy turned preacher, repeating his message so that you don't just hear it, you become it.
"You play for the name on the front," he says. "You're accountable for the name on the back."
Hoeppner says players will earn the right to have their names on their jerseys. He says this with the conviction of a man who has experienced a Eureka moment.
"I've never done this. Show me that you deserve it. If you don't have your name on your jersey, you'd stand out like a sore thumb."
Hoeppner goes into imaginary conversation mode.
"Guy doesn't have his name on his jersey. Why not? I guess he can't be accountable. He's not very responsible, apparently. He's just on the team, but he's nothing special."
Later in the afternoon Hoeppner will confront a veteran player who has deviated from accountability. It has all the makings of trip to the woodshed.
"I'll tell him, right now, I might not put your name on your jersey. You might be the only one. I wouldn't want anybody to know my name either if I'm acting like you're acting. I'll help you keep it a secret. That might be it. That might be just the thing for everybody who acts like that. Those guys must be down-the-liners. They're probably not playing anyway. They're in the doghouse."
This is the real Hoeppner, stripped of the happy-to-be-a-Hoosier persona he assumes for public viewing. This is the Hoeppner who drove Miami to impressive achievements, the demanding Hoeppner, the disciplined Hoeppner, the Hoeppner who will tap into the spirit of Bill Mallory and Bo McMillin and Jerry Yeagley and any other Cream 'n Crimson legend he can exploit because he didn't give up a great Miami gig to fail.
"I'm a work in progress," he says. "I'm a product of people who motivated me. I'm constantly trying to improve. You improve or you deteriorate. You have to constantly challenge yourself."
At age 58, Hoeppner faces his biggest challenge. And yes, he'll face it with his name on his jersey.