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The Indiana Daily Student

sports football

Alvarez: Greenspan good for IU football

Outgoing Athletics Director Rick Greenspan consoles players as they enter the lockeroom following the Hoosiers' 42-29 loss to Michigan State on Sept. 27 at Memorial Stadium.

When Rick Greenspan cleans out his Assembly Hall office at the end of December, he’ll leave four emotional years and plenty of memories – good and bad – behind him.

He’s saddened by the loss of his colleague and friend, former IU football coach Terry Hoeppner, to cancer. He’s frustrated by the IU football team’s regression in 2008, a season many expected to end with a second-straight bowl appearance.

Most of all, Greenspan regrets that he won’t be a Hoosier when that program prospers and reclaims Big Ten relevancy.

But he’ll also leave the foundation upon which that program must be built, something many fans have overlooked.

Inundated with criticism mainly attributed to the sanctions levied on former IU men’s basketball coach Kelvin Sampson, Greenspan announced his resignation June 26, effective at the end of the calendar year.

Even with the cloud hovering over IU athletics, Greenspan’s decision to resign shocked many co-workers.

“I didn’t think Rick was going to step down, and neither did a lot of us,” Mark Deal, associate director of football operations, said. “To say Rick Greenspan’s legacy is the whole Kelvin Sampson saga is about one-hundredth of all the good things he’s done here.”

When Greenspan stepped foot on the Bloomington campus in 2004, he faced a struggling athletics department welcoming its third leader since 2001.

Prior to his arrival, the IU football team wasn’t the primary focus of the department, despite being the top revenue-generating sport at most schools. The program was also in the midst of a lengthy postseason drought.

“I thought our athletics department didn’t have a sense of urgency as it related to football,” Greenspan told the Indiana Daily Student on Tuesday. “Not panic, but urgency. It was a football program that, in a lot of ways, had been undernourished.”

Two months after Greenspan moved his desk from Army to IU, he fired then-coach Gerry DiNardo and searched for top-tier leadership to relive the glory days of Bill Mallory.
Greenspan opted for a charismatic and competent figurehead, one who believed in resiliency and stressed the necessity for facility improvements.

He found that trendsetter in Hoeppner, formerly of Miami (Ohio).

“(Hoeppner’s) personality was one that said ‘I want to be at Indiana,’” Greenspan said. “I wanted somebody that was a dreamer, an idealist, but also a great pragmatic thinker as to how you get to (restoring success).”

Together, the duo attempted to revitalize the program on and off the field.

On the gridiron, Hoeppner’s Hoosiers were inching closer to their first bowl game since Mallory took his squad to the 1993 Independence Bowl. And even though IU lacked essential Big Ten football amenities, Greenspan and Hoeppner forecasted a successful and upbeat future.

Greenspan is widely recognized as the administrator who lifted Army from a program what Brigadier Gen. Dan Kaufman, chairman of the Athletic Committee at Army, once said “was broken both financially and spiritually,” to a competitor with countless facility updates. However, Greenspan acknowledged the North End Zone Project derived from Hoeppner’s vision.

The latest addition could help attract recruits, a dilemma IU has faced in recent years, and modernize one of the more decrepit Saturday cathedrals in the conference. It will also serve as a resource to the rest of the athletics department.

“That End Zone facility will help all our student athletes,” Greenspan said. “It will be a weight room for all our student athletes. It will create a study center for all our student athletes. But, most notably, it’s a symbolic investment in football.”

And so was Hoeppner.

The innovative traditions, the surging attendance, the restoration of pigskin support in Bloomington – Hoeppner’s impact on the IU program was unprecedented.

That’s why Hoeppner’s death was devastating, to say the least.

Hoeppner’s passing was especially tearful, because he put endless time and energy into a program that seemingly had nothing to play for. Plus, IU hadn’t yet accomplished his dream of making a bowl game.

Greenspan reacted to the situation as anyone should have and kept continuity within a heartbroken team lost in transition.

“I felt very fortunate that Bill Lynch was here to assume the reigns,” Greenspan said. “Bill stepped into a very trying situation and kept the team together.”

Yet amidst all the skepticism surrounding Greenspan’s selection, Lynch picked up right where Hoeppner left off and helped capture a bowl bid in 2007, the Hoosiers’ first in 14 years.

To this day, some alumni, fans and even media members are howling in frustration about Lynch’s promotion and other Greenspan decisions.

This season’s total 180-degree turn has prompted questions regarding Lynch’s ability to build his program. The blame has inevitably fallen on Greenspan’s shoulders too.

Still, Deal said when Fred Glass takes office as IU’s next athletics director, many of his football plans inevitably should derive from Greenspan’s contributions and outlook. 

Deal also added that amid the metamorphosis of IU basketball, Greenspan has stayed with the football program every step of the way – a balance Deal said not every athletics director can maintain when other programs fall into disarray.

“Rick was dealt some unforeseen problems I’m sure he didn’t expect when he came to Bloomington,” Deal said. “People say, ‘Oh, what happened to IU basketball was a tragedy.’ No, it wasn’t. That wasn’t a tragedy. What happened to coach Hoeppner was a tragedy. What happened to IU basketball was a mistake and things that you get over.”

Greenspan will only see two more football games as a Hoosier – Saturday against Penn State and the season finale for the Old Oaken Bucket.

He might not sport Cream and Crimson when the ball drops on 2009, but it still bothers him that parts of Hoosier nation remain pessimistic about the football program’s future.

Former Wisconsin football coach and current Wisconsin Director of Athletics Barry Alvarez said establishing football success just can’t happen overnight.

“I think fans are naive to just look at wins and losses,” said Alvarez, who owns the highest winning percentage in NCAA history among coaches with at least 11 bowl appearances. “I know when Rick had decisions to make with his program, he sometimes called me and asked for my opinion. He did his due diligence and really put a lot of thought into moving (IU’s) football program forward.”

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