Wacker, Tepper bond in tough time

by Tim Klobuchar

Other than the word “tackle,” it’s safe to say bass fishing and football have nothing in common.
But in this chaotic time in the Big Ten, with four coaches either getting fired or resigning in the last 12 days, potentially ludicrous comparisons like that can emerge.
Illinois coach Lou Tepper (fired Monday) reminisced during Tuesday’s Big Ten football coaches teleconference about a Florida bass fishing contest he once took part in with Gophers coach Jim Wacker (resigned Tuesday).
Foreshadowing their football futures, neither coach won. They tied.
“That son of a gun, he walked away with the award,” Tepper said of Wacker. “They promised to send me a duplicate of it, and I’m still waiting.”
Suddenly a voice, not the one of the questioning Twin Cities reporters, blared over the line.
“Lou, that’s because that’s the first fish I ever caught!”
The two coaches shared a laugh, proving there’s at least one sport they can still have a sense of humor about.
Before the comedic exchange, Tepper had some harsher words for the University.
“I’m not saying this to pick on the University of Minnesota,” he said. “I just want to tell you — you are crazy if you think you can find a guy who’s going to represent and coach you better than Jim Wacker. I think you’re crazy.”
Tepper was the only Big Ten coach to talk at length specifically about Wacker’s resignation, mainly because Illinois and Minnesota play each other Saturday. Wacker wasn’t excluded by the other coaches on purpose. With the recent rash of coaching changes, there simply wasn’t time to discuss them on a case-by-case basis.
Wacker and Tepper are the latest to join the exodus of Big Ten coaches that started when Indiana’s Bill Mallory was fired on Oct. 31. Purdue’s Jim Colletto, citing health problems, resigned Nov. 4.
“I’m just extremely upset about the four coaches leaving the Big Ten,” said Hayden Fry, who has coached Iowa since 1979. “I just think we lost a tremendous value in the Big Ten.”
“We’re losing some people that are really good coaches and have done good jobs in my opinion,” said Penn State coach Joe Paterno, who has the longest tenure of any Big Ten coach (30 years). “They’re class acts. I’m disappointed for them because they’re good friends.”
Fry expressed bitterness toward the administrations of the schools that are seeking new coaches.
“I think we have so many people today in the power positions on campus, whether it be athletic directors or vice presidents in charge of athletics, that didn’t really participate in big-time sports, especially football,” he said. “They’re really fine people but they’ve never been in the arena where the bullets fly.”
Wacker, however, understood the pressure of his job and the consequences of the team’s failure. He apologized to the entire state for his inability to turn the football program around.
“General Patton once said, `If a man’s done his best, what else is there,'” Wacker said. “I’m going to walk away from this job feeling that way. But I’m just sick that my best wasn’t good enough.”
After Wacker interjected into Tepper’s teleconference, he thanked Tepper for his support and mentioned an upcoming vacation.
“I want you to know, you and Karen (Tepper’s wife) have an open-door invitation,” Wacker said. “I’m going down with the kids and grandkids to Horseshoe Bay, Texas. There’s a great golf course, and there’s even a little lake to fish on.”
The two coaches would undoubtedly appreciate a competition in which the stakes aren’t quite so high.