Illinois football coach fired during 2-7 season

Jeff Sherry

Illinois head football coach Lou Tepper, whose team plays at Minnesota on Saturday, was fired Monday by Illinois athletics director Ron Guenther. Tepper, 51, will continue to coach the Illini for the team’s remaining two games.
During his five years at Illinois, Tepper has compiled an overall record of 25-29-2, including 17-19-2 in the Big Ten. A press release announced the firing and said the university plans to begin a national coaching search immediately.
“Lou and his staff have accomplished a great deal with our football program, maintaining outstanding scholastic integrity with our student-athletes,” Guenther said in the release. “Unfortunately, we have not been as successful on the field as we would expect, and we feel a change in leadership is necessary at this time.”
Tepper’s firing will make Illinois the third Big Ten school with a new head football coach next season. Indiana fired coach Bill Mallory on Oct. 31, and Purdue coach Jim Colletto resigned Nov. 4.
Illinois has struggled this season, going 2-7 overall and 1-5 in the Big Ten. The Illini’s only wins came against Akron (38-7) and Indiana (46-43 in overtime).
Tepper said in the release that he and his staff will work diligently for the next two weeks.
“We will always treasure the relationships we’ve made during our time here,” he said. “Ron Guenther is a dear friend. I disagree with his decision, but I respect him and will be loyal to Illinois.”
DeBesse exploring options
Gophers offensive coordinator Bob DeBesse played college football at Southwest Texas State, and he started his coaching career there in 1981. He could return next season as the Bobcats’ new head coach.
Southwest Texas State fired coach Jim Bob Helduser last week, and DeBesse said Tuesday he’s intersted in the position. He hasn’t had any contact with the school, but some of his former teammates and boosters from the area have called to check his availability.
“I do have an interest in it because it’s my alma mater, it’s my wife’s alma mater, we loved it when we were there, and I had a great experience,” DeBesse said. “And I’m at the stage right now where if an opportunity to be a head coach came along, I’d at least like to explore it.”
DeBesse, 37, said he wouldn’t necessarily wait until the Gophers’ season was over before contacting Southwest Texas State.
“For me it’s a natural, just because of my feelings for the place and some connections I have down there,” DeBesse said. “But honestly, this is not one of those deals where I’ve been working the phones and waiting for the phone to ring. It hasn’t been anything like that at all.”

Players feel pressure
Throughout the course of the Gophers’ football season, Minnesota’s players have had little to say about Coach Jim Wacker’s contract situation. They’ve said they weren’t thinking about it and that it wasn’t anything they were worried about.
Well, the time has arrived for Minnesota to win or else — the Gophers must defeat Illinois and Iowa at home or Wacker must resign. And the players are starting to feel some of the pressure.
Following Saturday’s 45-28 loss at Wisconsin, senior linebacker Ben Langford talked openly about the team’s situation and about how critical the next two weekends will be.
“It’s all on the line,” Langford said. “It sucks when people’s jobs are on the line. I don’t know if that’s good for the players or good for the program. I think it’s tough. It’s going to be on our minds, but it’s not going to be a factor, I don’t think.
“Technically in the next two weeks, it’s now that we’re playing for their jobs. So if we win the next two, they keep their jobs. If we lose one or two, then he doesn’t have a job. That’s a lot of people being affected, with their families and everything.”
But Langford also said the coaches’ futures won’t be the only thing on the players’ minds. The games themselves are still important, he said, even if the team can no longer earn a bowl bid.
“We’ve got to play to win,” Langford said. “That’s what football’s about. We need to win some Big Ten games. I mean, we haven’t won any in a while. We need to prove something to ourselves.”
“I don’t think it’s just going to be to save Coach Wacker’s job, or to do whatever. It’s going to be because we need to win to get Minnesota back on the map, for recruiting and everything else. For this team to bounce back in the next couple years, we’re going to have to pull these next two out.”