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Illinois Coach Lou Tepper Fired After Loss to Ohio State

November 12, 1996

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (AP) _ Lou Tepper took pride in running a clean program at Illinois and in his players’ high graduation rate and civility.

In the end, those qualities couldn’t overshadow two straight poor seasons for the Fighting Illini, and Tepper was fired.

``Our philosophy has been to educate by promoting academic achievement, positive social behavior, racial harmony and hard-nosed winning football,″ Tepper said Monday. ``I’m sorry that we have not had more success on the field this season.″

Tepper, 51, is 25-29-2 in five seasons at Illinois.

He said he disagreed with the decision, but will remain coach at Illinois (2-7, 1-5 Big Ten) in the Illini’s final two games _ Saturday at Minnesota and Nov. 23 against Wisconsin in Champaign. He becomes the third lame-duck Big Ten coach, following Purdue’s Jim Colletto and Indiana’s Bill Mallory.

Minnesota’s Jim Wacker must win his last two games to meet a five-win provision in his contract. Midwest Sports Channel reported that Wacker planned to announce his resignation today.

Illinois athletic director Ron Guenther praised Tepper’s ``class and dignity″ in announcing the firing.

``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,″ Guenther said.

Tyrone Washington, a safety who played under Tepper from 1992-95, said he respected the coach.

``It’s a shame it had to go down like this,″ Washington said. ``Things just didn’t work out for him.″

Illinois lost its first three games by a combined score of 116-11, lowering already dismal attendance at Memorial Stadium. The Illini played before an average of more than 16,000 empty seats in Champaign this year, including a crowd of 54,000 in the 69,000-seat stadium for last week’s 48-0 loss to No. 2 Ohio State.

Money is a big concern in the athletic department, which must make money with marquee sports such as football and basketball to support all of its programs, school president James Stukel told The (Champaign) News-Gazette last week.

``In the end, it’s a business ... you have to pay the bills,″ Stukel said before Tepper’s firing.

Tepper’s critics say the former defensive coordinator produced unexciting football, focusing on defense and suffering from an inconsistent offense.

Illinois had three offensive coordinators during Tepper’s tenure. Tepper fired Tom Beck after the 1992 Illini averaged just 295 yards on offense.

Former pro quarterback Greg Landry helped produce a 7-5 team that won the Liberty Bowl in 1994, but Tepper fired Landry over personal differences early in 1995. Current offensive coordinator Paul Schudel, the former head coach at Ball State, followed Landry.

Tepper’s defenses have been among the best in the nation, ranking ninth in 1994, 10th in 1989 (when he was defensive coordinator) and 14th in 1993. But this year’s Illini defense is mired near the bottom of the Big Ten, suffering from the loss of linebackers Kevin Hardy and Simeon Rice, high draft picks by NFL teams after last season.

``I would hope that the fans will support their (players’) efforts the rest of the season and during the transition to the new staff,″ Tepper said.

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