Benner/Sports and Opinion and College Sports and Sports Business

BENNER: Bill Lynch leaves sidelines, comes full circle

February 26, 2011

In November of 2007, Bill Lynch coached Indiana University to a football victory over Purdue University that extended his head-coaching career.

In November of 2010, Lynch coached Indiana to a football victory over Purdue that ended his head-coaching career.

In the case of the former, the triumph gave the Hoosiers a winning season and placed them in their first bowl game since 1993. Lynch had taken over the previous summer after Terry Hoeppner, who had brought Lynch to IU as his top assistant, died of brain cancer. Lynch was deemed worthy of a four-year contract extension by then IU Athletics Director Rick Greenspan.

Three years later, the Hoosiers had not repeated a winning season and Greenspan was no longer in charge, having been replaced by Indianapolis attorney Fred Glass, who arrived in Bloomington saying it was time for Indiana to start honoring contracts but decided to terminate Lynch and his staff less than 16 hours after carrying the Old Oaken Bucket off the turf at Purdue’s Ross-Ade Stadium.

Glass’ decision to fire Lynch was not unexpected. Truth be told, the Lynch-must-go crowd was clearly the majority, especially following IU’s blowout loss at Wisconsin the week before. The swiftness of Glass’ decision, however, did catch some by surprise.

“Yeah, the high and the low were pretty incredible,” Lynch recalls. “That was a great win for our kids and our program. But if you have been in this business long enough, you come to understand what can happen. I don’t have any regrets. We gave it our best shot.”

Indeed, there’s a high road out there, and Lynch—not surprisingly—is traveling it, especially when it now has led him back to his hometown, Indianapolis, and his alma mater, Butler University, where he starred in both hoops and football (he’s still second in all-time passing yardage for the Bulldogs) and later coached Butler to four football conference championships in five years.

On March 1, Lynch begins the next chapter of his life, reuniting with his former Butler basketball teammate, close friend and current Butler Athletics Director Barry Collier. Lynch will be the associate athletic director for development.

In short, fundraising.

So what the heck does a coach know about bringing dollars in the door? Well, Lynch said, it’s not unlike bringing recruits in the door.

“It’s all about developing relationships,” he said. “You have to have a plan and follow through. Now I’m really looking forward to this and giving back to a place that’s been good to me for a long time. Butler’s a great place, a place I have passion for, and I can’t wait to start selling it.”

Looking forward, and not back, Lynch said he purposely laid low after his dismissal. For one thing, he needed to try to help assistants (among them his son, Billy, who has just joined the staff at Rice University) get jobs.

“I didn’t think it was my place to talk a lot,” he said. “IU is a great place. Just to have the opportunity to coach there and the people I got to work with going back to when I was on Bill Mallory’s staff. And then to come there again with Terry, who had been such a good friend for a long time. We went through some tough things during those six years and it was a sad situation with Terry, but we had great kids to coach and a really good staff that hung together through all of that.”

Lynch doesn’t buy into Indiana football being the Mission Impossible of the Big Ten.

“Kevin Wilson (his successor) is a good coach who’s been successful in three programs,” he said. “The new facilities show a commitment. It’s a great league to coach in, though with Nebraska coming in it will get tougher. There’s a great alumni base.

“Yeah, it can happen there. It will take a lot of work. I think what’s important is consistency and continuity, but it can get done there.”

For the first time since his youth, Lynch won’t be part of a football team come September.

“That’s the part I’m going to have to learn,” he said. “But I still will be around a football program at Butler, and around coaches. Maybe I can be a mentor and offer insights.”

He also points out that all three of his sons (Billy at Rice, Joey at Ball State and Kevin at UIndy) are coaching.

“Funny, when they were playing they had all the answers,” he chuckles. “Now as coaches they have a lot of questions. So the phone rings a lot.”•

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Benner is senior associate commissioner for external affairs for the Horizon League college athletic conference and a former sports columnist for The Indianapolis Star. His column appears weekly. He can be reached at bbenner@ibj.com. He also has a blog, www.indyinsights.com.

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