Tepper attended his first Illini game since firing in 1996, then watched practice Monday and will return Tuesday.

 

 Back for his first Illinois football game since his firing in 1996, former Illini coach Lou Tepper was caught off guard to see so many fans say hello during the 17-7 loss to Ohio State Saturday.

"It was heart warming,'' Tepper said after attending Illinois practice at the indoor building on a rainy Monday night. "I haven't been to a game in 15 years. I was surprised there were that many people who came up to me afterward and during the game. It was fun.''

They were all positive meetings, Tepper said with a big smile.

The 66-year-old former Illini defensive coordinator was promoted to head coach when John Mackovic left for Texas prior to the bowl appearance in 1991, then guided Illinois to a 25-31-2 record in five seasons. His defenses were tough, led by stars such as Dana Howard, Kevin Hardy and Simeon Rice, but the Illini struggled on offense, especially after firing offensive coordinator Greg Landry.

The tough times don't overshadow the good ones for Tepper.

"I spent eight wonderful years out of nine,'' he said. "I'm not going to let the ninth year blemish the great times we had. For my kids, this is home.''

Following the game, his wife returned home, but Tepper stayed to attend practices Monday and Tuesday while No. 23 Illinois (6-1 overall, 2-1 in the Big Ten) prepared to play at Purdue (3-3, 1-1) Saturday (11 a.m., ESPN2). Tepper isn't ready to retire, so he's taking notes on morning practices and anything he can learn from coordinators Paul Petrino and Vic Koenning.

It's the second time Tepper visited the program under coach Ron Zook.

"Ron brought me back in maybe his second or third year here,'' Tepper said. "He wanted to see what we were doing on defense, so I came back. I was here maybe three days. It was work. This time, I came back for myself. I asked Ron if I could come over to practice.''

He wants to see morning practices and how players react, because Tepper doesn't feel like he's done in coaching. After compiling a 36-18 record in five seasons at Division II Indiana (Pa.), Tepper lost his job in December but "absolutely'' wants to coach again.

"I'm open to anything,'' Tepper said. "I'd rather be back in Division I, but I'm open.''

BASKETBALL: Springfield Lanphier and sophomore guard Larry Austin Jr. will face Peoria Manual on Dec. 10 in the Shootout at the Hall, an all-day prep marathon that annually showcases the players committed to the Illini and those on the radar of coach Bruce Weber and his staff.

Austin has a scholarship offer. So does Chicago Curie big man Cliff Alexander, and Normal University High School swingman Keita Bates-Diop is getting a closer look from the Illini and other Big Ten schools. He could also have an offer by Shootout Saturday.

Crete-Monee senior point guard Michael Orris, Chicago Hope junior point guard Jalen James and Belleville East junior slasher Malcolm Hill have committed to the Illini.

The lineup is Champaign St. Thomas More vs. Urbana, 10:30 a.m.; Rantoul vs. Chicago Hope, noon; Lanphier vs. Manual, 2 p.m.; Collinsville vs. Belleville East, 3:45; Champaign Centennial vs. Chicago Curie, 5:30; Crete-Monee vs. Niles Notre Dame, 7:15; and Mahomet-Seymour vs. Normal U High, 9.

VOLLEYBALL: Before No. 1 Illinois hosts Wisconsin on Oct. 28, fans can bid to put their last name on the back of one of 17 pink jerseys worn by the Illini during the "Dig Pink" match in honor of breast cancer awareness.

Names will be limited to 12 characters. The minimum bid is $25 per jersey and can be placed online at fightingillini.com by clicking on auctions.

Illinois (19-0, 8-0) plays at Northwestern Wednesday before a showdown at No. 4 Nebraska Saturday (7 p.m., BTN). It's the only meeting between the Illini and Cornhuskers.

IN OTHER NEWS: If men's golf coach Mike Small was looking for a No. 2 behind senior Luke Guthrie, it's probably sophomore Thomas Pieters. The native of Belgium won the Jack Nicklaus Invitational last week with a career-best 7-under-par over 54 holes. Pieters carded a career-low 6-under 66 in the first round. . . 

Junior goalkeeper Steph Panozzo earned the Big Ten defensive player of the week after stopping seven shots combined in a pair of 1-0 wins over Minnesota and Wisconsin in women's soccer.