End of the Season Offers Debut for Illinois Coach : Hancock Bowl: UCLA to face an Illini team that has lost its last two games--and Mackovic.


Illinois is a team that has lost momentum.

When the Illini accepted an invitation to play UCLA today in the 58th John Hancock Bowl at Sun Bowl Stadium, it had a 6-3 record. Then, Illinois lost its last two regular-season games, to Michigan and Michigan State, and eventually lost its coach.

John Mackovic accepted the Texas coaching job, and defensive coordinator Lou Tepper was promoted to head coach. So it could be assumed that Illinois’ football program is in a bit of a turmoil.

UCLA Coach Terry Donahue disagrees, saying: “Illinois will have an emotional advantage in the sense that it will be rallying around the new coach and, perhaps, trying to show that the old coach made a mistake by leaving.”


The Bruins (8-3) are recovering from losing records in 1989 and ’90. “Our motivation is bowl tradition and bowl success,” Donahue said. “We’ve been good in bowl games and pride ourselves in that area.”

UCLA won a record seven consecutive bowl games from 1983 through the 1989 Cotton Bowl.

But the Bruins weren’t especially impressive in their last three regular-season games.

They were beaten by Stanford, 27-10, then struggled to beat both injury-depleted Oregon, 16-7, and one of USC’s worst teams, 24-21.

“We seemed to peak a week before the Stanford game and we need to re-peak,” Donahue said. “Generally, my teams have peaked the last two or three weeks of the season.”

UCLA has a more balanced offense than Illinois. The Bruins, behind quarterback Tommy Maddox, have the second-best passing offense in the Pacific 10 Conference, plus a 1,000-yard rusher in tailback Kevin Williams.

Illinois has an effective quarterback in Jason Verduzco, who led the Big Ten in total offense, but the Illini ranked eighth in rushing in their conference. UCLA has yielded an average of 323.8 yards compared to 334.2 by Illinois.

Even though this is Tepper’s first game as a head coach, he has prepared himself for the position.

“I’ve had opportunities to be a head coach at lower divisions, but at my age (46), I wanted to experience Division I-A football and learn from the great coaches,” Tepper said. “So I have been very patient for the type of program to have. My dreams and prayers have been answered. I feel excited and confident about (the job).”

Tepper was also in line for the Northwestern coaching job, but Mackovic’s sudden resignation put him in the right place.

The new Illinois coach is closer to his players than was Mackovic.

“John has the appearance of being more aloof, more of a manager of a corporation,” Tepper said. “I am more the father of a family. I relish being with the players and putting my arms around them when they do things well. And, yet, like a father, I’ll discipline them when they’re out of place.

“In terms of X’s and O’s, John didn’t really care what we did defensively. When I handed him my first defensive game plan, he gave it back to me and said, ‘I don’t know what this means.’

“I will have a little more involvement with the offense, but I’ll continue to call the plays for the defense.”

Tepper isn’t putting extra emphasis on his debut: “I see it more as the first of many, many games in my career at Illinois rather than one that will be telling about the entire future.”