Ball State game hits home for Indiana's Lynch

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Bill Lynch is used to this by now.

When you've spent 23 of the last 24 years coaching college football in one state -- and that state isn't Texas or California -- you're going to cross paths with a former employer. Indiana boasts only four FBS football programs, and Lynch has been the head coach for two of them.

Those two teams meet Saturday night at Memorial Stadium as Lynch and Indiana take on Ball State, the team he coached from 1995-2002. Lynch's tenure was highlighted by a MAC title and a Las Vegas Bowl appearance in 1996 and lowlighted by a nation-worst 21-game losing streak from 1998-2000. Though Lynch recovered from the slide, he was fired after the team went 6-6 in 2002.

But the significance of Saturday's game goes beyond records, league titles, losing streaks and even firings. Lynch raised his four children in Muncie, Ind. All four graduated from Delta High School and sons Billy and Joey attended Ball State and played football. Several grandchildren live in Muncie and root for Ball State.

Plus, Lynch is close friends with his successor, Brady Hoke.

"There aren't any players there now that I recruited or coached, but certainly so many people in that community," Lynch said. "So I've got a lot of respect, lot of good friends. It makes it for a tough game, when you're playing against people you have respect for, and you know how important it is for both sides."

Lynch isn't the only Hoosiers coach a bit torn by facing the Cardinals. Indiana wide receivers coach Billy Lynch played for his dad at Ball State and never enjoys facing his alma mater.

"It's one of those things where the schedule comes out years in advance, you look at that game and say, 'Aw, man, really wish we didn't have to play those guys,'" Billy Lynch said.

Saturday marks the end of Indiana's three-game contract with Ball State, one Bill Lynch had no role in scheduling. The first meeting in 2006 undoubtedly was the toughest for both Bill and Billy Lynch, as Bill's younger son Joey quarterbacked the Cardinals in Muncie.

Ball State built a 23-7 halftime lead before Indiana rallied for a 24-23 win.

"I didn't like that at all," Bill Lynch said. "But most coaches will tell you when you're playing people you've got good respect for and friends that it's always a little bit tougher."

During an interview in August, Lynch acknowledged that he didn't know if he'd ever be a head coach again after being let go from Ball State. He never envisioned the tragic circumstances under which he took over the Indiana program after Terry Hoeppner's death.

But for a coaching lifer, there's no bitterness about the way things ended in Muncie.

"I don't think by any means is there any type of animosity," Billy Lynch said. "That's the way of the profession. You move on and do the best job you can the next place you're at."

Few would complain about the job Bill Lynch has done so far, helping Indiana reach its first bowl game since 1993 in December. A win Saturday against a strong Cardinals team would make the Hoosiers 3-0 and well on their way to a postseason repeat.

Billy Lynch said his dad hasn't changed since first becoming a head coach at Butler in 1985, but the elder Lynch would like to think he's grown into the job.

"Whether you're an assistant, you're a coordinator, you're a head coach, you learn all the time," he said. "Each experience you go through makes you better. I would hope I would fall in that category."