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NIU coach Joe Novak retires
By Lindsey Willhite | Daily Herald Staff

Joe Novak

 

Scott Walstrom | NIU Media Services

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Published: 11/26/2007 11:58 AM | Updated: 11/26/200 2:49 PM

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After 12 years as Northern Illinois' head football coach, Joe Novak announced his retirement at news conference Monday afternoon in DeKalb.

"I feel good about this decision," he said. "It's time. It's the right time for me personally, for my wife (Carole) and family, and for this program. Everyone says you know when it's time, and this is it for me."

The 62-year-old Novak's reign, the third-longest in school history, began with the program's deepest valley before leading to its highest peak.

The Huskies lost 26 of Novak's first 27 games as he changed the school's recruiting focus from quick-fix junior-college transfers to four-year contributors largely from Chicago-area high schools.

Once Novak's system took hold, Northern Illinois racked up seven consecutive winning seasons, four Mid-American Conference West division titles and two bowl appearances.

That run included a remarkable 10-2 record in 2003, when the Huskies soared as high as No. 10 in the Bowl Championship Series rankings and No. 12 in the Associated Press poll.

NIU started 7-0 that season, including a home win over No. 15 Maryland and a 19-16 victory at No. 21 Alabama.

The latter win propelled the Huskies into the AP's top 20 for a five-week stay, but multiple injuries led to road losses at Bowling Green and Toledo that knocked them out of the polls and the bowl chase.

"In my view, Joe Novak represents everything that is right about college athletics,' NIU athletic director Jim Phillips said Monday. "I feel extremely blessed to have worked alongside of him these last four seasons."

Novak compiled a 63-76 record during his years as NIU, a job he earned on Dec. 22, 1995, after more than 20 years as a college assistant.

Novak was one of many successful coaches from the Miami (Ohio) tree.

He played defensive end for Bo Schembechler at Miami in the mid-1960s, then started his college coaching career there as a defensive coordinator in 1974.

After a three-year stint as Illinois' defensive line coach under Gary Moeller (1977-79), he moved to NIU and became defensive coordinator under Bill Mallory for a strong four-year stretch that concluded with the 1983 MAC title and a California Bowl victory.

Novak then went with Mallory to Indiana in 1984 to serve as defensive coordinator until returning to DeKalb to replace Charlie Sadler.

"A guy like Bill Mallory, a guy like Bo Schembechler … if you're around them a lot, you love football," Novak said in 2005. "And you don't get away from those guys without feeling their passion for the game."

Novak admitted prior to this season that his passion for the game had begun to wane, partially due to physical problems, and he feared he was cheating his players.

Novak's successor will enjoy a veteran-heavy squad that lost just nine seniors from the just-concluded 2-10 season.