Novak Steps Down After 12 Seasons As NIU Coach
Courtesy of Northern Illinois Athletics
For Immediate Release
November 26, 2007
DeKALB, Ill. - Joe Novak, who turned the Northern Illinois football program into a consistent winner, won more games than any NIU coach in modern history and led the Huskies to unprecedented success, announced his retirement Monday after 12 seasons at the helm of the Mid-American Conference school.
"I feel good about this decision," Novak 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.
"Overall, it's been a wonderful ride," he continued. "There have been good days and bad days, but a lot more good than bad. I'm leaving the program in better shape than I found it, which you always want to do. We accomplished some things, but there are some things we didn't get done, too."
Novak departs with a career record of 63-75 after a 2-10 2007 season with a junior-laden, injury-riddled team. From the middle of the 1999 campaign through the end of the 2006 season, his Huskies won 58 of 90 (64.4 percent) of their games, won or shared the MAC West Division title four times, made two bowl appearances [2004 Silicon Valley Classic and 2006 San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl] and played in the league's championship game in 2005. Northern Illinois was one of just 18 programs in the nation, and the only team not affiliated with a Bowl Championship Series conference, to post seven straight winning seasons from 2000-06.
Northern Illinois Associate Vice President and Director of Athletics, Dr. Jim Phillips, said Monday's announcement produced mixed emotions. "It is with an extremely heavy heart that I accept Coach Novak's decision to retire," Phillips said. "Selfishly, we are losing an incredible human being from our football program and athletic department. However, our entire university is thrilled for him, Carole and his family that after 40 years in coaching, they finally get their husband, father and grandfather back."
For Phillips, Novak's legacy at the school involves much more than wins and losses.
"He is as good a coach as I have ever been around, and it has very little to do with football strategy, even though I think he is terrific when it comes to that," Phillips said. "My admiration for him is about his character, the qualities he develops in the student-athletes, and all of the elements that define the word `coach.'
"In my view, Joe Novak represents everything that is right about college athletics. I feel extremely blessed to have worked alongside of him these last four seasons. Coach Novak is the type of person I would absolutely want my son to play for, and I believe that is the highest compliment you can truly give any coach."
In the last seven years, Novak has seen five of his players earn All-America honors, a standard reached by only three NIU players from 1948-1999. Huskie players have been named to the first team All-MAC squad 41 times during his tenure, and Northern Illinois leads the country (FBS schools) with nine straight seasons with a 1,000-yard rusher, including Justin Anderson in 2007. Nine Huskies are currently on NFL rosters, including Super Bowl champion Ryan Diem, 2006 NCAA leading rusher Garrett Wolfe and San Diego Chargers running back Michael Turner.
Novak ranks tied for eighth all-time among MAC coaches with 62 (NIU was an independent in his first season of 1996) and is also tied for eighth in career league victories (47).
Upon taking the reins of the NIU program in 1996, the Mentor, Ohio native oversaw the complete overhaul of the Huskie program, resulting in one of the most dramatic turnarounds in the nation. His first three Northern teams combined for a 3-30 record, and the 1999 squad opened 0-4 before Novak's system and players came together to produce a 5-6 mark that season and then began the string of seven straight winning campaigns from 2000-06. By the end of the 2006 season, Northern Illinois ranked among the Top 25 teams in the country this decade in winning percentage with a 53-30 record, ahead of every other Football Bowl Championship (FBS) school in Illinois as well as Notre Dame.
He was named the Mid-American Conference Coach of the Year in 2002 after his Huskies went 8-4, tied for the MAC West Division crown and defeated No. 20 Bowling Green along the way. In 2004, Northern Illinois played in its first bowl game in 21 years as the 9-3 squad earned a berth in the Silicon Valley Classic where they defeated Troy, 34-21.
His teams' successes included a school-record 10 victories in 2003 with wins over No. 15 Maryland and No. 21 Alabama. That season, NIU burst onto the national spotlight by defeating the Terrapins in front of a sold-out Huskie Stadium and national television audience, then traaveled to Alabama where Northern Illinois upset the homestanding Tide, 19-16. By mid-October, Northern Illinois ranked 12th in the country, and Novak went on to earn Region 3 Division I-A Coach of the Year honors from the American Football Coaches Association.
Novak lists the Maryland and Alabama victories as two of his greatest, but said his biggest "win" may have come in seeing the $14 million Jeffrey and Kimberly Yordon Academic and Athletic Center, a building he first envisioned back in the late 1990s, become a reality. The state of the art Yordon Center opened in August 2007 and has received rave reviews from the 467 student-athletes in 17 sports programs who benefit daily from the services it provides.
"Winning at Alabama was something," Novak said. "You don't just go there and come out with a victory. The Maryland game - a sellout, at our place on national television and we get the win, was amazing, a dream come true. Seeing this building completed - that was a victory in itself. I'm proud of the seven straight winning seasons, it is just not easy to do. Of course, seeing our players go on to success - whether as professional football players or in business or another field - is extremely gratifying."
Under Novak, Northern Illinois has enjoyed more national, regional and local exposure than any time in the program's history with 42 football games televised in the last four years, including 14 national television appearances. Every game of the 2006 season aired on television and under Novak and Phillips, NIU reached landmark agreements with Comcast SportsNet Chicago and WSCR "The Score" to broadcast Huskie games.
His players have enjoyed academic success and been active in the community. For the second straight year, every senior on the roster is on track to graduate. The Huskies achieved the highest semester GPA in program history last spring and were the recipient of an AFCA Team Academic Achievement Award in 2005 with a GPA above 70 percent. Members of the football team have undertaken numerous community service projects in DeKalb and the surrounding areas, speaking to local children and at youth football clinics and raising thousands of dollars for the United Way through its annual "Bowl for Kids' Sake" fundraiser.
Novak, who played for legendary coach Bo Schembechler at Miami (Ohio), began his collegiate coaching career as an assistant coach at his alma mater from 1974-76. He worked for Gary Moeller as defensive line coach at Illinois before coming to Northern Illinois for the first time, as defensive coordinator under Bill Mallory from 1980-83. In 1983, the Huskies played in their first bowl game as a Division I-A (now Football Bowl Subdivision) team when they went 10-2 with a victory over Cal State Fullerton in the California Bowl.
Following that season, Novak accompanied Mallory to Indiana, where they took a team that went 0-11 in 1984 to six bowl games over the next 11 seasons, a similar script to the one Novak would write at NIU.
Novak will continue to direct the football program in its off-season workouts until a new coach is named although he will not be involved in recruiting efforts. He will remain at Northern Illinois through June 30, 2008 as a Special Assistant to Phillips.