Insisting that this season’s 2-10 record had nothing to do with it, Joe Novak retired today after 12 years as Northern Illinois University’s head football coach.
Unable and unwilling to give up a chance to spend more time with his family and relax, Joe Novak stepped down as Northern Illinois’ head football coach Monday.
The emotional news conference in the new Yordon Athletic Center was just a few feet away from the football field on which he’s coached for the past 12 years. Novak said he’s “not quitting, not resigning, didn’t give them a chance to fire me. I’m retiring” after accumulating a 63-75 record and leading his teams to two bowl games and into the league championship matchup in 2005.
“I know it’s time. Selfishly, I’d like to stay and try and pick this back up, but it’s been a great, great stretch here overall,” he said just two days after his team closed out its worst season since 1998 at 2-10. “This season had nothing to do with this decision. In fact, that made it harder. I wanted to go out on top, but like I said, it was time.”
The 62-year-old, who’s been coaching football for 40 years, said last spring he felt he may stay in the game past this season. But with a house in Southport, N.C., completed, his back bothering him again, and a wife, two sons and three grandchildren waiting for him, he changed his mind in the summer.
Regardless of what was happening this season, he never wavered from there. The fact that his team fell to the bottom of the Mid-American Conference’s West Division and he had to deal with 24 injured players never altered his thinking.
“I’ve had 40 great years in this business,” he said, “and you certainly have your good days, and you have your bad days.
“This is the best thing for us (Joe and his wife, Carole), and the best thing for this program, too. I do feel that this program is better now than it was when I came.”
The numbers – most specifically, the 64.4 winning percentage from 1999-2006 and the seven straight winning seasons – show the improvement.
Not only did Novak make the program better, but according to those close to him, he made his players better people. President John Peters and Director of Athletics Jim Phillips insisted it was true.
As did the players.
“He’s such a father figure to most of us. He’s a very disciplined guy – but that’s because he’s always wanted us to be our best,” said former Rockford Guilford standout Montell Clanton, who hopes to return to his starting tailback position next year after knee surgery knocked him out of this season. “He changed me in a lot of ways. And we didn’t spend just a couple of hours with this man; these last four years, I’ve spent my whole life with him. He made us all into men. I’ll never forget what he’s done for me."
Novak insists he won’t pursue another coaching job. As for the new opening at Northern Illinois, Phillips said the search was to begin Monday night, and there was no timetable on the appointment.
Rockford Register Star college reporter Jay Taft can be reached at 815-987-1384 or email@example.com.