DeCock: Wolfpack's new hire comes with NIU legend's approval

ldecock@newsobserver.comDecember 2, 2012 

Over the course of 12 years, Joe Novak built Northern Illinois’ football team into a perennial winner. He started with nothing, losing 27 of his first 30 games as coach. By the time he retired in 2007, the Huskies had won four MAC division titles in a seven-year span and put together a streak of seven consecutive winning seasons.

One might imagine Novak to be the toughest critic of his successors, first Jerry Kill, who is now at Minnesota, and then Dave Doeren, whom N.C. State hired Saturday to replace Tom O’Brien.

So given those circumstances, how does Novak, who now lives in North Carolina, feel about Doeren?

“He’s a real gem – a young guy, very enthusiastic,” Novak said. “He’s a great, great hire.”

And that’s from a man who remains synonymous with Northern Illinois football, five seasons after he left. When he retired, Novak and his wife Carole moved to Southport. Doeren will follow a similar path south, although he’ll be working harder than ever when he arrives.

Novak might have set the bar high in DeKalb, but he’s been pleased to watch Kill and Doeren follow in his footsteps, in part because they’ve set the same high standards for their players that he did while taking the program to an even higher level. Kill went 23-16, taking the Huskies to three straight bowl games. Doeren’s record is even more impressive: 23-4, after winning a second straight MAC championship Friday night with a double-overtime win over Kent State.

Novak still watches Northern Illinois football closely and remains involved with the program, so he’s uniquely positioned to judge Doeren as a coach. He was very impressed with what he saw on a week-to-week basis.

“If you look at the Northern team this year and last year, they were very efficient in every phase of the game,” Novak said. “They didn’t have any weaknesses. They always did the little things. They didn’t beat themselves. And they always played hard. I was very impressed watching his teams play hard all the time.

“That’s a tough thing to do. Over the course of a football season, teams have ups and downs, good days and bad days. His teams played hard every week.”

Although he’s been living here, Novak hasn’t watched N.C. State that closely over the past few years – on Saturdays, he’s watching Northern Illinois, still the Huskies’ No. 1 fan. He’s seen enough ACC football to know that there’s an opportunity there for a coach like Doeren.

“That conference, to me, is very wide open,” Novak said. “I don’t see one team dominating. Certainly Florida State is good, Clemson is good, but someone coming in like Dave or the guy they’ve got at North Carolina now (Larry Fedora), there’s no reason they can’t be very, very successful in that league.”

Perhaps Novak’s highest praise was not that he isn’t worried about whether Doeren will succeed at N.C. State. He is, though, very worried about what Northern Illinois will do without him.

“I’ve just got my fingers crossed that when we hire a new coach,” Novak said, “we get somebody like Dave to take his place.”

DeCock: ldecock@newsobserver.com, Twitter: @LukeDeCock, (919) 829-8947

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