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 OBrien.
So given those circumstances, how does Novak, who now lives in North Carolina, feel about Doeren?
Hes a real gem a young guy, very enthusiastic, Novak said. Hes a great, great hire.
And thats 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 hell be working harder than ever when he arrives.
Novak might have set the bar high in DeKalb, but hes been pleased to watch Kill and Doeren follow in his footsteps, in part because theyve 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. Doerens 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 hes 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 didnt have any weaknesses. They always did the little things. They didnt beat themselves. And they always played hard. I was very impressed watching his teams play hard all the time.
Thats 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 hes been living here, Novak hasnt watched N.C. State that closely over the past few years on Saturdays, hes watching Northern Illinois, still the Huskies No. 1 fan. Hes seen enough ACC football to know that theres an opportunity there for a coach like Doeren.
That conference, to me, is very wide open, Novak said. I dont see one team dominating. Certainly Florida State is good, Clemson is good, but someone coming in like Dave or the guy theyve got at North Carolina now (Larry Fedora), theres no reason they cant be very, very successful in that league.
Perhaps Novaks highest praise was not that he isnt worried about whether Doeren will succeed at N.C. State. He is, though, very worried about what Northern Illinois will do without him.
Ive just got my fingers crossed that when we hire a new coach, Novak said, we get somebody like Dave to take his place.
DeCock: firstname.lastname@example.org, Twitter: @LukeDeCock, (919) 829-8947