Former Northern Illinois football coach Joe Novak will be inducted into the Mid-American Conference Hall of Fame in May, the league office announced Friday, becoming the first NIU-nominated representative in the MAC Hall of Fame.
Novak is part of a seven-member class that includes the late Charlie Coles (Miami/Central Michigan, men’s basketball), Judy Devine (Kent State, administration), Harry Houska (Ohio, wrestling), Jim Lessig (MAC/Bowling Green, administration), Caroline Mullen-Kearney (Western Michigan, women’s track and cross country) and Sally Northcroft (Ball State, field hockey).
“It’s obviously quite an honor,” said Novak, who was inducted into the NIU Athletics Hall of Fame in October in his first year of eligibility and is also in the Miami Athletics Hall of Fame and that university’s Cradle of Coaches.
“You look at the people that have gone through the conference as players and coaches, and you see the list of people who are in the Hall of Fame and it’s an impressive list. To join a group that includes Thurman Munson, Don James, Bill Mallory and Don Nehlen is an honor.”
A year ago, former Huskie head football coach Bill Mallory was inducted into the first class to be added to the MAC Hall of Fame since it was revived in May 2012 as he went in under the banners of both Miami (Ohio) University and NIU as a former head coach of both schools. Novak, who remains close to Mallory, attended that event and came away impressed.
“I was there for Bill Mallory last year and got a chance to see and hear about the people that were in the MAC Hall of Fame, never anticipating I would get the call,” he said. “It was a surprise.”
Novak, served as defensive coordinator and linebackers coach at NIU under Mallory from 1980-83, with the Huskies claiming their first league title in 1983, before returning as head coach of the Huskies from 1996-2007. He is credited with resurrecting the Huskie program and instilling a “blue collar” culture built on toughness, hard work and team-first mentality which exists to this day. After his first three teams went 3-30, Novak went on to lead NIU to four MAC West titles, the Huskies’ first appearance in the MAC Championship game (2005), and two bowl games, the first for NIU since 1983.
Between 1999 and 2007, Novak’s Huskies compiled a 60-46 record. In 2002, he was named the MAC Coach of the Year after leading NIU to an 8-4 record with wins over Wake Forest and No. 20 Bowling Green. The next season, NIU opened the year by upsetting No. 15 Maryland in overtime at Huskie Stadium, 20-13. Three weeks later, the Huskies earned a landmark 19-16 victory at Alabama before returning home to defeat Iowa State. NIU rose to a ranking of No. 12 in the country that year and won 10 games, earning Novak AFCA Region 3 Coach of the Year.
He retired from coaching following the 2007 season but has remained close to the Huskie program as multiple player from his final recruiting class were among the group that led NIU to the 2012 MAC Championship. He and his wife, Carole, relocated to North Carolina, but have attended almost every NIU bowl game since his retirement, and return to campus for Homecoming and other special events. He also comes back to DeKalb every summer for the Brigham-Novak Golf Tournament, which raises funds for the Huskie Football program.
“We are so pleased to see Joe Novak receive this very deserving honor,” said Sean T. Frazier, NIU associate vice president and director of Athletics. “He left a legacy and a culture of success for NIU football that continues to this day. He is more than worthy to be honored with the best players and coaches ever in this conference.”
Novak’s affiliation with the MAC dates back to his playing days at Miami University for head coach Bo Schembechler. Including his stints as an assistant coach at Miami and NIU, he was a part of five MAC Championship football teams.
“It is only appropriate for our Conference to honor and celebrate the accomplishments of our former student-athletes, coaches and administrators, specifically these seven individuals, and their achievements during their time competing in the Mid-American Conference,” said Jon Steinbrecher, MAC commissioner. “We are honored to welcome them to the Mid-American Conference Hall of Fame.”
The MAC Hall of Fame was approved by the MAC Council of Presidents in 1987. The charter class was inducted in 1988 and subsequent classes were added in 1989, 1990, 1991, 1992 and 1994. After six induction classes, the MAC Hall of Fame maintained 52 members until it was reinstated in May of 2012. This year’s class brings the number of MAC Hall of Fame inductees to 72 individuals from nine classes.
Tickets are available for the MAC Honor’s Dinner at 6 p.m. ET Tuesday, May 13, at the Cleveland Renaissance Hotel. Individual tickets ($100 each) and a table of 10 ($950) are available for purchase. Contact Julie Kachner at the Mid-American Conference office at (216) 566-4622.