Former Northern Illinois University head football coach Joe Novak was inducted into the Mid-American Conference Hall of Fame during the league’s May 13 honors dinner at the Cleveland Renaissance Hotel.
Novak has had a life-long association with Mid-American Conference football, beginning with his playing days at Miami University for head coach Bo Schembechler and stretching to his retirement after 12 seasons (1996-2007) as Northern Illinois head coach in 2007. As a player and assistant coach for Miami and then for NIU, he was a part of five Mid-American Conference championships.
“I knew as a high school senior that I wanted to be a coach,” Novak told the MAC Digital Network, noting he grew up with the MAC.”Miami–and really the Mid-American Conference as a whole–had a great reputation of breeding coaches.”
As NIU head coach from 1996-2007, Novak resurrected the Huskie program with four MAC West titles, one MAC Championship game and two bowl appearances. He earned MAC Coach of the Year honors in 2002 and AFCA Region 3 Coach of the Year accolades in 2003.
“What I really wanted to do was build a great program,” Novak said. “It took us three to four years to get things going, but we did it with good kids, character people, people that I liked…
“We had some kids that came in there, followed our lead and worked hard. It was truly a team effort by coaches, players and staff.”
Novak truly paved the way for Northern Illinois’ current success by tirelessly working to not only build a football program of which Huskie alums can be proud, but to build it the right way, – the “hard way” – with character. Later in his career, the completion of the Yordon Center, NIU’s landmark athletic and academic performance facility, became his personal goal and he was directly involved in fundraising for the project, which has impacted every Northern Illinois student-athlete since its opening in 2007. The academic area of the Yordon Center is named for Joe and his wife, Carole.
Novak was no stranger to success at NIU. He previously served as defensive coordinator and linebackers coach on Bill Mallory’s staff from 1980-83. The Huskies went 7-4 in his first season with a victory over eventual MAC champion, Central Michigan, and he helped NIU to its first Mid-American Conference title in 1983 before going onto win the California Bowl. Northern Illinois finished the 1983 season with a then school-record 10 wins.
“I’ve often said that when I hear myself talking, I hear Bill Mallory coming out of my mouth,” he said, speaking of the influence the hall-of-fame coach had on his career and also the NIU football program. “I’m proud of that, because Bill was really a fine coach and a great man. I’m proud to follolw his example.”
A Mentor, Ohio, native, Novak played on back-to-back MAC co-championship teams at Miami in 1965 and 1966 as a standout defensive end. he graduated from Miami in 1967 with a Bachelor’s of Arts in education and earned his master’s in education administration in 1968 in Oxford.
Novak returned to Miami in 1974 to begin his collegiate coaching career as an assistant at his alma mater under Dick Crum, where he served as defensive coordinator and linebackers coach from 1974-76. He helped lead Miami to back-to-back MAC titles and undefeated league records in 1974 and 1975, and to two straight appearances in the Tangerine Bowl. Miami went 10-0-1 in 1974 and 11-1 in 1975, defeating Georgia and South Carolina, respectively, in bowl games.
Novak continues to be a huge supporter of both NIU and the MAC. He was inducted into the Miami Athletics Hall of Fame in 2007. In 2013 he was inducted into the Northern Illinois Athletics Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility. He was inducted into Miami’s “Cradle of Coaches” in 2012 and has served as a Harris Poll Voter since his retirement.
Novak attended the 2010 and 2011 Marathon MAC Football Championship games and almost every NIU bowl game since his retirement. He attends Northern Illinois and Miami games annually and returns to DeKalb every summer for the Brigham-Novak Golf Tournament which raises funds for the Huskie Football program.
“The Mid-American Conference Hall of Fame is a testament to the achievements of those that have competed and served in this great conference,” said MAC Commissioner Jon Steinbrecher.
Although Coach Novak was unable to attend the event because of a previously planned overseas trip, former Huskie administrator and coach Robert Collins accepted the award on his behalf.
Novak was inducted to the hall of fame in a seven member class that included 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).
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.