Michigan coach has close ties with Novak

By Sean Ostruszka

Two different roads. Two different destinations. One similarity.

The last time these two were together, they had been fired.

In 1979, NIU coach Joe Novak and Michigan coach Lloyd Carr both left the University of Illinois without a job.

“Neither of us were sure we’d ever get a chance to be a head coach,” Novak said.

Since their last meeting, they set off on different paths – both trying to find a niche in college football.

For Carr, the firing didn’t keep him out of Big Ten football long. The next year he was on the sidelines at Michigan as an assistant under Bo Schembechler and later Gary Moeller.

“Lloyd is a great coach,” Novak said. “I always knew he’d go on to great things. He’s sharp, intense and loves the game and that’s a combination for greatness.”

In 1994, Carr’s ‘combination’ netted him his first shot at being a head coach since his prep coaching days at John Glenn High School in Westland Mich.

The road hasn’t been as straight and narrow for Novak.

Like his old tennis buddy, a year after being fired Novak was back on the sidelines. Novak landed as an assistant under Bill Mallory at NIU.

But after four seasons, the chance at coaching in the Big Ten lured Novak away.

In 1984 Novak took over the defensive coordinator position at Indiana.

Still, 11 years and six bowl appearances couldn’t settle Novak’s itch for being a head coach.

Two years after Carr took over his first college program, Novak got his chance.

1996 brought NIU looking at Novak again for a coaching position, but this time it was to lead the Huskies.

And after 25 years apart, the pair’s paths will again meet up on the same football field Saturday.

But don’t cue the happy ending music yet. Though Novak will enjoy chatting with his friend, it’s the place of the meeting that has him a little leery.

“It’s a great place to play,” Novak said. “But it can be overwhelming and my memories aren’t real good up there.”

In coaching at Illinois and Indiana, Novak has only come out of the Big House with one victory.

Carr knows this, but he also knows Novak. So when his old friend brings his team into the 107,501 capacity Michigan Stadium, friendships will be put on hold.

“I know Joe Novak as well as most people,” Carr said. “I don’t think anybody in this country’s done a better job coaching than Joe has.”

“He’s got a football team that plays to his personality. So they’re an opener that is going to be challenging for us.”

Two friends and their teams will meet up this Saturday. One a high-profile juggernaut, the other an up-and-comer.

Only one can come out victorious.