Coach Nowak, you will be missed

Former Notre Dame Academy football coach John Nowak
Former Notre Dame Academy football coach John Nowak passed away earlier this week. (WLUK file image)

FOX 11 Prep Sports Expert Doug Ritchay remembers longtime Notre Dame Academy football coach John Nowak, who died earlier this week.

GREEN BAY (WLUK) -- I remember like it was yesterday.

John Nowak and myself talking during his physical education class about the sport I played instead of football -- golf.

Nowak had been an assistant coach on the 1978 Green Bay Premontre football team my brother, Jim, was the quarterback on that won a state title. So I knew Nowak before I ever attended Premontre.

Even though I wasn't a football player, Nowak didn't care. He was passionate about football, but he was also passionate about kids, no matter the sport they played or even if they didn't play a sport.

The former Notre Dame football coach loved teaching kids and coaching kids. That is probably the most misunderstood thing about Nowak, who passed away suddenly Tuesday night due to a heart attack.

Throughout my years of covering prep football I would hear talk about how Nowak was too hard on players. A long-time friend of mine played for Nowak and we used to joke about how Nowak would grab his face mask, yell and spit in his face.

Nowak wanted to win and he wanted his players to win. He worked them hard. Did his approach sometimes look bad from the outside? Maybe, but in the end his players always seemed to like playing for him.

Former athletics director Ken Flaten was Nowak's special teams coach and I asked him how many times Nowak fired him. "Twice," Flaten said, smiling as we reminisced about Nowak.

But remember what you saw on the sideline was only a snapshot of who Nowak really was. Flaten told me Wednesday how after practice Nowak would turn off his coaching brain and become a regular person.

Minutes later he and a half-dozen kids would be eating lunch together in his office, laughing and talking.

Nowak also coached track and field and Flaten talked about how good of a relationship Nowak had with the girls on the team. Nowak was known as a football coach but he was much more.

Almost two years ago my dad passed away and the next time I saw Coach he offered his condolences and smiled while talking about my father. As I was told multiple times this week, he had a big heart.

One of my favorite moments covering Notre Dame football has been when the Tritons would win. I would walk up to Nowak afterwards to interview him, pat him on the back and congratulate him.

I did that in his final game of his career, last November, when Notre Dame lost the state title game to Catholic Memorial. We talked and when it was done I told him how great it was to cover him as a coach.

Truth be told, it was greater to know him as a teacher and a person.

John Nowak was 69 years old when he passed and it was way too soon.

Coach, you will be missed. Rest In Peace.

Follow Doug Ritchay on Twitter @dougritchay