Frank Novak, the energetic, 34-year coaching veteran who is retiring as the Green Bay Packers' special teams coach, will leave behind a number of substantial achievements in his three-year role.
The 64-year-old Leominster, Mass., native, named by Head Coach Mike Sherman to his incoming staff in 2000, made an immediate impact on the club's special units. During the course of that initial season, his kickoff return unit played a key role in the club's success, Allen Rossum weighing in with two game-winning kickoff returns – a 92-yard touchdown runback with just over 4 minutes remaining to provide the winning margin in a 26-24 victory over the Indianapolis Colts and a 90-yard return that set up a game-tying touchdown in an eventual 26-20 overtime win over the Minnesota Vikings.
Along the way, placekicker Ryan Longwell also delivered three game-winning field goals, the first of his NFL career, then in its fourth season.
In 2001, the Packers' punt coverage team held opposing returners to an average of 8.5 yards per runback, thus tying for the eighth-best in the league while allowing only one return of more than 13 yards over the last nine games of the season.
The unit's success was enhanced by the contributions of punter Josh Bidwell, who closed out the season with a 36.5-yard net punting averaged which ranked third in the National Football Conference and also was the second-best effort in team history.
Novak's punt return team also produced one of the key plays of the season – a 55-yard punt return for a touchdown to pull out a come-from-behind, 21-20 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Nov. 4).
The '01 kickoff coverage unit likewise experienced success, ranking seventh in the NFL and first in the NFC Central Division, holding opponents to a 20.0-yard average for 76 runbacks.
Although the special teams did not fare as well overall in 2002 as they had in the two previous years, the coverage units again were effective, the kickoff coverage team ranking fourth in the NFC, limiting opponent returners to an average of 21.7 yards per runback, and the punt coverage unit seventh in the conference, holding opponents to an average of 8.7 yards per return. It thus marked the third consecutive year that the punt coverage unit had ranked in the conference's top ten.
Additionally, under Novak in '02, two players ranked among Green Bay's all-time special -teams tackles leaders. Paris Lenon posted 22, the most by a Packers player in 12 years and tied for fourth all-time, and Torrance Marshall turned in his second straight 21-tackle season, tying for sixth on the career list.
Attempting to maintain the level of consistency of the first two seasons under Novak was complicated by the injury factor during the '02 campaign, which found at least 40 players seeing significant action on the Packers' coverage and return units. In that process, injuries to starters pressed key special-teams performers Matt Bowen, Najeh Davenport, Robert Ferguson and Tony Fisher into substantial playing time from scrimmage.
Prior to joining the Packers, Novak directed a Houston Oilers' kickoff coverage unit that limited opponents to a league-low 17.3 yards per return in 1994 and presided over a San Diego Chargers unit that scored five touchdowns during the 1997 season – a total that ranked as the highest one-season output of the '90s in the NFL.
Novak's extensive coaching career included 13 years of NFL experience, two USFL seasons and 19 years in the college ranks. He initially coached at the high school level in Iron Mountain, Mich., and New London, Conn., before joining the football staff at the Northern Michigan University, his alma mater, in 1966.