Former Notre Dame football coach John Nowak passes away
GREEN BAY (WLUK) -- Ask current Notre Dame football coach Mike Rader about John Nowak and he says, "John Nowak is Notre Dame football."
Truer words could not have been spoken as for the first 27 years of Notre Dame's existence Nowak was the only football coach the school knew.
Nowak retired after last season and Rader, his assistant, was hired to take over.
Rader, though, and the rest of the Tritons' community was in mourning Wednesday after it was learned Nowak passed away after suffering a heart attack Tuesday night.
"He's been part of the family here for 46 years," Notre Dame president Kevin Shaw said. "He's been such an inspiration to our student-athletes and we're going to greatly miss him and all he has brought to us."
Overall, Nowak coached his teams to three state titles, including 1992, 2003 and 2015. He also recored 225 wins and was a 2004 Wisconsin Football Coaches Association Hall of Fame inductee and led teams to 10 WISAA and 15 WIAA playoff berths.
"He's meant so much to me personally and so much to the school and all of the football players who have trough here," Rader said. "We knew he was moving on in terms of not coaching anymore, but this is now what we expected."
Notre Dame was 12-2 last season and prior to last year's state title game quarterback Jonathan Santaga was asked about Nowak's career.
"I'm in awe basically for what he's done here; the success our program has been able to create," Santaga said. "I feel blessed to play under him because of the legacy he's had."
Nowak coached for more than 40 years at Green Bay Premontre and Notre Dame as he joined Premontre in 1971 after he graduated from St. Norbert College. He became head coach in 1987 at Premontre and then continued as the head coach at Notre Dame in 1990 when Premontre, Abbott Pennings and St. Joseph Academy combined to form Notre Dame.
But he was much more than a coach; he was also a teacher, so he touched the lives of more people than just those who wore uniforms.
"He wasn't just football," Shaw said. "He was in the classroom, he taught sociology, he coached phy ed, he coached track. He as with our students all day.
"So he was a big inspiration for everyone here."
Former Notre Dame athletics director Ken Flaten was talking to Nowak on Tuesday night. When he hung up the phone he didn't know it would be the last conversation they would ever have.
"I'm thankful I had the chance to talk to him one last time because I remember when my father died," said Flaten, who coached special teams under Nowak. "I feel like 1986 all over again. I talked to my dad and the next day I could never talk to him again. This man was a role model."
After last year's state championship game, a loss to Catholic Memorial, Nowak took a seat to talk about the game and his career. He seemed content about everything, and mentioned what he would miss most.
"I'll miss games but heck I'm going to miss going to the weight room in the summer and sitting around and talking stupid with my assistants," he said. "That's going to be the big problem."
Follow Doug Ritchay on Twitter @dougritchay
+WATCH as Nowak wears the microphone during a Sept. 2013 All-Access segment: