DeKALB — First-year Northern Illinois running backs/special teams coach Mike Uremovich isn't new to DeKalb.
For two seasons, 2001 and 2002, Uremovich spent time on former NIU coach Joe Novak's staff as a graduate assistant. When Uremovich took the head coaching job at the University of St. Francis in Joliet back in 2005, he called Novak.
The two talked about running a program. Uremovich asked Novak what he would have done differently as a head coach. During Uremovich's seven years at St. Francis, where he went 33-45, including 27-19 over his last four seasons, Uremovich modeled himself after his mentor, whether it was in discipline or recruiting.
When asked what he learned from Novak after Tuesday's practice at Huskie Stadium, Uremovich had an easy answer.
"How to be a head coach," he said.
When Uremovich began his head-coaching career at St. Francis, he said the Fighting Saints hadn't had a winning season in 16 years. During Uremovich's last season, his team won a school-record 10 games and finished the season ranked No. 8 in the NAIA Top 25.
NIU head coach Dave Doeren actually interviewed Uremovich when the Huskies' second-year coach was putting together his original staff after the 2010 season. Doeren knew about Uremovich thanks to Matt Canada, who was NIU's offensive coordinator in 2011 before taking the same position at Wisconsin the following season. Canada was NIU's quarterbacks coach when Uremovich was a graduate assistant in DeKalb, and the two remain good friends.
Eddie Faulkner ended up getting the job, but left NIU to take the running backs coaching job at Pittsburgh after last season. He was at Pitt for less than a month before being named tight ends coach at Wisconsin.
With a new opening on his staff, Doeren immediately thought of Uremovich. One reason Doeren wanted to bring him on to his staff was that he had already coached in DeKalb.
"The fact that NIU's a place he worked, so this would be a familiar setting for him," Doeren said. "It was kind of a no-brainer."
In coming to DeKalb, Uremovich did have to make the decision of leaving behind the program he built.
"It was tough. I have a lot of great friends still there at St. Francis. The whole staff stayed there. (Defensive coordinator) Joe Curry became the head coach," Uremovich said. "It was important that if I did leave there the continuity would be there within the staff for the players. Because we built a great program there and they're going to be good for a long time, and Joe's going to take it places I didn't even take it."
NIU has come a long way since Uremovich was a graduate assistant, competing in six bowl games and winning a conference title during the time he was gone. The Yordon Center has gone up at the north end of Huskie Stadium, and the school hopes the Chessick Practice Center will be completed north of that by next fall.
But in terms of head coaches, Uremovich sees a lot of similarities with Doeren and Novak, whether it's discipline or recruiting players who are hard workers and good students.
Uremovich did things the way Novak did when he was a head coach, so he expects to fit right in at NIU.
"It's very easy for me to step in here," Uremovich said. "Because it's pretty much the same as what I tried to do."