MIAMI SHORES, Fla. – Back in the 1980s, Mike Sabock was a graduate assistant at Penn State, looking for a full-time coaching position.
A former high school coach, Sabock was always a fan of Lee Corso, who had accepted the head coaching position at Northern Illinois before the 1984 season. Sabock had seen Corso at coaching clinics and just enjoyed his enthusiasm.
So, Sabock picked up the phone in the Penn State football office one day and called Corso, who happened to answer his call.
“He answered the phone and I said ‘Is Lee Corso there’ and he said ‘You got him,’ ” Sabock said. “... I kind of introduced myself and he said ‘Hey, I can use one of Joe [Paterno]’s boys here.’ He said ‘have Joe call me.’ That’s why I landed up at Northern.”
Sabock would spend time as an NIU assistant from 1984 under Corso all the way through the 2007 season, when he went to Western Michigan to coach running backs and special teams before retiring after last season.
Sabock was the Huskies’ recruiting coordinator from 1996-2007.
More than a quarter century after making the call to Corso, Sabock decided to contact NIU once again.
When Dave Doeren took the N.C. State job after the Mid-American Conference Championship game, Sabock figured the Huskies may be looking for someone to help coach in the Orange Bowl.
Sabock sent a text message to NIU athletic director Jeff Compher saying he would like to volunteer and help out, so Compher got back to him, telling Sabock that Huskies head coach Rod Carey would be interested in his services.
Twenty-eight years after his first season as an assistant, Sabock is back for one final game, coaching the Huskies in one of the biggest, if not the biggest, game in school history.
Carey is the fifth head coach Sabock has worked for at NIU, and Sabock has certainly been around for the good and bad times. He was there when NIU left the MAC after the 1984 season and became an independent. He was part of the 23-game losing streak in the 1990s.
Sabock was also able to see the program rise, including the 10-2 season in 2003 when NIU beat Maryland, Alabama and Iowa State.
Now, he gets to be there for NIU’s first BCS game, after everything has come together.
“It’s unbelievable. If anybody in the MAC deserves it. Northern Illinois deserves it. What Northern’s done the last 10 years, where we’ve came from, Northern deserves to be in a BCS bowl if somebody from the MAC is in a BCS bowl,” said Sabock, who currently lives in Hernando, Fla., which is located north of Tampa on the Gulf Coast. “Northern deserves it, I’m so happy that they were able to get this done.”
Sabock’s trip back to NIU also gives him the chance to coach with his son, Kevin, a Sycamore graduate who’s a student coach with the Huskies.
Kevin Sabock came to NIU in 2008, but had his career cut short after the 2009 season because of knee injuries.
Kevin arrived at NIU the season after his father left to go to Western Michigan. For one time, the two will finally be able to be on the same sideline.
“Obviously I never thought that it would happen again, that I’d be on the same field, same side, same team. So that’s awesome,” Kevin said. “I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
While Mike, who was with NIU through its rough years, will be on the sideline for the Orange Bowl, he ruled out the possibility of coaching next season.
“Jan. 2, on the golf course,” he joked.
Coaching one final time in south Florida, at the Orange Bowl is certainly not a bad way to go out.