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Friday, May 6, 2016

Nick Mourouzis Field dedicated in honor of legendary DePauw coach

Monday, October 14, 2013

DPU coach Nick Mourouzis stands tall in front of the sign commemorating Nick Mourouzis Field.
(Banner Graphic/GRANT WIEMAN) [Order this photo]
Following the 1980 season, the DePauw football program was in minor turmoil. The team was experienced and talented and had just wrapped up a seven-win season, but for the fourth time in five years, they needed a new coach.

More importantly, the Tigers hadn't beaten archrival Wabash in the last five meetings.

DPU needed a change, and they needed someone to stick, so the hiring committee added another element to the formula. Players on the team --1981 captains Robby Doyle and Bob Torkelson -- were brought in to be a part of the hiring processes and participate in interviews.

One candidate blew the room away.

"He was the mad professor on the board, diagramming plays," Doyle said on Saturday. "He was so enthusiastic. We walked out and (the hiring committee) said, 'well what do you think?'

"We said, 'Hire that guy. Right there.'... The one thing he said that was really important was, 'I've done the Big Ten. I've done it all. I'm looking for a home, and this is it.'"

Nick Mourouzis found home that afternoon, but it might just as well be the other way around. Maybe the home found him.

For the next 23 seasons, DePauw had the stability it lacked since Tom Mont moved from head coach to university athletic director after the 1976 season.

During that time, and the decade since, Mourouzis became the winningest coach in Tigers' history, an ambassador for the school and a chief figure to the Greencastle community.

Coach Nick was honored on Saturday when DePauw ceremoniously dedicated the new synthetic turf at Blackstock Stadium as Nick Mourouzis Field.

A generation of DePauw football -- nearly 200 former players, including 40 captains -- came back to support their coach and take part in the event during halftime of Saturday's win against Oberlin.

"It's just something I can't believe," Mourouzis said. "I shed a few tears walking down here. For them to come back here, that really means a lot to me. And all the young men that came from all around the country.

"... I didn't do this alone. It's all the players and coaches that helped out along the way.

"I had great coaches and GAs. I had managers and trainers and all the players. The managers, the trainers, the equipment administrators. All the way down, it's just unbelievable."

Some of the men aren't quite so young anymore, but a son always seems young to his father, and that's how Mourouzis sees each of them. Mourouzis and wife Marilyn have two familial children, Pam and Ted, and several hundred more football sons and daughters.

The football family came from as far as Florida, Rhode Island and California for Old Gold Day, though some of the Coach Nick Veterans at Saturday's game weren't even DePauw alumni, they played for him during previous stops of his coaching career.

"You don't see that many former players come back," DPU head football coach Bill Lynch said. "They came back for one reason. They came back for him. I think that says it all right there."

Saturday's game was the second to be played on the grass-like Astroturf field, a project that began after football season last year.

DPU has been focused on upgrading its athletic facilities and the football stadium and track were part of that process. The university just needed funding.

"We had a donor step forward who was impacted by Nick in a tremendous way," DPU athletic director Stevie Baker-Watson said. "It was pretty early on in our discussions, so that was one of the driving reasons why we were able to do this field and track. ... It's fitting for a man who had such a positive, enduring impact on this community."

Mourouzis has been impacting every community he's been a part of, beginning in high school when he played for Milan Choban. That continued into college, where he quarterbacked and punted for John Pont at Miami University.

After graduation, Mourouzis joined Pont as an assistant at Miami, and later rejoined him at Indiana University. While there, he switched from an offensive assistant to defensive backs coach.

It was during his time at IU (1965-73) that Mourouzis says he picked up a few lessons on teaching his corners man-to-man defense -- from basketball coach Bob Knight.

"They did a pretty good job on defense," Mourouzis said. "You always remember that."

The two lived in nearby neighborhoods and became friends, their sons playing together in the Mourouzis's yard.

The football coach moved on and, by 1981, Mourouzis was an assistant at Northwestern, his fifth coaching stop in 12 years. He heard about the DePauw job and thought of it as a place to settle down with his family and find stability.

Mourouzis sent in a few applications at a few different places, but DePauw, he said, is the job he really wanted.

After applying, he was on a recruiting trip when he saw a former friend in a high school gym, Bobby Knight.

"I saw him come in and I said, 'I'm going to talk to him at halftime,'" Mourouzis said.

The two talked for a few minutes, catching up.

"Then he asked me, 'what are you going to do?'" Mourouzis answered, "'I'd like the DePauw job.' And he said, 'Well I know Tom Mont, the athletic director.' He said, 'I'll give him a call.'

"He gave him a call on my behalf and I know that AD was impressed with that."

The recommendation helped him score an interview, but Mourouzis, then 43, did the rest himself.

There was a nationwide search for candidates and an impressive field came in for the final interview, including Jim Gruden, father of former NFL coach John Gruden.

Coach Nick blew them out of the water.

"All the other guys were these staid football coaches. 'This is what we're going to do ...' Doyle said deadpan, before beginning to channel his coach and picking up energy. "(Coach Nick) came in and said, 'This is what we're going to do!' and that's him.

"He never changed. ... We had a really good team and coach took us and we had a lot of fun."

Mourouzis led the team to a 9-1 record that season. The Tigers missed out on a chance for the playoffs because of a loss to scholarship players from Division-I Dayton, but they capped the year by bringing home the Monon Bell with a win against Wabash.

The energy and drive of the first year continued throughout the next 22.

Each day Mourouzis was working on new ways to teach and motivate his players, keeping things positive and practices enjoyable.

"He's fired up all the time," '96 DPU captain Nathan Dilley said. "He makes it fun and that's what football should be about. ... He came out to practice one day in full gear.

"He had a helmet, shoulder pads, he had everything. I didn't know he was out there. I thought he was a player. He was doing calisthenics with us and just got everybody really fired up. Not many coaches in the country will do that."

A senior that year, Dilley and his teammates had been 0-for-3 against Wabash and the game that year was on the road.

Sensing his team's nerves, the coach was the last one to board the team bus to Crawfordsville.

"He got on the bus with a wig on and started cheering for us," '96 team member Ryan Leonard said. "We all screamed and he said, 'I thought you guys were too tense.'

"... It wasn't always about wins and losses. He wanted us to do the right thing off the field. He always talked about that."

DePauw won the game that year 31-13.

If a player needed help with his classes or had missed his family, Coach Nick was there for him.

If he saw his player on the side of the road with a broken-down car, Coach Nick was on the ground strapping a chain around his axle to tow it to the shop himself.

"He's just a great ambassador for us," Baker-Watson said. "Not only the people who come visit us on campus but for all of these alumni that he sent out in the world who don't just call him their football coach, they call him their life coach.

"He taught them how to be who they are today and that's just so impactful and that's really why we're all here."

Nobody has balanced the job as coach, teacher, disciplinarian, mentor and father-figure better than Mourouzis.

"He'll yell at you when you need to be yelled at," Doyle said, "but he's like a father-figure to everybody."

Maybe not everybody.

"He's like a grandfather-figure to me," DPU senior kicker Eric Malm said.

After retiring as head coach, Mourouzis stayed on at DePauw to work with kickers and punters. He's at practice nearly every day and, three days per week, he stays late with the current group, sharing the energy and knowledge he's gained from more than 50 years of coaching experience.

Mourouzis has specialized in placekicking and punting, designing and patenting his own kicking tee and running a day camp each summer. He starts working with DPU players during their senior year of high school.

"He's been awesome. My four years wouldn't be complete without Coach Nick," Malm said. "He has an extreme knowledge. ... He's always getting you fired up and he's just a voice of confidence in your head.

"He has this thing that he says, 'Positive mental attitude,' and just drills that into you."

Lynch was first hired to replace Mourouzis after his retirement in 2004, and he's back again now, trying to fill the shoes of his legendary precursor.

Many coaches would be wary about working with another coach who has more experience in his job than himself. It's not that way for Lynch and Mourouzis.

Lynch views Mourouzis the same way Mourouzis views the coaches who guided him: Choban, Pont and former Miami and Notre Dame coach Ara Parseghian.

"He was always kind of a mentor of mine," Lynch said. "Even through the years where I coached at different places, I kind of coached where he'd coached. I coached at Ball State, he'd coached at Ball State. When I coached at Indiana, he'd coached at Indiana.

"We've just stayed close through the years. And then when I was here the first time I followed him. That was tough, following a legend like that. He was so gracious and good and we've stayed close through the years."

The dedication on Saturday means future generations of the DePauw football family will stay close to Mourouzis, too.

Given the new, more modern facility and another coach looking for stability, that family is even more likely to grow strong again.

An understated key to building an athletic program is first building the facilities to house it. Ruth's Chris doesn't serve steak on paper plates.

The natural grass field that DPU had when Mourouzis started held up well enough, but the team had to be weary of using it too much during the week, lest they begin tearing it up and leaving dirt from hash to hash.

The Tigers can practice on Nick Mourouzis Field.

"Once everything is finished with this building drive that we have we'll be second to none in the country," Mourouzis, ever the DePauw ambassador, said. "There won't be another school that can touch us in the country as far as academic and athletic facilities."

Given his status and import in the community -- his pride in the university -- it didn't take a new turf or sign on the scoreboard to solidify Mourouzis's place in DPU lore.

He already had that.

"To so many people, he is DePauw football." Lynch said. "Our kids know that. ... It's just good having him around every day. He's always got such a positive attitude and the kids like having him around. He still works really hard."

Mourouzis is known for his positive attitude and refusal to say an unkind word about anyone or anything.

Awestruck and giddy from the honor of the ceremony on Saturday, though, he did have one complaint.

"It would be nice if it were Coach Nick Field," he said. "That would be easier to spell."

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Such an awesome man and wonderful mentor. I have been blessed to know you. No one deserves this more than you Coach Nick. Congratulations!!

-- Posted by tmgould on Tue, Oct 15, 2013, at 12:13 AM

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