George Mihalik announces retirement
Dec. 9, 2015
SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. - After devoting 44 years of his life to Slippery Rock University as a student-athlete, football coach and professor, Dr. George Mihalik announced Dec. 9 that the 2015 Rock football season was his last. Mihalik will retire from coaching and teaching, effective Jan. 15, 2016.
"George Mihalik's true measure of excellence is the positive difference he has made in the lives of thousands of students and student-athletes as a distinguished professor in safety management and SRU's head football coach," said Slippery Rock University President Cheryl Norton.
"He is a man of great integrity who has always placed the needs of students and the University above his own," Norton continued. "Parents of recruits knew they could believe him when he looked them in the eye and told them he would look after their sons and help them succeed in the classroom and on the field. He's built a program at SRU that is envied by many - a program that values ethics, hard work and good sportsmanship - a program that will survive him long after he leaves the University.
"We are sorry to see Coach Mihalik retire from coaching and the University, we wish he could have coached forever. But we are also cognizant of the thousands of hours he's spent away from his family and friends to serve as our coach. He's more than earned his retirement. And so, on behalf of the entire University, I wish him good health and happiness as he pursues the next chapter in his life."
Mihalik came to Slippery Rock in 1970 and was a three-year starter as a quarterback on The Rock football team, leading the squad to back-to-back conference championships in 1972 and 1973. He became a graduate assistant with the program, then an assistant coach and eventually was named head coach in 1988. He served as the head coach for 28 seasons, compiling a school record 197 wins, winning eight Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference Western Division Championships and reaching the NCAA Division II playoffs six times, including each of the last three years.
"I want to thank coach Mihalik for everything he has given Slippery Rock University over the last 45 years," said Paul Lueken, director of athletics. "He has been an outstanding leader of men, not only on the football field, but also in the classroom and in life. This will be a great loss for our university, but we are very proud of coach Mihalik and happy for him as he embarks on the next chapter of his life."
Mihalik closes his coaching career on a high, as The Rock have won four of the last five PSAC West titles, including the last three, and have won the last two consecutive PSAC championships. He has led the team to the NCAA playoffs each of the last three years, including this fall, when the team tied the program record for single-season wins with a 12-2 record and a trip to the NCAA quarterfinals. Slippery Rock has also spent nearly two months in the top 10 in the national rankings this fall and owns the longest active home winning streak among all Division II teams with 17 straight wins. The Rock were a perfect 17-0 at home in Mihalik-Thompson Stadium over the final three years of his career.
"This is without a doubt one of the hardest decisions I have ever made in my life," said Mihalik. "Slippery Rock University has been my life for 44 years. It has provided me with the opportunity to have a wonderful teaching and coaching career. Most importantly, I met my wife Laura at The Rock and we raised our daughters here in a stable and wonderful area. The university will always hold a special place in the hearts of the entire Mihalik family.
"I couldn't possibly name all the individuals I need to thank," continued Mihalik, "but let me begin by thanking the many outstanding administrators I have worked for, including current president Cheryl Norton, athletic director Paul Lueken and especially former president Robert Aebersold, who took a chance and hired me many years ago.
"I need to thank the many various university personnel that have supported our football program. Our football alumni, led by Jerry Bejbl, have just been outstanding in their support.
"Special thanks to the talented assistant coaches I was fortunate to have on my staff during my tenure, including this current group of coaches that have led us to the top of the PSAC during this incredible recent run.
"Finally, to all the many talented players that have worn the Green and White, a big heartfelt 'thank you!' I am extremely proud of the program that exists here at The Rock due to the efforts of all the coaches and players that have ever worn the Green and White. I will always be part of the Green and White."
Mihalik finished his 28th season as The Rock's head coach with a sterling 197-111-4 career record and a .638 career winning percentage, the most wins ever recorded by a Rock football coach.
Mihalik ranked second among active PSAC head coaches in career wins at the end of the 2015 season and ranks fourth overall on the conference's all-time wins chart. He also ranked fourth among all active NCAA Division II head coaches in career wins after the 2015 season and ranks 27th overall in total wins in Division II coaching history.
Rock teams have won or shared eight PSAC Western Division championships (1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2011, 2013, 2014, 2015) under Mihalik's leadership and made six trips to the NCAA playoffs, including consecutive trips from 1997-99 and again from 2013-15.
The 2015 season proved to be another highlight in a career full of highlights for Mihalik. The Rock won the PSAC Championship for the second year in a row, earned a trip to the NCAA playoffs for the third year in a row and had the chance to host two NCAA playoff games at home for the first time since 1998. Slippery Rock finished the 2015 season tied with the 1998 team for the best record in school history at 12-2 and made an appearance in the NCAA quarterfinals.
Mihalik has received six PSAC West Coach of the Year awards from his peers, including the 2015 honor. He also received the division Coach of the Year honor three consecutive seasons from 1997-99 and again in 2013. Mihalik also earned the American Football Coaches Association's regional Coach of the Year honor in 1997, 1998 and 2013.
In 1991, Mihalik received the Tri-State Intercollegiate Football Officials' Association's top-coach award and in 2012 he was selected as the winner of the Eastern Collegiate Football Officials Association's sportsmanship award.
He has been inducted into five different halls of fame, including SRU Athletic (1997), Butler Area Sports (2001), Cambria County Sports (2006), Pennsylvania Sports Western Chapter (2012) and Bishop Carroll High School (2012).
"I have always maintained the coaching awards I have been fortunate enough to receive should be cut up and presented to the assistant coaches and players," Mihalik said. "Throughout the years, I have had the good fortune of having excellent assistant coaches and players, and they deserve the credit."
In recognition of his 40 years of service to the University and in conjunction with The Rock's first 2011 home game (Sept. 8 vs. Cheyney), SRU officials renamed N. Kerr Thompson Stadium as "Mihalik-Thompson Stadium."
The coaching legacy for Mihalik all began when SRU officials placed the operation of their football program in the hands of a relatively young, yet vastly experienced assistant in 1988.
The 15th head coach in Rock football history, Mihalik inherited a program that had experienced back-to-back losing seasons. A 5-3-2 record in his first season as head coach was a sign of things to come. Two seasons later, The Rock began a run of 12 successive winning seasons.
All told, Mihalik-coached Rock teams have had 22 winning seasons and one .500 campaign in his 28-year head coaching career. He has led the program to winning seasons in each of the last seven years.
While under the care of Mihalik, Rock squads have won 116 of 177 PSAC West contests with three ties for a .664 winning percentage.
SRU has also compiled a Rock-solid .725 winning percentage in home games (111-42) and an impressive .557 winning percentage (86-68-4) on the road.
In addition to the eight PSAC West titles claimed by Mihalik-coached Rock teams, the Green and White have earned four division runner-up honors and finished in third place nine times.
The high-water mark of Mihalik's tenure came in 1998, when The Rock advanced to the national semifinals. The following season, Mihalik led SRU to a No. 2 ranking in the final regular-season national poll, the highest ranking in program history.
Equally, if not more impressive, is the fact Mihalik was one of the few coaches in the nation that had a doctorate degree and managed all of his coaching successes while also serving as a full professor in the SRU department of safety management. He continued teaching and advising students all the way up through his final semester this fall.
Mihalik earned an Ed. D. in Safety Management from West Virginia University in 1986. His bachelor's and master's degrees are from SRU in 1974 and 1976, respectively.
The only season Mihalik has not been a member of the Green and White since 1970 was 1976, when he served as graduate assistant at the University of Kentucky of the prestigious Southeastern Conference.
All told, Mihalik has played three seasons as SRU's starting quarterback and coached for a combined total of 40 seasons. As a Rock player, Mihalik was a three-year letter winner and quarterback of the 1972 and 1973 PSAC championship teams. In his final college game, Mihalik scored three touchdowns to lead SRU to a 28-14 win at West Chester in the State Championship Game. Until just three years ago, he still held the career pass completion percentage record (59.9%).
While developing winning football teams, Mihalik has avoided the "win-at-all-costs" approach and instead focused on producing valuable members of society. The Rock football team owned the highest academic success rate of all teams in the PSAC last year.
That approach is a by-product of his upbringing. The youngest of three sons of a western Pennsylvania coal miner and stay-at-home mom, Mihalik is proud of his blue-collar-work-ethic. His upbringing was featured in "Gridiron & Steel," a 2001 documentary about the connection between the Pittsburgh-based steel industry and football. He was born in Colver, Pa. and grew up in Ebensburg.
Mihalik and his wife Laura, who is also an SRU graduate, are the proud parents of two daughters: Jenny Lee Wright, a 2005 SRU graduate that is married to SRU graduate Teddy Wright, and Beth Ziegler, a former volleyball player at Washington & Jefferson that is married to Jamie Ziegler. George and Laura have two grandchildren, Tyler and Hannah, and two more on the way.
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