Mike Conway found it’s never too late to be recruited.
Conway, who spent 11 seasons at California University churning out great defenses, will now try to rebuild a struggling NCAA Division III football program at North Park University in Chicago.
Conway, 52, agreed to take the head coaching position this week, surprising a lot of people, including himself.
“I didn’t have it on my list, but it became a place on my list,” said Conway. “I was so impressed with their program and their desire to win. They did a good job of recruiting me.”
North Park University is a little more than an hour’s drive from Conway’s last head coaching job at Nazarene Olivet, an NAIA school that also is his alma mater. North Park went 1-9 overall and 0-7 in the College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin.
“It’s a place I felt immediately comfortable with,” he said. “I wanted to go to a program (where) I wanted to be a head coach, I want to go to a place I really trust. I want to go to a place that has a desire to be successful, and I want to go to a place where they want to commit the resources to be successful. I believe they want to make that commitment.”
Conway’s named also surfaced for the head football job at Seton Hill University, which will join the Pennsylvania State Athletic Association in July.
“I interviewed at Seton Hill,” Conway said. “I just felt this was a better move for me. I’m familiar with the Chicago area. A number of guys who played for me are in Chicago. I didn’t think this would be something I would consider, but they did a great job of selling themselves to me.”
In 11 seasons at Cal, Conway helped the Vulcans to a 98-36 record and five consecutive appearances in the NCAA Division II playoffs, including three straight semifinal appearances. At Olivet Nazarene, Conway compiled a four-year record of 31-14 and got the Tigers to the NAIA championship game in 1998.
Conway spent 21 seasons coaching alongside John Luckhardt, who retired this summer. Conway and Mike Kellar were the leading candidates to replace Luckhardt and Kellar got the position.
“When I didn’t get the head coaching job, I was OK with that,” Conway said. “Mike Kellar is a friend. I trust Mike, and he’ll do a super job there. I’m proud of the way he coached the football team this year. God led me to take on a new program. I wanted a new challenge, and this is definitely a new challenge.”
Conway said his most cherished memories at Cal were not forged on the football field.
“My best memory is seeing all those young guys growing up to become young men,” he said. “An awful lot of kids came through here that I’m proud of. I’ll always remember the 2007 season, when we got to the semifinals. That was a great football team, We were eight or nine yards from making it to the championship game. That was a special year for us.
“And another special moment was seeing coach Luckhardt winning his 200th game. I’ve been with him for all these years. Being associated with him was special.”