DETROIT -- Tom Matukewicz had the time of his life in 2010 as interim head football coach at Northern Illinois.
"He was living the dream," NIU defensive end Sean Progar said.
That dream, to one day become a permanent head coach, led Matukewicz to make a daring career move this offseason when he accepted a job with NIU's bitter rival in the Mid-American Conference. Speaking on behalf of their team, Progar and NIU coach Dave Doeren said the Huskies harbor no ill feelings toward University of Toledo's new defensive coordinator, choosing to view Matukewicz's move as one of professional growth rather than an act of betrayal.
Matukewicz -- referred to as 'Tuke' by players and coaches at both universities -- turns 39 on Aug. 5 and has often expressed his desire to run his own program. That step couldn't be taken, he surmised, if he continued as NIU's linebackers coach. A role as coordinator was necessary to his career arc.
"He felt strongly about it, so we wished him well," Doeren said Tuesday at MAC Media Day. "I told him I'm happy for you, but I wish it was somewhere else."
Doeren, the former defensive coordinator at Wisconsin, landed the job Matukewicz wanted after Jerry Kill left NIU for Minnesota in 2010. Bridging the gap between the coaching change, Matukewicz led the Huskies to a 40-17 win over Fresno State in the Humanitarian Bowl and was credited for unifying the program during an emotional two weeks that consisted of a loss in the MAC championship game and the departure of Kill. His lighthearted approach, built on cracking jokes and ordering coaches to go one-on-one in practice, endeared Matukewicz to his players. They chanted "Tuke! Tuke!" on the field and doused him with a water bucket in the final seconds. Quarterback Chandler Harnish, who led the Huskies to 11 wins that season, said of 'Tuke,' "He meant everything to us."
Doeren retained Matukewicz in 2011 and together they crafted an 11-win season, collecting the MAC title and a victory in the GoDaddy.com Bowl.
"He was the heart of our team for a little bit," Progar said this week. "He had so much fun when he was our head coach. We're all happy for him but sad to see him leave."
Those sentiments will be cast aside Nov. 14 when UT and Matukewicz travel to NIU for a mid-week match up that figures to determine the hierarchy in the MAC West. A slim preseason favorite over NIU, UT has dropped two straight to its budding rival, including last year's memorable affair that saw the Huskies escape the Glass Bowl with a 63-60 win.
"We'll look forward to seeing him after the game and either telling him how bad we beat him or congratulating him on the win," Progar said.
Any upper hand UT thinks it might have due to Matukewicz's understanding of NIU are nullified, Doeren said, by the Huskies' familiarity with Matukewicz's schemes.
"We know his too," Doeren said with a grin.
Contact Ryan Autullo at: firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6160 or on Twitter @AutulloBlade