Search on for assistant coaches

Beleaguered special teams coach Frank Novak retired from coaching Thursday, leaving the Green Bay Packers with two assistant coach openings to fill this off-season. Novak will remain with the team as a consultant in the final year of his contract.<p>

Earlier this week, linebackers coach Bo Pelini left the team to begin his duties as defensive coordinator for the University of Nebraska.

Novak, 64, came to the Packers in 2000 when Sherman took over as head coach. While the team's kickoff and punt coverage units have been adequate in the last two years, the return units have failed to boost the Packers. Green Bay had the worst punt return unit in the NFL this year, averaging just 4.2 yards per return. The Packers were 26th overall in kickoff returns with a 20.4 yard return average. In 2001, the Packers finished 28th in the league in punt returns and 30th in kickoff returns.

"I just wanted to go and enjoy a part of my life that has been very limited," Novak said. "Access to a wonderful family, a wonderful lady that is in my life, some things that I wanted to do for a long time and have only been able to do on a limited basis, which is to travel and to go fishing. Certainly nothing that is high maintenance but things that I have not been able to do at different times of the year. I may not be able to do all of them, but I'll be able to do some of them."

Novak insisted that he was not asked to retire by Packers coach and general manager Mike Sherman.

"No, he was disappointed I am (retiring)," Novak told the Green Bay Press-Gazette. "He was not at all wanting me to do that."

Novak will remain with the Packers, helping to break in the new special teams coach during the team's off-season minicamps. "Whatever coach wants me to do," Novak said.

Sherman will start interviewing candidates for both coaching positions next week at the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala. Because only three NFL teams have fired their head coaches, the pool of top-notch coaches is thin.

Among the possibilities, according to an Associated Press report, for special teams coach might be John Bonamego, who coached Jacksonville's special teams to the No. 1 ranking in the NFL this season under ousted coach Tom Coughlin. Bonamego, 39, worked under special teams coaches Larry Pasquale and Frank Gansz Sr. in Jacksonville from 1999-2001.

Mike Priefer, who served as Bonamego's assistant in 2002, once interviewed with Sherman for a quality-control job. Priefer, 36, is the son of Chuck Priefer, the highly successful special-teams coach in Detroit since 1997 who began his NFL career as the Packers' special teams coach in 1984-'85 under Forrest Gregg.

Chuck Priefer, 58, has at least one year left on his Lions contract and would need permission from coach Marty Mornhinweg to interview for the job, which is unlikely considering the teams both play in the NFC North.

According to Associated Press, other possible candidates include:

– Al Roberts, fired as special teams coach of the Cincinnati Bengals last week;

– Jay Hayes, who might be out after numerous snafus during his one year in Minnesota. Hayes coached special teams at the University of Wisconsin from 1995-'98.

Darrien Gordon, signed by the Packers last July, led the NFC in punt returns in 2001 but averaged just 5.1 yards on 35 punt returns. The Packers tried untested J.J. Moses for two games but his inability to make correct decisions on fielding the ball cost him his job. Moses tried to field a ball that was rolling toward the end zone against San Francisco that was nearly recovered by the 49ers on the 1. He also chased down to rolling balls off punts against Buffalo and nearly turned the ball over.

The Packers brought in veteran Eric Metcalf for the final game of the season and the playoffs, but Metcalf didn't have any better success. On two occasions, Metcalf's blockers allowed opponents to drive them into Metcalf, which is legal, while Metcalf was signaling for a fair catch.

"I feel like Eric Metcalf, if he had been with me longer, I thought he would have done a nice job for us," Sherman said.

The coach and GM said that the Packers need to block better on its return units next season in order to be successful. He said he plans on seeking a returner who can make the first defender "miss."

"I thought we could have done better than that," Sherman said. "We can and will be better at that next season."

Possibilities for linebackers coach are former Packers Johnny Holland (1987-93) and Brian Noble (1985-93). Holland was released as the Seattle Seahawks linebackers coach a few weeks ago. Noble resides in Green Bay.


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