Finally. After two months, Doug Novak has moved out of the Hilton Garden Inn in Starkville, Miss.
"They turned out to be a great family," he said. "I was actually sad to leave them. Every once in a while after work, I stop by to talk. We've moved into our house, and everybody's starting to feel comfortable now."
Novak experienced two other life-changing events recently. In September, he joined the Mississippi State women's basketball staff as associate head coach after a successful eight-year run as men's head coach at Bethel University, where he compiled the highest winning percentage in the Division III program's history.
A little more than two weeks ago, he was promoted to interim head coach when Nikki McCray-Penson stepped down after one year with the Bulldogs because of health concerns.
"It's definitely a change," Novak said during a "Build Up 2 Basketball" appearance on SEC This Morning. "It's almost like you're an offensive coordinator or defensive coordinator where you get to have some narrow vision and focus, and then all of a sudden, your spectrum becomes a lot wider and there's a lot more, you could say, distractions if you allow that to happen."
The winds of change haven't stopped blowing in Starkville since State played for the national championship in 2018. After the 2020 season, longtime head coach Vic Schaefer left for Texas. He was succeeded by McCray-Penson, who helped build the South Carolina program as an assistant to Dawn Staley and enjoyed success as the Old Dominion head coach.
The 2020-21 season was cut short by COVID as the Bulldogs played only 19 games, finishing 10-9. McCray-Penson hired Novak to help rebuild. Now he's in charge of that rebuilding, at least for this season.
Novak is no stranger to the SEC. Like McCray-Penson, he's a former Tennessee athlete, having played four years for a UT tennis program that reached No. 1 in the nation. He'll make use of his Tennessee psychology degree as he continues to build trust with his Mississippi State players. He gave them two days off from workouts to process the coaching transition.
"You wish you could do it with one kumbaya team meeting, but like all relationships, sometimes you've got to go through some tough stuff to really forge the togetherness," Novak said. "I happen to be a little bit of a sarcastic guy with my teaching. Sarcasm may not be the best way to teach with this group. It's a fragile time. Change is difficult. How I use my words really does matter.
"I told 'em the first time I met 'em, 'I don't love you. I don't even know if I like you yet.' This is what happens. You meet somebody, and you grow together. When you have a common goal, that's how you grow. You just can't fast-forward and skip through that stuff."
Novak started his coaching career as an assistant tennis coach at Clemson. Since 1992, he's been coaching college basketball as an assistant or head coach, including staff stops with the men's programs at Tulane and The Citadel.
At State, he can lean on junior forward Rickea Jackson, the first McDonald's All-American to sign with the program out of high school. After leading the Bulldogs in scoring the last two seasons, the league's coaches named her to the preseason All-SEC first team.
"Every day we're building a foundation," Novak said, "getting to know each other a little bit better, understanding what's important moving forward."