Olivet College isn’t accustomed to replacing successful football coaches.
In the MIAA, America’s oldest college conference, Olivet has won just 12 titles in 122 years, and only one from 1915 to 2006.
But things changed after coach Dan Pifer took the reins in 2012. After going winless in his first year, Pifer steadily improved the program until it shared the MIAA title with Albion in 2015, and then won it outright in 2016, the first time Olivet had won the MIAA back-to-back since 1914.
Walsh University, a Division II school in North Canton, Ohio, noticed Pifer’s success, and on Dec. 14 Pifer resigned at Olivet to take the job at Walsh.
Olivet athletic director Ryan Shockey found himself having to replace the most successful football coach in program history since Burt Kennedy in 1907.
“When I go into a hire, I step back and look at the program as a whole,” Shockey said. “You always have to keep your eyes open and do what’s right for the program.”
Enter 37-year old Dan Musielewicz. A part of Pifer’s staff, Musielewicz has coordinated Olivet’s offense since Pifer’s first year. Last season the Comets averaged 30.7 points and in 2015 an eyebrow-raising 45.4.
“Pifer did good job putting together a staff, so we just built around it. We weren’t doing anything wrong. We were actually doing a lot right,” Shockey said.
Musielewicz, nicknamed “Moose” by his players, was named head coach on Jan. 9.
Helping Musielewicz in his inaugural season is the fact that Pifer only took one assistant coach with him to Walsh. Instead of having to turn the entire staff over, something common with head coaching changes, Olivet only had to hire two new assistants.
“My staff has made the transition easier,” Musielewicz said. “There was great commitment within the transition to make sure we had the majority of our staff. As you look at transitions all over college football, it's a crazy profession. It keeps you on your toes.”
Musielewicz’s enthusiasm helped earn him the job, and there’s no doubt it has bolstered recruiting since Pifer named Musielewicz recruiting coordinator in 2012, a tall task at a perennial MIAA doormat in Division III, where there are no athletic scholarships.
“Our staff believes that recruiting is the lifeblood of our program,” Musielewicz said. “You have to have the type of men that have the character and the talent you want. It’s 365 days a year -- you do it every day, like shaving. If you don't shave every day, you're going to look like a bum.”
Musielewicz had been under the wing of Pifer since 2002, when Musielewicz was playing wide receiver at Hillsdale and Pifer was named an assistant coach. From there, Musielewicz was coached by Pifer in the Continental Indoor Football League, then they became members of the same successful coaching staff at MIAA’s Trine University. Pifer took Musielewicz with him when Pifer became head coach at Olivet in 2012.
“Dan (Pifer) and I have been good friends for a long time,” Musielewicz said. “This is basically the first year professionally that we have not worked together. He got me into college coaching, and we're such great friends, which is why I stay in touch with him. We're certainly busy, but we talk.”
Moving up to head coach is a different challenge, but Musielewicz is already keenly aware of the differences between being a coordinator versus the person in charge.
“There were a lot of things I took for granted as a coordinator from a process standpoint,” Musielewicz said. “Now I’ve got a real appreciation for what Dan was able to do. Dan and I are certainly different coaches, but I often find myself asking how he would react to certain situations. I will instruct on the field for about the same amount of time as when I was a coordinator, but you have to have your thumbprint on so many other things as head coach, like budgeting, alumni relations and fundraising. It's been fun, it's been stressful and it's been everything in between.”
Olivet returns 16 starters from last year’s team, and after so much success the last two seasons, the expectations for the football program have changed.
“There’s a lot of excitement,” Shockey said. “People are eager to get out and watch another season of it. There’s a lot of anticipation, and there’s always going to be a lot of pressure. Things will get competitive, but we’re ready for that and excited about the season.”
“We're excited about the chance to reload,” Musielewicz said. “It’s been awesome to have depth and experience so we don't miss a beat. It would look on paper like we're doing some great things.”
Olivet opens its season at home against Heidelberg (Ohio) on Saturday at 1 p.m.
Eric Coughlin is a freelance writer.