GREEN BAY – Green Bay Notre Dame received close to 70 applications from around the country for its football opening before conducting interviews with four finalists.
In the end, it didn’t have to look far for its new coach.
The school announced Tuesday that it has hired longtime assistant Michael Rader, who has been part of the coaching staff since 1998 and the team’s offensive play caller.
He takes over for John Nowak, a Wisconsin Football Coaches Hall of Fame inductee who retired after 31 seasons and 225 wins. It included 27 seasons at Notre Dame.
Rader has been part of a program that has enjoyed a great deal of success since joining the WIAA in 2000. The Tritons have made the playoffs in 16 of 17 seasons and have won two state championships while playing in four title games.
They have appeared in each of the last two Division 3 championship games while going a combined 24-4 during that span.
But they also must replace several star players that includes quarterback Johnny Santaga, running back Nate Ihlenfeldt, linemen Andrew Zipp and John Leonhard, wide receiver Quinn Snyder, defensive end Morgan Carlson and linebackers Jack Drake and Danny Stewart.
Rader knows all about the expectations for this program. The 1992 Notre Dame graduate was an all-state performer for the Tritons before playing in college for the University of Wisconsin.
“It’s pretty exciting,” Rader said. “I’ve worked with John a long, long time. I learned a lot from him. This is a pretty cool experience to be able to take everything I’ve learned over the past many years of doing this and try to put my own spin on it, yet still under the foundation of everything we have built here as long as the school has been around.”
Notre Dame athletic director Jeanne Stangel said the school had a search and screen committee that helped make the decision or gave input, some of whom were alumni.
Among the group was Green Bay Packers chief spokesman and director of public affairs Aaron Popkey, Packers personnel director Eliot Wolf and Father Jim Baraniak.
“We had a nice representation of people that understood X’s and O’s. … to understanding administratively what we were looking for and all the key components that we were looking to do,” Stangel said. “Mike quickly rose to the top and brought a lot to the program.
“Just his experience, 19 years with the program, understanding what it takes being part of that winning tradition. Also being an alumnus helps. He really understands that component. And just his faith beliefs, and doing a lot with the youth community. That is so important for us to start building that next level and attracting folks here.”
The transition from Nowak to Rader should be smooth. Nowak gave Rader a lot of responsibilities over the years – it included naming him offensive line coach in 2006 – and it was Rader who stepped in as head coach for periods during the 2011 and 2016 seasons when Nowak dealt with health issues.
Rader also has been a head coach with youth teams in the area in football, basketball and soccer.
“I’m really excited about it,” Notre Dame offensive lineman Andrew Gruesen said. “I’ve been playing on the line with Coach for a few years now and I think one of his best attributes is taking whatever group of guys we throw out at him and somehow making a team out of it.
“This year our numbers are expected to be a little lower than usual, so I think it’s definitely going to be a good step forward for the program.”
Gruesen approached Stangel a few weeks ago and told her the players understood there were a lot of factors that went into a hire but were hoping to share their opinions.
Stangel had them create a list of attributes they wanted in a new coach, and Gruesen wrote a letter that was signed by the 2018 senior group to give her.
Stangel said the letter was “beautiful” and one she shared with the search committee.
“He is a great guy and a great coach,” said Jack Allen, who was a second-team all-conference defensive back in the FRCC as a junior last season. “He really relates to the players. He knows what we want and what we want to get out of the season. He expects a lot from us, but not over the top where we feel too much pressure.
“Overall, we all want to play our best for him and for the team. Just do our best to succeed in the program.”
Noteworthy: Notre Dame also announced the hiring of Molly French as track and field coach and Littlewind Silas as Lacrosse coach.