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Slippery Rock coach Mihalik teaches more than football

| Monday, Oct. 14, 2013, 11:18 p.m.
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Slippery Rock coach George Mihalik guided The Rock to a win over previously unbeaten Indiana (Pa.) on Saturday, Oct. 12, 2013.

Football coaches like to call themselves teachers and to some extent they are, once you get past the yelling and cursing and the occasional scholarship withholding.

Slippery Rock coach George Mihalik, however, is the real thing, a genuine college instructor right down to his doctoral degree and tenured professorship.

“I tell players, ‘I walk the same walk you do,' ” he said. “We both go to class, we both have to prepare for class.”

In his 26th season at The Rock, as the school is known, Mihalik shares his “ideal scenario” with his players.

“I tell them that on graduation day I want you to go across the stage with a diploma in one hand and a championship ring in the other,” he said.

Mihalik, 61, teaches one class in the fall called Security in the Workplace, and two classes of Management and Integration of Safety in the spring. On Saturday, he and Slippery Rock delivered some hard lessons, creating a workplace dangerously insecure and unsafe to Indiana (Pa.).

Facing the top-ranked defense in NCAA Division II at the time, Slippery Rock dealt IUP its first loss, 42-16, before a pleasantly stunned home crowd. Even Mihalik acknowledged a touch of surprise.

“When you're going against the No. 1 defense in the nation, you just hope you're going to be able to move the ball,” he said.

Slippery Rock moved indeed, at warp speed from their spread, no-huddle offense. They gained 676 yards, the most ever against IUP and more than three times what the Crimson Hawks, ranked seventh at the time, were yielding this season.

“We all had a connected day,” said senior quarterback Nigel Barksdale, who threw for 425 yards and two touchdowns. “We all played as one.”

“I think it's so hard for the opponent to replicate our offense during the week,” Mihalik said. “It's something they don't expect. ... It was very obvious they were struggling with the tempo and their players' ability to stay on the field. It looked like some of their players were fatigued.”

IUP was holding opponents to six points per game. On the other side of the ball, the Crimson Hawks came in averaging 204 yards on the ground but managed just 59, its lowest output in nine years.

On Monday, IUP fell to 22nd in the poll. Slippery Rock remained unranked. Both teams are 5-1 overall, 2-1 in the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference West, with much to be decided.

A former starting quarterback for Slippery Rock, Mihalik, who grew up in Ebensburg, is trying to reach the playoffs for the first time since 1999. He is No. 1 in career wins at the school, his legend firmly established. In 2011, N. Kerr Thompson Stadium became Thompson-Mihalik Stadium.

“I think he's an icon here,” athletic director Paul Leuken said. “He's looked up to so much, as a faculty member as well as a coach. People respect him. He does things the right way.”

Bob Cohn is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at bcohn@tribweb.com.

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