Monday, December 03, 2012

NC State wants MACtion (the good kind)

So NC State didn't hire Sonny Dykes. That was surprising. It was also inconvenient for Northern Illinois since Sonny Dykes has nothing to do these days whereas Dave Doeren, the guy who actually got hired, also has nothing to do but only because he left NIU about five seconds before a BCS invitation arrived. That's of little consequence to NC State, of course, but might be of consequence to Doeren if that turns out to be the only BCS invite of his career, which hey ya never know.

Anyway, Dave Doeren. He just turned 41 (!), which means his resume is not lengthy. Here's the gist of it: He was a defensive assistant for a few years at various places, was co-defensive coordinator at Kansas for a year, moved to Wisconsin to be co-defensive coordinator and linebackers coach, got promoted to actual defensive coordinator in 2008, did pretty well for three years and then got the head coaching job at NIU in 2011. Two years later, NIU has won two straight MAC titles while accumulating a record of 23-4 and is about to play in the Orange Bowl. I know.

And that's it. Trying to extrapolate from that seems ... ummm ... something. More data would probably be useful; NC State decided it wasn't necessary, though.

Going back to what Doeren did at Wisconsin, there are numbers available. In 2008, Wiscy's defense was 37th in yards allowed, 44th in rushing yards allowed, 24th in pass efficiency and 66th (?) in scoring; in 2009, those rankings were 17th, fifth, 58th and 33rd; in 2010, the same rankings were 20th, 26th, 53rd and 25th. To glean out the most relevant info there, Wisconsin went from 37th to 17th to 20th in total defense and 66th to 33rd to 25th in scoring defense. So there was definitive improvement as Wisconsin went from 7-5 to 9-3 to 11-1, hence Doeren getting a head coaching job at the age of 39.

As for what happened at Northern Illinois, here's the thing: NIU was already arguably the best program in the MAC when he got there thanks to Jerry Kill. They'd gone 11-3 and lost the MAC title game in 2010 with both a good offense and a good defense, then dropped about 70 spots in most relevant defensive categories in Doeren's first year but went 11-3 again and won the MAC title game, then kinda recovered on defense this year and went 12-1, with the last of those 12 wins being in double overtime against Kent State to win the conference title for the second straight year. So Doeren basically took what might have been the best program in the MAC and made it the best program in the MAC; the improvement was incremental.

A line from ESPN's hiring analysis:
It is obvious what NC State athletic director Debbie Yow saw in Dave Doeren: man who elevated a good Northern Illinois football program into a great football program.

That is what she wants for her Wolfpack. NC State is not a program in major need of a rebuilding job or an overhaul. NC State is a winning program, as evidenced by its recent bowl streak. It just needs somebody to get 'em over the top, to win the important games that simply haven't been won before on a consistent basis. Doeren has proven he can do that.
Valid points, those. Tom O'Brien got fired not because he was bad but because he was amazingly average. He went 40-35 in four years, had a 22-26 record in ACC play and finished somewhere in the middle of the division every year, never going to a conference title game or doing anything else of real significance other than pulling off a few random upsets that were followed by (and rendered largely irrelevant by) losses to Duke/Maryland/whoever.

Taking a consistently average program and making it marginally better -- say, to the point of regularly getting to 8-4 and occasionally contending for an ACC title -- would qualify as not-insignificant improvement. Granted, "WOO 8-4 CONSISTENCY" isn't a super-sexy marketing slogan, but it's a reasonable goal after getting to 8-4 just once in the last six years.

This would be a good spot for this previously excerpted thing from ESPN Insider:
"Have you seen the facilities in Raleigh?" a West Coast coordinator asked. "If you were at that stadium 15 years ago and then you were there over the last year, then you can see how committed they are to the program. That fan base is a sleeping football giant. And there is a ton of talent in North Carolina that leaves every year. O'Brien is a good X's and O's guy, but he's never taken to recruiting. Get a real recruiter in there and he would mop up." 
The obvious question: Is Doeren a real recruiter? I have no idea; neither does anybody else since his five years of actual experience provide almost no data points (there's no legitimately useful way to quantify recruiting at a MAC school, where all the players are of similarly little value according to the Rivals/Scout/ESPN system). The good news: He's 41 and therefore knows all about the twitters and interwebs and the newfangled whatnot. The bad news: He has zero previous experience on the East Coast (outside of allegedly being Wisconsin's main Florida recruiter). In terms of ACC familiarity, Frank Beamer he isn't.

Back to ESPN:
The only area that could give NC State observers pause is recruiting. Remember, Yow said last week she wanted a coach who could bring in "Alabama-type talent." That has ratcheted up expectations out of the gate. 
Unless NC State turns into SMU circa 1982, the "Alabama-type talent" thing just isn't gonna happen. Maybe Doeren is a very good recruiter along the lines of Dabo Swinney at Clemson; maybe he isn't. Either way, guaranteed recruiting awesomeness must not have been a deciding factor since Yow could've just hired Butch Davis (and mandated that Trooper Taylor be on the staff) and been done with it but instead took a chance on a guy with two years of head coaching experience in the MAC.

Really, though, it's not necessary to recruit like a boss to win the ACC. I wrote this last week:
The ACC is imminently winnable as long as Florida State is the only elite-ish program. Georgia Tech, Wake Forest and Maryland have been to BCS games in the last decade, which is pretty much all that needs to be said. Clemson and Virginia Tech are really the only other programs that fall into the "consistently above average" category, so there's obviously some opportunity to do better than 7-5 every year.
Indeed. The conference as a whole is pretty mediocre and probably will be for the next few years with North Carolina and Miami potentially getting cratered by the NCAA and almost every other non-Florida State/Clemson/Virginia Tech program looking very blah.

So the hard part probably won't be getting to 8-4 on a somewhat-regular basis; the hard part will be making NC State relevant in the ACC with Florida State and Clemson in the same division. Whether Doeren can do that remains to be seen. The unanswerable question at this point is whether his lack of meaningful experience (at least in terms of recruiting and development) will turn out to be be relevant in the long term or turn out to be just one of those things that happens with people who are too good to not keep moving up in the world.

NC State is obviously betting on the latter (betting $1.8 million a year, to be specific) and will either (a) be in really good shape for the next many years or (b) be looking for a new coach three years from now and thinking Sonny Dykes/Chad Morris/whoever probably would've been a better (or at least safer) way to go.


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