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Dave Doeren: Profile of a Possible Savior

D squared has the reputation of a defensive-minded coach, but nobody told the offense at Northern Illinois.

Mark A. Cunningham

The defense wins championships crowd is pleased to see Dave Doeren's name surface as a candidate to replace Tom O'Brien on the sidelines at N. C. State. However, while Doeren cut his coaching teeth on the defensive side of the ball and has a reputation as a defensive-minded coach, his teams have actually been better with the ball than without it. Though he is not old school in his approach-Doeren's Northern Illinois squad runs the spread offense-he is old school in his belief that to be successful a team must establish the run while shutting down the opponent's running game.

Let's learn more about him in our latest installment of POAPS:

1. Has he coached teams that have won a conference title, made multiple bowl games, and/or consistently been highly ranked?

In two seasons guiding the Northern Illinois Huskies' sleigh, Doeren has won a MAC title and will play for a second straight championship Friday night against Kent State, a team ranked 18th in the current AP poll. The Huskies are 19th. Northern Illinois enters the title game riding an 11-game win streak; its only loss of the 2012 campaign came by one point on the road against Iowa in the season opener. Last season, the Huskies closed the campaign on a 9-game winning streak, culminating in a Danica Patrick Bowl win over Arkansas State. If my math is correct, Doeren's Huskies have won 20 of their last 21 games. What the heck would that feel like?

2. Has he built a program from the ground up?

Not exactly. Doeren sports a ridonkulous .846 winning percentage in two years as a head coach, but the Huskies had a pretty good bite when he took over for Jerry Kill, who went 11-3 in 2010 before parlaying that success into the head gig at Minnesota.

3. Has he substantially improved the program from when he took over?

As noted above, Northern Illinois went 11-3 in 2010, and it even wedged its way into a 24th place ranking in the AP poll before losing to Miami of Ohio in the MAC championship game. Doeren did whip the Huskies over the hurdle by winning the title in 2011, and he may add a second Friday night, but the foundation for his success was already in place.

4. Has he succeeded at more than one head coaching job?

No, the Northern Illinois job is his first job as a head coach.

5. Does he have significant high-major experience as either a head coach or an assistant?

Yes, Double D was an assistant at his alma mater, Drake, and also at perennial FCS power Montana, and he held BCS gigs at USC-West (grad assistant), Kansas (linebackers coach), and Wisconsin (linebackers coach and defensive coordinator). He was DC for the Badgers from 2008-2010, where his team's yards per play allowed stats were fair to middling: 5.01 ypp in 2008 (43rd), 5.08 in 2009 (37th), and 5.29 in 2010 (51st). It would be nice to see those numbers trending in the opposite direction.

For what it's worth, the Football Outsiders thought more highly of Doeren's defenses than the raw numbers suggest, thanks to Wisconsin's relatively difficult schedules. The Badgers ranked 36th in defensive efficiency in 2008, 17th in 2009, and 33rd in 2010.

6. Is his team one of the best in its conference right now?

Absolutely. Northern Illinois will play for the MAC title for the third consecutive season, and the Huskies have won 11 games three years running with a chance to get to 13 this year. As an N. C. State fan, I did not realize that 13 was even theoretically possible.

7. Do his teams actually play, what is this thing called, "defense"?

Doeren's Wisconsin teams were steady if not stout. Kill's Huskies were 58th in defensive efficiency in 2010 but slid to 89th in Doeren's first season. This year, the Huskies rank 33rd and are surrendering just 17.5 points per game, good for the 15th best scoring defense in the FBS ranks. They have held opponents to seven points or less five times. Of course those are mostly MAC opponents. Toledo (40th) and Ball State (43rd) are the most efficient offenses Doeren has been asked to stop this season; they're not exactly Clemson or the Highly Caffeinated Fedora Express.

Doeren has a reputation as a defensive-minded coach, but it remains to be seen if he can produce against a slate of offenses from BCS-level competition.

8. Any indication that he can recruit ACC-level (or above) talent?

In addition to his defensive coaching responsibilities, Doeren held the title of recruiting coordinator at both Kansas and Wisconsin, which counts for something, but, at least according to Rivals's class ratings, he has had little success luring top talent to DeKalb. In fact, his 2011 class, which was largely recruited by Kill, is his best class and ranks 78th. His last class ranked 94th and his current class ranks 108th. Like his increasing ypp average each year at Wisconsin, this trend is a little disconcerting.

9. Does his offense run more than five plays?

Doeren tabbed veteran offensive coordinator Mike Dunbar to run the Husky spread in 2012. Dunbar, previously the OC at UMass, Toledo, Northwestern, Cal, Minnesota, and New Mexico State, had to relinquish his duties after the season opener in order to focus his full attention on his fight against cancer, which is a storyline N. C. State fans are familiar with after what Dana Bible went through.

Despite the loss of Dunbar, Northern Illinois hasn't missed a beat on offense, scoring at least 30 points in every game of its current 11-game winning streak. The Huskies' 40.5 points per game average is good for 12th in the FBS. Interestingly, the Huskies finished 12th in scoring in each of the last two seasons. 12th in scoring and 11 wins every year? I thought we already did the Dykes and Morris profiles.

Unlike Dykes and Morris, who have reputations as passing game wizards even though their teams consistently run the ball extremely well too, Doeren's offenses do it on the ground. Kill's last Husky squad had almost a two-to-one run-to-pass ratio. Subsequent teams have been a bit more balanced under Doeren, but you can pretty much bet on 10 more carries than pass attempts. And why not: the Huskies' rushing rank has been 7th, 12th, and 9th in yards per game over the past three seasons.

A lot of that running comes from the signal caller. Doeren's spread offenses feature a dual-threat quarterback. In 2011, Chandler Harnish led all quarterbacks in rushing with 1,379 yards and was 25th in the nation overall. In 2012, Jordan Lynch sits 6th in all the land in rushing with 1,611 yards, almost 500 more rushing yards than any other QB. It looks like the spread, which most people think of as a pass-heavy approach, is utilized by Doeren to keep defenders out of the box to open up the running game.

What the Huskies have done offensively is quite impressive under any circumstances, but especially when one considers that they have been through multiple quarterbacks and coordinators while Doeren has been at the helm. If Doeren is the hire, expect Manny Stocker, not Pete Thomas, to be State's next quarterback given the potential new coach's preference for a dual-threat signal caller.

Note that the Huskies' offensive efficiency has ranked better than their defensive numbers in Kill's last season and in each of Doeren's seasons: 27th (2010), 15th (2011), and 33rd (2012).

10. Does he have any connection to NC State, the state of North Carolina, or the ACC?

Rumor has it that he vacayed in Myrtle Beach once, tearing down the strip on a crotch rocket. Except not really. The vast majority of his experience is in the Midwest with the exception of his short stint as a grad assistant at USC-West. This is troublesome. Basketball recruiting is less regional than football recruiting, and one does not need a couple dozen studs to win in basketball, so geography is less important in a hoops' coach search. Football players take time to develop, and inroads to the fertile recruiting fields take time to sew. Unless he is so damn good that he can beat yours with his and his with yours, Doeren's success timetable could be slowed by his outsider status.

11. Any other random red flags or positives?

Doeren appears to be a squeaky clean family guy with a reputation as a tireless worker who has good rapport with his players. This man's closet houses no skeletons.

His Midwest ties do raise somewhat of a red flag. What if he comes to State and is successful? Could he harbor Wisconsin, Notre Dame, Kansas State, or insert flyover country school here hopes and dreams for the future?


Would he be better than TOB?

Like Dykes, Doeren already has a better team than TOB had this season despite having less talent at his disposal, but all the coaching in the world will not consistently beat BCS-level competition unless he can prove to horde talent better than TOB in the long run. So...probably. Dykes may have a higher ceiling but bigger risk, while Doeren might be a safer bet.

Would he be better than Chuck?

A sweaty jockstrap would be an improvement over CTC.

Would he take the job if offered?

That the trigger has not already been pulled for Dykes have led some to speculate that Dr. Yow is waiting for the MAC title game to unfold before trying to get Doeren's name on a contract. If that is the case, one would assume that the interest is mutual. Doeren has certainly been an avid job climber in his career thus far, and if N. C. State presents him with a higher rung on the ladder, he likely climbs.

How would I feel if he were hired?

More so than even Dykes, Doeren is the "it" mid-major coach of the moment, the Shaka Smart of the gridiron. However, an argument could be made that he has simply continued what Kill started, whereas Dykes has clearly improved the product Derek Dooley left behind. I would definitely support the hire, but it's no coin flip for me between Doe and Dykes. Doeren is my second choice among the heavily rumored candidates (third if James Franklin is actually in the field).

How would the fan base as a whole feel if he were hired?

Even though Doeren is very much the rising coach of the moment, I think the fan base would ask, "Who?" The firing of TOB was sudden and somewhat unexpected, so the average Pack fan probably hasn't had their finger on the pulse of the potential savior situation. Once they take to the interwebz for a bit of research, I think they would quickly warm to the move. Given the immediate lift Gottfried gave to the basketball program, the fan base is likely to trust Dr. Yow regardless of who she brings in. But Doeren definitely lacks the name recognition of Dykes, who is the son of the winningest coach in Texas Tech history.

***Special All New POAPS Features***

How old is this dude?

Doeren is a mere 41. Holy crap! In just four years I will be older than him!

Does a Google image search of the man inspire confidence? If not, what does it inspire?

Doeren's image search reveals a man who lets his wife shave his head. He is boldly embracing a Jay Bilas-like male pattern baldness, though it has not quite advanced to that stage. As someone who is destined for the comb over sooner rather than later, I respect his willingness to show off some forehead. As long as I don't see him applying pansy-ass sunscreen to that tender forehead flesh freshly void of follicles, we're good.