Dave Doeren inherited a painful rebuilding job but he also has a sympathetic athletics director, who rightly kept NC State’s non-conference schedule light in order to prop him up while Doeren slowly added talent to the program. There is a significant mirage factor to his time in Raleigh.
Doeren has done a lot right at NC State: adding talent being the most important thing, of course.
He landed a crucial transfer in Jacoby Brissett, who was orders of magnitude better than the quarterbacks he inherited from Tom O’Brien. He increased the recruiting focus on in-state players, especially players in the Charlotte area, and those kids have become his foundation. He eradicated Dana Bible’s cynical and pointless offense, which was not so much an offense as it was Tom O’Brien and Bible lazily riding the backs of NFL quarterbacks to Charleston.
TOB and Doeren are inverse figures: O’Brien had absolutely nothing to say on the field; Doeren has nothing to say off of it. But O’Brien managed to catch a few big wins despite his pig-headed approach and substandard recruiting, while Doeren somehow is in his fourth year with zero good wins. Recruiting should be a differentiating factor in this side-by-side comparison, even if you aren’t fortunate enough to luck into Russell Wilson. Hasn’t worked out that way, even with Brissett on his best days serving as a Wilson proxy.
Now in his fourth season, the list of teams Dave Doeren has defeated is not particularly impressive. Louisiana Tech, Richmond, Central Michigan, Georgia Southern, Old Dominion (twice), South Florida, Presbyterian, Syracuse (twice), Wake Forest (twice) North Carolina, Central Florida, Troy, South Alabama, Boston College and William & Mary.
If we can excavate a decent win from this pile of forgettable football, it’s probably UCF, which was a fringe top-25 team that was basically playing a home game. That year-two surge for Doeren was the point where it seemed his approach and attitude were reaping tangible benefits, but we have seen nothing like it since.
Doeren is a decent football coach, but decent ain’t going to cut it in the here and now; not in this division, not with FSU and Clemson where they are. In fairness it’s a much more difficult atmosphere now, with FSU and Clemson (and Louisville?) playing at elite levels. O’Brien didn’t have to deal with this. If he had, he’d have washed out sooner.
Doeren seems to lack a basic feel for the game; it might just be bad luck, and it might be poorly-minded desperation. Trotting out a green kicker for a field goal a couple times in plus territory when leaving the offense on the field would have made a lot of sense; randomly deciding to fake a kick on a chip shot; going for two early on.
That is some weird, scattershot stuff from a coach who is paid to know better. That’s Doeren’s tenure, though. This is not new. At times, he seems like he’s working the system, that he knows when there is easy money to be made by bucking conventional wisdom.
Then there is the East Carolina game, which was Doeren feeling the pressure of the moment and not just letting the football happen organically. He goes back and forth, and it’s maddening. He knows this is a big year for him, and Saturday he let that gnawing fact beat him. He also ran into some shitty officiating and his team was on the road.
The bottom line is this: Doeren to his credit has raised NC State’s talent level significantly, but they don’t raise a banner for that, at least not outside of Tennessee. Doeren’s luck may be foul and his draw worse, but at some point, you have got to show us something on a Saturday. For Doeren, the next time will be the first time.