(Checks Chrome extensions, makes sure ad-block is still on. Moving on.)
If you’ve run out of small talk with your family that you’re stuck in the house with and you’re looking for a reason to ignore them for a while, have I got just the thing for you. Sit back while I crack open this can with 1200 words of straight unrefined June and pour it down your throats.
I’ve spent this holiday thinking about what a unique place NC State is in right now. The overriding feeling now, compared to not too long ago, is an odd sensation I am not used to. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but it seems like something I’ve wanted for the last two decades.
Is this what “confidence” feels like? Week after week, year after year, I just wait for the other shoe to drop in State games. Somehow, both Dave Doeren and Kevin Keatts are eroding this feeling from my psyche and replacing it with the thought of going into games and expecting to win, rather than hoping for a win. Will I ever be able to fully drop the nervousness in the back of my mind? Probably not, but it’s at its lowest DEFCON level in memory.
Part 1: Dave Doeren is a bricklayer
I originally thought to write this post about football, because I felt like I had to “come to terms” with JUST winning nine regular season games this year. I’m not going to lie, that Wake Forest game just about broke me. I checked out mentally until the following game. We spent all this time prognosticatin’ about getting a New Years 6 bowl, and finishing with 10 regular season wins. It still stings we laid an egg on national TV, but here’s where things change.
Past NC State teams would have used that loss for a late season swoon, and came out limp against a weak Louisville team. It seems like Dave Doeren has improved as a coach to the point he can avoid these pitfalls. The Syracuse game was the one time where it felt like there might have been a carryover from the previous week, but I think that was more a case of the orange people honing in on our exact weaknesses. Wake did the same. But even with an at times pitiful secondary, Doeren was able to get the team to succeed. Nine regular season wins may seem like a letdown to some, but let’s put this in perspective:
NC State has been playing organized football since 1892.
Including 2018, they have won 9 or more regular season games exactly 5 times. Five.
Were we hoping for more? Yes, but the state of the program is showing demonstrable growth year over year across the board. Is this going to stop me from worrying about having so many new parts next year? No, I’m quietly freaking out about it. QB, WR, RB, OL, DL, LB and Secondary are all expecting either new or less experienced players. Add to that turnover in the coaching staff and we could be freaking out right now. But Doeren made sure none of the staff turnover affected his committed recruits. He’s doing the work to be able to reload every year, rather than rebuild.
There’s still work to be done, but Dave Doeren is laying a brickyard, one brick at a time. A man from a military family who knows the importance of building a program for stability. He may not be flashy, but he is making a foundation we can rely on. It is taking time, but all signs point to it being worth the wait.
Part 2: Kevin Keatts is a sorcerer
On the flip side, we have this dude:
Kevin Keatts inherited a program that, well the less said the better. In 1.3 seasons, he has revamped the culture at NC State. No easy task, but his infectious personality has allowed him to set a high standard that his players are pushing themselves 100% at all times to live up to. Torin Dorn was pretty candid recently (the day before the Auburn game) when talking about just how much of an impact Keatts has had in a short time:
There were times over the years where that was literally all I wanted to hear. Even if you don’t win, leave it all out there, act like you care. Do not ever go through the motions. Keatts echoed that with his own comments:
“The thing that burns me up is when guys don’t compete.”
”If you don’t play hard, somebody else is going to get your minutes.”
I would see coaches go into other jobs around the country and turn things around in a year or two, and it would fill me with jealousy. Now it’s happening at State and I’m not sure how to take in all this swagger that’s overflowing from all sides. Keatts has swag for days, and it’s rubbing off on his players. If you’ve ever worked with high school or college kids as an adult, it is not easy to keep their attention. When you’re 18-21, you think you know everything. When Keatts delivered his postgame notes the other day, pay attention not just to the great message he’s giving his team, but look at the eye contact. Each guy is locked in to his every word. This is after the game, a blowout victory to a cupcake opponent, after finals and before the holiday break. These guys could be looking off, thinking of other things they have going on, but they are listening to their coach.
We can talk about schemes and systems, but to get a hodgepodge group of guys recruited to multiple places out of high school to lock in to this degree one year into the job...that seems like sorcery stuff. It has not happened like this at NC State for a long, long, long time, and I couldn’t be happier. This isn’t to say Keatts isn’t building a foundation like Doeren. Turning a ship around in basketball is sometimes easier given the smaller rosters, but he’s establishing expectations that he can place to every incoming person from here on.
Part 3: Debbie, please don’t leave
Debbie Yow is likely having the biggest impact on NC State in a generation. That is not hyperbole. Her work at identifying and keeping talent, upgrading facilities, and all around representing the school the best way possible is unreal. The list of non-revenue teams contributing to yearly Directors Cup standings keeps growing. She locked Doeren and Keatts into initial and renewed deals to ensure they stay in red and white. We will all be sad when she takes her much earned retirement.
Keatts and Doeren have different approaches, speaking styles and wardrobes. Neither is wrong because they both are connecting with their players and putting NC State in the best positions to succeed for the long term. Both the basketball and football teams have not finished their respective seasons ranked in the final AP poll since 2003. With a win over Texas A&M, the football team could accomplish that for the second straight year. And Kevin Keatts, well, he’s a winner, so things should take care of themselves. Their success is a reflection on Yow’s leadership. Not to mention her Twitter savagery is unmatched.
Happy holidays and happy New Year, everyone!