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NC State Football Top 10 Countdown! #6: The Prime of the Dave Doeren Era

Turns out letting coaches build slowly can pay off

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Football is just around the corner, folks, can’t you feel it!? We figured what better way to get us all ready than counting down the top storylines heading into this season. Here’s the wrinkle: These are all things we’re either excited or worried about. It’s not all sunshine and rainbows with the team receiving their highest preseason ranking in program history. We know that dreaded SSUPO wants to rear its ugly head, so while we’re mostly gaga over this team, there will be a few areas that are still question marks. Alec and Essad will break down the top 10 topics their thinking about as kickoff fast approaches.

And with that, let’s continue counting!

#6. Dave Doeren in his PRIME

Excited or Worried? Super duper excited

Essad: We can see now that when Dave Doeren came to NC State from NIU, he was pretty green. He had to learn on the job how to run a power 5 program, the attention, and the subsequent pressure that comes along with it. It hasn’t always been easy to watch, and I have to admit it took me a while to fully buy in. He now openly admits there was a learning curve. There was a period where he seemed to be very sure of exactly how he wanted to run the offense, often times bordering on what seemed like stubbornness. There were rumors of friction behind the scenes with OC’s Matt Canada and Eliah Drinkwitz. The feeling was DD knew what he wanted and how he thought it should be done.

This is why I think Tim Beck and Tony Gibson have been the best things for Doeren. He made the best choice a few years ago and investing in filling his assistant coaching ranks with years and years of previous Power 5 experience. You can see this philosophy in bringing on Ruffin Mcneill, almost like an ombudsman for the program.

Over the years, we’ve watched him grow as a coach. He seems more comfortable with empowering his assistants and not needing to micro manage as much. Since the disastrous 2019 season, he made some big changes that have been bearing fruit. Recruiting has also taken a step up as he has a good understanding of the type of player he wants. He's not recruiting stars, he and the staff are recruiting to fit.

It's odd how we can spend almost a decade now watching a coach evolve over time. All our opinions are obviously from the outside looking in. Every fan base wants their coach to embody the piece they see of themselves in the school. The blue collar mentality is in the DNA of the school. It took a while for him to get there, but at this point Dave Doeren embodies the "feeling" of NC State. It's never going to be easy here, we know this, and he knows it too. He's now drilling that into his guys, so they know nothing will be handed to them, and they get out only what they put in. Their motto "Hard Tough Together" strikes me as very intentional. They start with knowing it will be hard, and the guys are good with that. That kind of culture is hard to build, but makes it feel great to root for his success.

A flashier coach would feel weird at this point. DD is comfortable with who he is and how he wants to lead the organization. He knows the people he wants working and playing for him. It's not a show, and he doesn't need to mug for the cameras. The school has been incredibly patient with him, and that investment is paying off with the football program being in its most solid state in 30+ years. If he's able to hit the heights this team is capable of then this will be the precedent for giving a coach the time he needs to build a program the right way and his way.

Alec: I’m really excited for Dave to get the opportunity in front of him this year. He’s done about as good of a job building NC State as you could realistically expect anyone to do, and he deserves credit for it. We’ll see what happens this season, but the preseason ranking is finally some deserved recognition for a program that’s earned its way into the top 25 four of the last five years despite not starting there once.

Doeren gets NC State, and I don’t mean culturally, even though that is true. I mean from an execution standpoint, he understands how to win at a program that operates at a brand equity deficit relative to most of its recruiting rivals. No coach that NC State could actually hire is going to come here and blow the doors off of UNC on the recruiting trail out of the gate. NC State is not going to consistently pull elite high school players from out of state. The only way to elevate here is through evaluation and development.

Doeren and his staff have excelled at this process in particular. State nearly won the Atlantic Division in 2017 with a roster made almost entirely of three-star recruits. It nearly did it again last year. The process works, and it has been working for some time now. I’d argue Doeren has been in his “prime” at NC State since 2017, the only real hiccup over that time a rebuilding year gone sideways.

This has been discussed ad nauseam but you have to go back pretty far to find a run in Raleigh that matches the success that Dave Doeren has had the last five seasons. I don’t believe his prime culminates with this season, but this obviously has a chance to be the high point so far. The preseason ranking, to me at least, marks the point where Doeren has won enough that he’s no longer treated like the underdog. It’s an elevation of status after nine seasons, and what it could launch State into if it takes advantage is crazy to think about. Doeren took a long road here that certainly contained its share of abuse along the way, but he’s earned every bit of where he’s led this program and I could not be more excited to see where it goes from here.