Success in football is a complicated process, because you always have to put 22 guys out there, and you can develop a few areas well, but your opponents are always going to find the ones you don’t.
Everything boils right down to recruiting. You cannot compete for a national championship without a certain level of blue-chip players. (Hint: you need a lot of them, and there’s about a dozen or so teams in any given year with enough to bring home the hardware.)
We have seen all of this and the on-field implications of it over the last few years: NC State has had a great two-year run courtesy of finding and developing players at the point of attack, with a good quarterback tying those things together. The shortcut is exactly this: win the point of attack and have a good quarterback. Sure, your lacking back seven is going to cost you some games, and it’s going to prevent you from any meaningful title, but that was going to be the case anyway.
The margins you can find are what will define you as a coach and they’ll determine how long you get to stick around. Dave Doeren is successful because he’s been able to develop the important parts: it’s not surprising that he is out-performing his team’s recruiting ranking relative to the rest of the ACC. (You’ll need to scroll down a bit.)
This is how you have to evaluate coaches at a place like NC State, unless you want to just drive yourself crazy. Is he recruiting well? Sure, actually better than ever. Is there a clear plan installed for the guys he brings on campus? Without question. The in-game stuff is beside the point, a distraction from the larger, fundamental picture.
I’ve been as critical of Dave as anybody—hell I thought at the time in 2016 that he should have been canned. I was wrong about that, and while the nagging parts of his tenure still nag—where’s the big win?—I’ve learned that the real judgment, at a place like NC State, is exactly that margin between recruiting rankings and wins.
If you win more games than the recruiting rankings suggest you should, then you are a good coach. If Larry Fedora out-paced (or even vaguely approached) his recruiting with results on the field, he’d still be employed at UNC.
To the extent that recruiting rankings can be fraudulent, Larry’s a good case, actually. When you just throw yourself at high-ranking targets without any sort of oranizational plan, then you might end up with some gaudy recruiting rankings, but you’re also gonna get a shit-show on the field. That is why Larry died. This will kill Mack Brown eventually, too.
Dave is low-key but he is precise, and while staff turnover is going to have some near-term consequences, the important thing is that Dave’s still handling the framework. The names may change, but the plan won’t so long as Doeren is in charge. And he knows what he’s doing.