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Dave Doeren and the chase for the Golden Era of NC State Football

After 8 seasons under Doeren, how has he done - and where is the program headed?

NCAA Football: North Carolina State at Syracuse Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

There is only one man who oversaw the NC State Football program for longer than Dave Doeren’s current tenure at the helm: Earle Edwards.

From 1954-1970, Edwards led the program through ups and downs, including a ridiculous run from 1963-1968 that saw the team go a combined 31-10 in ACC play and capture four conference titles (he also won the ACC in 1957), with Edwards winning ACC Coach of the Year three times (and also in 1957).

With eight years now under Doeren in Raleigh, it’s an opportune time to look at his results and how that stacks up to the coaches before him.

NC State is 55-46 overall in those eight seasons under Doeren, including a 52-37 mark over the last seven years. In the last four years, the team has posted a record of 30-20 under his guidance.

By comparison, after eight years at NC State, Edwards had a record of just 29-46-5 and likely would have been canned if not for his absurdly good 1957 squad that finished the season ranked #15 in the AP poll. Thankfully, the administration had patience and was rewarded handsomely for it.

Doeren’s immediate predecessor, Tom O’Brien, posted a 40-36 record (with one of those losses technically going to Dana Bible) in six years. Under Chuck Amato, State was 49-37 in seven seasons. Mike O’Cain went 41-40 in his seven seasons.

Dick Sheridan - the man most use to compare Doeren - was 52-29-3 in seven years.

Monte Kiffin and Tom Reed were a combined 25-41.

The golden era for NC State football can be classified as the 17-year window from 1963-1979. During that time, the Wolfpack posted a 108-74-6 overall record, 69-32-3 ACC record, 6 ACC titles, and 4 ACC Coach-of-the-Year awards. Edwards’ six-year run in the mid-to-late 60’s (39-23 overall record, 31-10 ACC record, four conference titles) was the peak. During the eight combined years Lou Holtz (1972-1975) and Bo Rein (1976-1979) were at the helm, State went 60-30-4 overall and 31-13-2 in ACC play with two ACC titles.

Even during that most successful era of NC State football, the program still had four 3-win years in the midst of that run. That’s almost a quarter of that time.

State has had some incredibly great seasons, but they have mostly been outliers when looking at the entire program history. The measure for true program success can’t be the peaks or valleys, but the average product being put on the field.

To that end, based on SP+, there have only been three coaches since the end of the Bo Rein era who have raised the profile of NC State football: Dick Sheridan, Chuck Amato, and Dave Doeren.

Since the program bottomed out in 1985 in the last year of Tom Reed’s run, State just hasn’t had consistent success. Sheridan steadily climbed the mountain with the program before he left in 1992, and it subsequently went right back down the mountain under O’Cain. Amato quickly ascended the program back to heights even greater than Sheridan achieved, but worries that the program was falling apart resulted in his premature ouster. That brought in O’Brien, who - aside from a complete anomaly that was 2010 - only made the program worse, leaving it in a place that was second only to the mess Reed left.

Doeren has steadily built the program. His peak hasn’t hit those of Amato or Sheridan, but his recruiting - top to bottom - has been better than any of his predecessors. The 2019 season was horrible, but it’s clearly an outlier over the last seven years.

NC State is not a school that can afford to pull the trigger time and again hoping to hit it right on whatever coach they select. The program has had its share of high-quality coaches, but if NC State Football is ever going to ascend to the heights that fans desire, to the heights that it saw in the 60’s and 70’s, it’s going to do so on the back of a coach who is given the time to build and grow the program as needed.

It’s going to need another Earle Edwards. And while Dave Doeren may never match Edwards’ peak run of four ACC titles in six years, he can certainly take this program to heights not seen since that golden era over 40 years ago.