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A bottom-to-top assessment of the F.B.S. landscape heading into the 2012 season.

Coaching Moves

Grading N. Illinois’ Coaching Move

He’s Wisconsin other coordinator — former coordinator. The pork to Paul Chryst’s beef: underrated yet still more than capable of getting the job done, if you give it a chance. There was a time, in fact, when Doeren was the hotter name than his recently knighted fellow U.W. assistant. Doeren was part of Bret Bielema’s first staff in Madison, serving as co-defensive coordinator in 2006 and 2007 before holding the position himself over the last three seasons. Yes, Wisconsin’s offense was the main storyline these past months over the team’s run to the Rose Bowl. Quick question, however: did the Badgers finish the year ranked higher in F.B.S. in total defense or total offense? If you choose defense, nice job.

Positives A pretty nice resume of success. Let’s just look at Wisconsin: as noted, Doeren spent two years as the co-coordinator before taking on full duties from 2008-10. Over this span, the Badgers finished 49-15, winning 12 games in his debut season and 11 this past fall, sharing the Big Ten title. The three defenses he led on his own made steady improvement in each season, though the Badgers did bottom out a bit in 2008, winning only seven games and finishing eighth in the conference in scoring. Improvement was made in 2009: 10 wins and nearly five fewer points allowed per game; in 2010, that win total jumped to 11 and the scoring output dropped another point — down to 20.5 points per game, third in the Big Ten.

While he’s spent the last nine years on the B.C.S. conference level, Doeren is no stranger to a lower level of football. There are his teeth-cutting days spent at his alma mater, Drake, where he began his college coaching career as a defensive assistant; he was the defensive coordinator during the final of his three seasons at Drake. After two years as a graduate assistant at U.S.C., Doeren spent another two seasons coaching the secondary at Montana, helping lead the Grizzlies to a 28-3 combined mark and the 2001 F.C.S. national title. What does this tell us? In my mind, coaches who spend their entire career on the B.C.S. conference level are spoiled, and are not good candidates — by and large — and a program like Northern Illinois. This isn’t the case with Doeren.

I like the staff he’s compiled. Begin at offensive coordinator, where Doeren inked Matt Canada, formerly of Indiana. Canada spent the last seven seasons with the Hoosiers, beginning as the team’s quarterbacks coach before moving up to offensive coordinator over the last four years. In 2007, his first season as coordinator, Canada’s offense set a new school record for points scored. This past fall’s 326-point output was the fifth-most in school history. The news gets better: Canada also has N.I.U. ties, having spent six years, from 1998-2003, as one of Joe Novak’s lead assistants.

In addition to Canada, Doeren tabbed Jay Niemann, a coach with plenty of local ties, as his defensive coordinator; while Niemann will carry the title, Doeren will remain very involved in the defense. Running backs coach Eddie Faulkner is fresh off a pair of seasons as Ball State’s offensive coordinator. Doeren also retained Tom Matukewicz as linebackers coach: Matukewicz was Northern Illinois’ interim coach in the bowl win over Fresno State after Jerry Kill left to take the job at Minnesota.

Negatives There’s always a bit of concern when a program with yearly conference title aspirations takes on a coach without any head coaching experience. Northern Illinois is coming off an 11-win season, after all, and would have been a clear favorite to repeat as MAC West champs had Kill returned in 2011. If we hold Doeren to Kill’s standard, one of his predecessor’s great positives heading into his debut campaign was his history of success as a head coach, albeit on the F.C.S. level. One couldn’t be faulted for being somewhat apprehensive about Doeren’s learning curve heading into his first season leading his own program.

The expectations are high, as one would expect coming off an 11-3 season. Typically, newly-minted MAC coaches experience a grace period; most new MAC coaches are hired after a failed regime, though some — as in this case, or at Miami (Ohio) — are brought in after their predecessor does well enough to take a step up the coaching ladder. It’s always good to fall into a winning situation, but Doeren must keep this train rolling: anything less than an eight-win finish might be construed as a disappointment.

I do like the Canada hire: Doeren did a nice job landing an offensive coordinator with his type of B.C.S. conference experience. However, Canada’s recent background has been in a pass-first system, which goes completely against what we’ve seen in recent years from the Huskies — a run-first mentality that defined this team on both sides of the ball. Turning the N.I.U. offense into a pass-happy attack would be a mistake, at least with how the roster is currently built.

Grade A-. There’s the program’s recent track record of choosing coaches, which has been solid. Then there’s that nice background Doeren brings to the table: B.C.S. conference experience with a track record of success on college football’s lower levels. And there’s a nice staff for a MAC school — with all due respect to the conference. Finally, I get the feeling that N.I.U. was able to scoop a name that was only going to grow in national attention: the more U.W. won — and it looks like U.W. will continue to win, mind you — the more popular Doeren was to become. Perhaps its a testament to where the program currently stands that Doeren leaped at the opportunity to take the position rather than wait a year or two for a B.C.S. conference job, as that might have become available.

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  1. Wade says:

    Nice analysis. Two things should also be noted that makes this a solid hire. First, given that Dave was most recently at Wisconsin, makes this a great hire in terms of recruiting presence in the region. Madison is just over 2 hours away from DeKalb. NIU is always recruiting agains UW for the 2nd tier of players. Hey come to NIU and start right away or ride the pine at a BCS program for a year. So he should be well position for recruting which is going to be key for maintaining winning records. Second, I wouldn’t be too woried about Matt Canada and passing offenses. When he was OC at NIU previously, they had a solid run game. Novak was a big proponent of running the ball as evidenced with Michael “The Burner” Turner’s days in DeKalb. I think A- is a solid grade and as you point out, the only real question is how he will adapt to being a HC. Can he manage his time well enough to cope with both D and O. We’ll see.

  2. JCW says:

    Doeren seems to be bringing in the recruits, ,even starting late. He showed a lot of class sticking with Wisc for the bowl game, even after he had been hired by NIU. If only Kill had done that; wait, NIU won their bowl 40-19 with an interim coach, so strike that.

    Kill did OK at NIU, but I think Doeren will be better. The sad fact, however, is that successful coaches in the MAC only stay three or four years. Let’s hope that Doeren is a success, but the NIU staff always needs to keep their short lists of potential coaches on hand.

  3. Bob Larsen says:

    This seems like a great hire. Doeren has a proven track record of winning and familiarity with the recruiting area. He has assembled a top notch staff and has lots of talent returning. If Doeren can coach and manage a game NIU will be in great shape to return to the MACC.

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