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Friday, December 28, 2012

The Carousel: NC State

Out: Tom O'Brien
In: Dave Doeren

O'Brien was hired in December 2006 and given a 7 year, $7.7 million deal.  It was a pretty big get at the time for NC State.  O'Brien had guided Boston College to eight straight bowl berths.  He remains the winningest coach in BC history with 75 victories, and his .625 winning percentage, among coaches with at least 50 games at the school, is topped only by Joseph Yukica's .648.  BC had perceived recruiting issues, and many believed O'Brien would truly take things to the next level when he became coach at a school that could naturally recruit better.  North Carolina State was supposed to be that school.

However, that perception might have been a bit off.  Take a look at the recruiting for both schools since 2002:

Yes, NC State had pulled in a big class in 2003 right after Chuck Amato - a very good recruiter in his own right - guided the Wolfpack to an 11-3 season.  Aside from the spike from the 2002 season, North Carolina State wasn't really pulling in demonstrably better recruiting classes than Boston College.  Where you might notice a difference is in 4 and 5 star recruits.  Amato was able to lure them to Raleigh when there was some excitement over the program.  O'Brien was also able to lure them as well, until things got a little stale over the last few years.

Of course, recruiting is just half the battle.  Performance is the bottom line, and here's how O'Brien's teams performed (I've included NC State in 2006 to illustrate what things were like before O'Brien arrived, but you should note that he had nothing to do with those plot points):

O'Brien wasn't hired as a quick fix.  Or, if he was, he was a terrible hire in that regard.  His offense at BC was fairly close to average, and his defense was stupendous.  NC state, a year earlier, could have been described the same way, with an elite defense and a weak offense.  This suggests that O'Brien was hired as more of a long-term decision.  It's easy to assume every coaching hire is made like that, but I don't think that always bears out under scrutiny.  After all, is Western Kentucky really playing the long game with Bobby Petrino this offseason?

O'Brien's early NC State teams oddly saw a reversal of the style he oversaw in Boston College.  O'Brien went from a defense-first coach to one where the offense carried the team.  He never was able to build the defense to truly respectable levels.  The last three years haven't been terrible defensively for the Wolfpack - they've been better than average in each year - but suffice to say it's not on par with what they expected when O'Brien was introduced in 2006.  He wasn't exactly a bad coach, which is why he lasted so long.  40-35 isn't terrible at NC State, and among the seven coaches who have coached the Pack at least five years, O'Brien's .535 winning percentage ranks 3rd behind Dick Sheridan and Amato.  However, he couldn't replicate his success from Boston College, and that cost him in the end.

That brings us to the new guy, Dave Doeren.  Doeren was a hot name in coaching circles, thanks to considerable success at Northern Illinois since landing the job prior to the 2011 season.  In just two seasons under Doeren, the Huskies are 23-4.  Every Wolfpack fan already knows that number, and it's a pretty important number to know.  However, it's not the only number to know.  How about 18-9?  That's the NIU record from 2009-2010, the two years prior to Doeren's arrival, including an 11-3 2010.  He didn't take over a terrible team that had fired their coach.  He took over a team that was good enough to get its coach hired at a BCS level job (Jerry Kill at Minnesota).  Still, 23-4 can't be ignored.  Let's take a look at Doeren's career.  First, a quick run-down.  Our EPA database goes back to 2005, which is the year he became co-defensive coordinator at Kansas.  I'm not sure as to the extent of his 'coordinating' duties, but it's fair to say he had enough control over the defense to be subject to evaluation.  After that season, he was hired at Wisconsin in the same capacity.  Doeren didn't get full control over a defense until 2008.  Note that the 2005(Wis) and 2010 (NIU) points on the X axis were not teams that Doeren coached, but rather teams that Doeren would take over.

It's little wonder that Doeren now has a bit of a reputation as an offensive-minded coach, despite his defensive background.  He led Wisconsin to a big turnaround defensively in 2006 (a gain of nearly 200 EPA from the previous season), but for the most part his Badger defenses hovered around average.  An interesting point on the X axis is the 2010 NIU line.  That was Jerry Kill's last NIU team, the one that landed him the Minnesota job.  As you can see, the 2010 Kill team wasn't really that different from Doeren's 2012 team.  As impressive as 23-4 is, it's not like Doeren is solely responsible for this 27 game stretch.  In fact, it's unlikely that, had he passed on the Minnesota job, Jerry Kill would have had a significantly less impressive two years.

What should we take away from that?  Caution is the word I keep coming back to.  We know that Doeren didn't build the Huskies, but we don't know that he couldn't have.  He was lucky to inherit an excellent team, but being lucky and being good are not mutually exclusive.  Also, being handed the keys to a winning program doesn't necessarily mean you can ride that program to wins of your own - Ellis Johnson is the most glaring example of that.  So credit does go to Doeren for his ability to keep what Kill started going.

Will that translate into success at NC State?  While I understand I've been somewhat focused on how nice of a situation Doeren stepped into at NIU, I don't mean to paint NC State out to be a Colorado-type job.  It's probably not going to take a massive rebuild project to get the Wolfpack competitive again.  If Doeren can nail down a solid recruiting class over the next 6 weeks, there's reason to believe this team could do quite well in the short term, especially if Doeren's coaching staff gels.  Speaking of, let's have a look at the two coordinators.

Matt Canada will serve as OC.  He has six years of experience in this role, including one working for Dave Doeren, and here are the results in terms of offensive EPA:
2007 Indiana: +59.9
2008 Indiana: -35.9
2009 Indiana: +29.4
2010 Indiana: +61.3
2011 NIU: +225.8
2012 Wisconsin: +116.2

That's pretty solid, and honestly, the Indiana totals are as impressive as the others when you consider what Indiana typically deals with in terms of talent.  Dave Huxtable will be DC.  Here are his EPA totals as defensive coordinator in recent years:
2008 UCF: +39.1
2009 UCF: -12.1
2010 UCF: +13.3
2012 Pitt: +15.9

Those aren't exciting totals, but Huxtable's defenses have usually been close to average, which is something Doeren, who will likely have his own ideas on the defensive side, can work with.

All in all, I like the hire for NC State, though I don't think it's the slam-dunk that some are suggesting it is.  Doeren took over a great program at NIU and managed to win at an even higher rate than his predecessor.  He hired Matt Canada with an eye toward keeping the offensive explosive, and they have worked well together before.  Huxtable will be fine as a DC.  There's no history of Doeren building a program from scratch, but he's not working with scratch here.  With just marginal improvements, NC State could quickly contend in what has become a pretty underwhelming Atlantic Coast Conference.

Brent Blackwell compiles the NEPA rankings for  Follow Brent on Twitter by mashing the pretty button below.


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