DeKALB – A year ago, Dave Doeren’s thoughts were on roses and recruiting. Split in half, his two allegiances were divvied between Northern Illinois and trying to win the Rose Bowl as Wisconsin’s defensive coordinator.
With NIU’s matchup against Arkansas State in the GoDaddy.com Bowl looming Jan. 8, Doeren’s first season with the Huskies isn’t finished.
But it’s been one year and two days since Doeren was announced as the 21st football coach in NIU history. Since then, there have been ups and downs, big wins and bad losses, celebrations on the football field and difficult times in life.
How did it feel to live those moments?
“It’s hard to say,” Doeren said. “I don’t know how much time you’ve got.”
Doeren spent some time after Wednesday afternoon’s practice discussing his past year with Daily Chronicle NIU beat writer Ryan Wood. The following is an edited transcript of their conversation.
Ryan Wood: With all the ups and down, what has this past year been like for you?
Dave Doeren: It’s been a dream come true, it’s been a lot of fun, it’s been some tough situations to deal with that we’ve made it through and obviously come out smiling here at the end. I’d just like to finish it on a positive on the eighth.
RW:Winning the Mid-American Conference championship is going to stand out as a highlight, of course. Beyond the obvious, are there any other highlights over the past year that people don’t know about and really meant a lot to you?
DD: I think the progression of the defense meant a lot. Just seeing how they’ve stuck together and how much better they’ve gotten and how they won the game for us in Detroit. We wouldn’t have had a chance if they didn’t play the way they did in the first half, because we didn’t do anything on offense until the second half. And just, our special teams. Not a lot has been said, but all three specialists are new – the holder, the snapper, the punter, all of them. And they’ve done a tremendous job. Those are the things that don’t get talked about a lot, and they’ve done a tremendous job. So I’m really proud of those guys. That’s really it. The offense did what everyone expected them to do. The defense became what a lot of people said they wouldn’t become. And then the specialists were steady. Those are all the things I’m proud of.
RW: The weaknesses were well-defined when you took over. Could you have had imagined you’d have a first team all-MAC kicker, and some other guys really step up?
DD: Well, if I would’ve known that, I wouldn’t have signed a junior-college kicker, obviously. He exceeded everybody’s expectations, and really proud of what [Mathew] Sims did. And Brian Mayer, a walk-on who snapped all year for us, he did a great job. And obviously our punting situation – knock on wood – but nobody has returned a punt over 10 yards on us the entire season. So those units have been very strong, and that’s a tribute to the kids and also the schemes our coaches are using.
RW: How about your progression as a head coach? You’ve had a year now in this role. How much different are things for you now than they were a year ago?
DD: It’s a lot more of, I know what to expect. It’s a lot easier when the kids know what to expect from me, too. So just coming to work every day and just knowing the ropes makes it a lot easier.
RW:Being inexperienced in the head coaching role, how would you now critique your first couple weeks with NIU?
DD: I thought I handled it pretty well being away from here and putting together a staff, and being away and putting together a recruiting class that I think is going to be really good after watching those guys develop. I was pretty proud of what we did, you know.
It would’ve been a hell of a lot easier had I been here doing all that stuff than having to do it in between practices in California. So under the conditions I had to work with, I think there’s not a whole lot I could’ve done differently, to be honest with you. I was trying to win another game and still coach this team.
I think when you’re in a location at a place you take over, and you’re not in a bowl game, you’re just thinking about recruiting and putting your staff together. It’s a lot easier than what I had to work with.
RW: Bowl games are nothing new to you. But this is your first bowl game as a head coach. How is it different, and does it mean more to be the head coach of a bowl team?
DD: Yeah, you know, the wins and losses go next to my record. What I do on a day-to-day basis isn’t much different. The biggest difference, I guess, is that I’m putting the schedule together. But other than that, I’m like all the other guys, just trying to figure out the best way to win the game.