DeKALB – Rod Carey won't say his job ever normalized after a whirlwind first few months as Northern Illinois football coach.
That would imply that the first-time head coach had a grasp of what “normal” means in a Division I football program.
But after the final whistle in the Orange Bowl was blown, the last recruit was signed and the last assistant coach was hired, Carey finally was able to grasp what it felt like to be a D-I head coach, plain and simple.
“I didn't know what to expect on it,” Carey said. “I just knew how a football team should run, how it should go, now everything falls to me. That's fine, that's the way it should be. I don't know if that's a surprise, but that's time-consuming.”
Carey was promoted from offensive coordinator after Dave Doeren left for North Carolina State the day after the Mid-American Conference Championship game. Former athletic director Jeff Compher wanted to keep continuity for a team in the middle of its best season in program history.
But with five new assistant coaches on staff and a few others switching positions, the first few days of spring practice still were a process in acclimation. So the new coach made sure his staff became familiar with each other over the summer.
“Coach Carey has done a great job of getting the staff together off the field, and I think that's had a lot to do with our chemistry and jelling,” defensive coordinator Jay Niemann said. “We're all fitting together really well and enjoying each other's company, and that's not just the coaches, but the families, and that's important – barbecuing together over the summers, things like that. It's all been good. Like any new staff, we're a work in progress, but I like the guys that are hired on board and they're doing a good job.”
For the players, not much is different aside from the new faces. Although Carey stresses that his team needs to wipe away the success of last year and start anew, he hasn't run practice much differently from Doeren.
“It's not a lot different,” Niemann said. “We pretty much do the same things that we did under coach Doeren. He was a little bit more defensive-minded where coach Carey is a little more offensive-minded, but all-in-all, the basic expectations are still the same, the way we go about practices is still the same.”
Carey said he's had to fight the temptation to get down and coach the offensive line, but the players he spent so much of his time with over the past few years say he still is the same coach, more or less.
“He still comes in from time to time, like [on the first day of spring practice] he came back to the offensive line and went back to his roots,” offensive guard Jared Volk said. “He's the same exact guy, and he's a players' coach, and that's what we love about him.”
Although the job is non-stop, Carey was able to get away for one week during the summer, when he drove north with his family to a cabin in Wisconsin. But while he was able to relax and spend time with his wife and two kids, the game-planning, recruiting, scheduling and other coaching responsibilities never really stopped.
And that's just fine with Carey.
“I don't think this job ever slows down,” Carey said. “I was still working up there. But it was good just to be away. You're never really off the clock. … I don't really have two kids anymore, I have 105 plus two.”