Doeren progress likely but it will be a bumpy ride
Posted August 7, 2014
Although there’s much agreement among N.C. State fans, rival coaches and the regional media that Dave Doeren will have a long, successful stand with the Wolfpack, several ACC coaches who got off to particularly poor starts in the past did not survive.
That’s not really been the case at State, where only one Wolfpack coach since the formation of the ACC had a debut season generally in line with Doeren’s 4-8 overall and 0-8 conference record in 2013.
That was Tom Reed, whose first team (1983) finished 3-8 overall and 1-5 ACC. Reed’s second season was a duplicate of the first and his third – 3-8 overall, 2-5 ACC in 1985 – prompted a switch to Dick Sheridan.
Otherwise, first-year Wolfpack coaches have been relatively successful from the start, even those who wound up getting dismissed – Tom O’Brien (5-7, 3-5 in 2007), Chuck Amato (8-4, 4-4 in 2000), Mike O’Cain (7-5, 4-4 in 1993) and Monte Kiffin (6-5, 3-4 in 1980).
Al Michaels, who went 3-8, 2-4 in 1971, doesn’t count since he was an interim to bridge the retirement of Earle Edwards and the hiring of Lou Holtz.
Doeren’s problems last season are well documented – injuries, patchwork quarterback rotation and an agonizing defensive transition.
Doeren and his players are confident that positives will come from the ordeal of ’13. And on paper, there’s reason to think the offense will be better with new quarterback Jacoby Brissett and the defense will benefit from improved leadership and experience.
“I don’t want it to happen again, but I definitely think we’re a better team for it,” Doeren said.
Team psychology can play a role
According to some other coaches who have been through experiences similar to Doeren’s debut, physical improvement alone isn’t necessarily enough to spark a clear-cut recovery.
At UNC in the late 1980s, Mack Brown pulled off one of the all-time Lazarus coaching acts when his first and second Tar Heel teams went 2-20 overall and 1-13 in ACC games.
Entering the 1990 season, Brown was under relentless criticism from the fan base. So was then Carolina athletic director John Swofford, now ACC commissioner, who had gambled on Brown even though the coach had gone only 6-5 in one season at Appalachian State and 11-23 in three seasons at Tulane.
Brown’s critics didn’t care that his outside schedule those first two seasons included two games against South Carolina and one each against Oklahoma, Auburn, Louisville and Kentucky.
Brown’s third team was better and won three of its first four against a lighter non-league slate that included Miami of Ohio and Connecticut. But a third straight loss to State, 12-9 at Chapel Hill in midseason, led to an explosion of unrest. That Brown would be gone after three seasons was all but a foregone conclusion.
But just two weeks later in Chapel Hill, Brown’s career turned dramatically thanks to a 13-13 tie against a Georgia Tech team that would a share of the national title and finish 11-0-1.
“It was all about getting enough confidence in ourselves,” Brown reflected on his third season. “Until that game against Georgia Tech, we thought we could be good program, but we hadn’t done anything to prove it.”
Although that team lost later games to 17th-ranked Clemson and 11th-ranked Virginia, the ’90 Heels finished 6-4-1 (3-3-1) and set the stage for one of the best eras in school history.
Oct. 11 game against BC could be pivotal
Thanks to a much easier non-ACC schedule, Doeren already has doubled Brown’s two-season victory total and four more non-league wins are there for the taking early this season.
But on the psychological/confidence front, 2014 still might be problematic due to uneven nature of that schedule.
Since the Pack’s first two league games will be against Florida State (Sept. 27 Raleigh) and at Clemson (Oct. 4), it’s possible that Doeren and his players will be into the second half of their schedule before they really have a chance to get a meaningful reading on any second-year progress.
In theory, it’s very possible the Pack’s most important game of the entire season could fall on Oct. 11 against Boston College in Raleigh a week after the trip to Clemson.
It’s not that BC is a power and has much of a chance to become one. In fact, it’s likely State could be favored by a touchdown or more.
But with ensuing games after the Eagles falling on the road against Louisville and Syracuse, the last thing Doeren and his players need would be an 0-3 league start.