RALEIGH — Dana Bible, the N.C. State offensive coordinator who's drawn countless X's and O's in 34 years of coaching, could not have diagrammed a better result for the biggest battle of his life.
At 11 a.m. on Friday, Nov. 20 of last year, an ailing Bible told coach Tom O'Brien that he wouldn't be traveling to Virginia Tech for N.C. State's game the next day.
Later that day, Bible was diagnosed with leukemia. Chemotherapy began almost immediately as shocked players prayed for their coach.
Now, with the cancer in remission, Bible is helping the Wolfpack produce big numbers. He is back leading an offense that leads the ACC in total offense, passing yards and first downs as N.C. State prepares to meet 16th-ranked Florida State at 7:30 p.m. at Carter-Finley Stadium.
"I think it's amazing," O'Brien said. "It just shows you what a mentally and physically tough individual he is."
Bible, ever humble, deflects that praise toward the doctors and nurses at the UNC and Rex cancer centers who saved his life. He won't single out any of them by name, saying they know who they are, but he is awed and motivated by their dedication.
"I appreciate it," Bible said, "and try to let people that haven't been touched by this understand how talented those people are. You have no idea. I don't know what planet they're from. But they're special."
It's always been about the people for Bible.
Asked for his philosophy of coaching, he couldn't give one.
"No. 1, you're in the people business," he said.
Told that perhaps that is his philosophy, he seemed pleased. He explains that he tries to be blunt with players, to show that he has no hidden agenda.
That way, he said, he develops a trust with them that's empowering. His players appreciate that relationship. Wide receiver Owen Spencer said Bible has helped him mature from being a young man to a man.
Junior quarterback Russell Wilson has spent as much time with Bible as anybody on the team.
"He always asks how school is going, how my mom is doing or how my brother and sister are doing," Wilson said. "He's a great coach, but he's also a great person and individual."
Bible said he learned from a lot of good people, too, before hooking up with O'Brien in 1999 at Boston College. In 1976, Ralph Staub hired Bible for his first job as quarterbacks coach at his alma mater, Cincinnati.
Staub established Bible's foundation, teaching him to work hard, respect people and respect the game. When Bible coached N.C. State's quarterbacks from 1983 to 1985, he learned about the power a couple can have in coaching from coach Tom Reed and his wife, Cathee.
Out West, Tyrone Willingham at Stanford and Denny Stolz at San Diego State helped mold Bible's philosophy. And as the Cincinnati Bengals' quarterbacks coach from 1990 to 1992, Bible was fortunate to learn from Hall of Fame coach Paul Brown.
Brown directed the Cleveland Browns to three NFL titles, is renowned as the father of the modern offense and continued his football career with the Bengals.
When most of the other coaches went home during the offseason, Bible would wait in his office, because Brown stayed late. Brown would come down the hall and just start talking to Bible.
"I knew I was in the midst of something that was not ordinary, something that was so very special, and I didn't want it to end," Bible said.
Bible was still with the Bengals when Brown died at age 82 in 1991. It was difficult to lose a mentor. But the lessons survive to this day.
You cannot be a purist in football.
That's a Paul Brown saying that helped Bible understand that he needed to be flexible with his systems. As a result, Bible has succeeded at different schools with different types of players.
With a 6-foot-4 drop-back passer in Matt Ryan at Boston College, an offense coordinated by Bible led the ACC in passing in 2006.
N.C. State has Russell Wilson, who's just 5-11 but much quicker than Ryan and often scrambles to create throwing lanes. The Wolfpack leads the ACC in total offense (448.9 yards per game), passing yards (312.6 per game) and first downs (24.4 per game).
"What [Bible] does really well is identify the talent base that he has available to him, specifically starting at the quarterback position and working to all positions," O'Brien said.
An offense coordinated by Bible always is going to have certain core principles. It will have multiple formations with the ability to spread the field while still making use of a fullback and tight end at least some of the time.
But the rest of the offense is molded to the talent in the program. With speedy receivers such as Spencer and T.J. Graham in the lineup, Bible calls a lot of deep balls at N.C. State.
"We played to the strength of the talent we had there [at Boston College]," Bible said. "Now we're here, and we have an opportunity. We're recruiting and getting a certain type of player, we're going to play to our strength and we're going to feature what our players can do."
Bible objects to the phrase "Dana Bible's offense" because it minimizes the contributions of other coaches on the staff, including O'Brien.
He won't share the ugly details of his difficult moments during chemotherapy because he wants the spotlight on the team, not on him.
"There is still a lot of chemotherapy in his body and sometimes it hits him," O'Brien said. "He works through it because of the mental toughness. We talk about it sometimes, but I don't think a lot of people really know that he has his bouts."
During Meet the Pack day in August, Bible stood on the concourse at Carter-Finley Stadium and stared out at the field. As fans approached to tell him how happy they are to have him back, he said he was more enthusiastic than ever.
He's eternally grateful to those doctors and nurses for helping a guy who hadn't known how to spell "leukemia" recover from the disease. Theirs is a people business, too, and the stakes are much higher. His motivation now comes from them.
"When I think back, I don't want to have a negative thought, the challenges, the hard times, the feeling awful," Bible said. "I just focus on the great work that those people did."
Note: About 200 tickets are available to the general public for tonight's game. Fans can order their tickets at gopack.com before 2 p.m. or while supplies last and pick up their tickets at the stadium.
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