N.C. States search for a new football coach turned to the Mid-American Conference on Friday.
Both coaches from the MAC championship game in Detroit on Friday, Dave Doeren of Northern Illinois and Darrell Hazell of Kent State, emerged as candidates, after N.C. State advanced through its initial set of interviews with Louisiana Techs Sonny Dykes and Clemson assistant Chad Morris.
Both young MAC coaches have their respective teams in the Top 25 and with matching 11-1 regular-season records. N.C. State athletics director Debbie Yow said she wants the next coach to have the Wolfpack in annual contention for the Top 25 and to regularly compete for the ACC title.
Yow dismissed OBrien on Sunday, after a 7-5 record in 2012. OBrien finished in the Top 25 once in his six seasons in Raleigh. Doeren, who turns 41 on Monday, entered the MAC title game at No. 19 in the Associated Press poll and No. 21 in the Bowl Championship Series rankings.
Doeren, a former assistant at Kansas and Wisconsin, had a 22-4 record heading into Fridays conference championship game and led the Huskies to a MAC title in his first season in 2011.
I knew he was going to be a great coach from the day he walked in the door, said Montana State coach Rob Ash, Doerens college coach at Drake in the early 1990s. He was just ahead of his time.
Hazell, a former Ohio State assistant, has turned the Golden Flashes around in two seasons. Hazell, 48, led Kent State to a six-game improvement in his second season. Kent, No. 18 in the AP poll and No. 17 in the BCS rankings, went 11-1 during the regular season. The Golden Flashes went 5-7 in Hazells debut season in 2011. Hazel would be the first African-American head coach for N.C. State football.
N.C. States search started with Dykes and Morris, who both interviewed earlier in the week, and progressed to the pair of young MAC coaches. Yow hired Parker Executive Search, for $90,000, to vet candidates. The Parker firm helped Northern Illinois hire Doeren from Wisconsin in Dec. 2010.
N.C. State used Parker in the search to hire Yow in 2010 and mens basketball coach Mark Gottfried in 2011.
Either MAC coach would be in for a significant raise at N.C. State but probably more cost effective than Dykes or Morris. Like she did when she hired Gottfried, Yow wants to have enough financial resources to be competitive in salaries for the assistant coaches.
Hazell makes $300,000 a year, according to USA Today, and Doeren makes $423,300. Both have buyouts in their contracts, which would cost N.C. State between $750,000 and $900,000. N.C. State owes OBrien $1.2 million over the next four years.
Morris, whos the highest-paid assistant coach in the country, would probably cost N.C. State the most to hire. Morris has a $1.3 million deal to be Clemsons offensive coordinator. Dykes, who makes $760,200, according to USA Today, has also reportedly been courted by California in the Pac-12.
Dykes father, Spike, said Thursday he wasnt sure which teams had been in contact with his son.
Theres so many rumors in college football today, said the elder Dykes, a former Texas Tech coach. I swear, its hard to keep up with whats going on.
Both Doeren and Hazell are considered hot commodities with openings still at Purdue, Boston College, Arkansas, Auburn, Tennessee and Cal. Kentucky hired Florida State assistant Mark Stoops earlier this week.
For the first time, the MAC champion has a chance to qualify for a BCS bowl game. If the league champion finishes in the Top 16 in the final BCS rankings on Sunday, and ahead of one of the six automatic qualifying conferences, it would clinch an at-large bid. Both teams are ranked ahead of the highest-rated Big East team in this weeks standings.