Wolfpack football coach to fight for N.C. recruits

jgiglio@newsobserver.comJanuary 6, 2013 

The comparison caught the attention of the players in the room when N.C. State athletic director Debbie Yow explained why she fired football coach Tom O’Brien after a 7-5 season.

Yow spoke at length to the current players about recruiting, which was the main disconnect between Yow and O’Brien and ultimately led to his ouster on Nov. 25 after a 40-35 record in six seasons. Yow told the players N.C. State’s next coach would have a common trait with Alabama, which will play for its third national title in four years under coach Nick Saban on Monday.

“She said she was going to hire a coach who would work tirelessly on the road to recruit players and to bring in Alabama-type talent every year,” said Cam Wentz, a senior and the starting center.

Alabama, home of the “Bear,” and N.C. State? The Crimson Tide, with nine national titles, and the Wolfpack, which hasn’t won an ACC title in 33 years or ever played for a national championship? Strong words. Yow, who met with the media before Wentz relayed her mention of Alabama, said her comment was “misconstrued” but she believes N.C. State can be “special” in football.

She believes strongly the best way to accomplish that is through better recruiting, particularly in the state of North Carolina.

“It starts at home and owning our own territory and doing it the right way,” Yow said after she dismissed O’Brien on Nov. 25. “I think that can be done.”

To Yow’s point, as many differences as there are between N.C. State and Alabama — Alabama has “owned its own territory.”

When N.C. State introduced Dave Doeren as its new football coach on Dec. 2, he lamented the number of great players from the state of North Carolina starring outside the state’s borders.

The day before Doeren’s press conference in Raleigh, Todd Gurley of Tarboro ran for 122 yards and two touchdowns for Georgia in the SEC championship game.

“To see all the great players from the state of North Carolina starting as freshmen at other schools right now is upsetting, it is,” Doeren said. “I’m going to fight for those guys.”

Gurley, who led the SEC in rushing (1,260 yards) this season, isn’t the only prospect to get away and not just from N.C. State but the other four major Division I programs in the state.

Gurley, Georgia running back Keith Marshall (Raleigh), Notre Dame linebacker Prince Shembo (Charlotte) and California receiver Keenan Allen (Greensboro) are just the most recent examples of in-state recruits who have left the state’s borders and found success.

Doeren used an analogy so many of his predecessors at N.C. State, North Carolina, Duke, Wake Forest and East Carolina have used before him.

“You build a wall around your state and you make it really difficult to take people,” Doeren said.

The wall analogy has been a classic case of easier said than done, but it’s a specific problem in recruiting that Doeren was hired to address.

A ‘fair share’

Recruiting in the state of Alabama is less complicated than it is in North Carolina, where there are more Division I teams and fewer top-end prospects, but Alabama has signed the best player in its home state in five of Saban’s six years.

South Carolina, Tennessee, UNC, California, Auburn and Florida have signed the top player in the state of North Carolina in each of the past six years.

Of the 143 in-state prospects from the past six classes who were ranked in the top 25 in the state by Rivals, Alabama landed 53. The Tide was even better with the top 10 players in each class. Of the 59 who were ranked in the top 10, Alabama got 30.

(Note: the Rivals database excludes players who did not qualify academically or did not enroll for other reasons.)

By comparison, N.C. State has signed 18 of 141 of the top 25 in-state prospects over six classes and six of 60 in the top 10.

“We are going to have to stake out our territory in the state of North Carolina,” Yow said. “We are going to have to get our fair share.”

In the 2011 and 2012 recruiting classes, N.C. State did not land any of the top 10 recruits in the state of North Carolina, after getting three starters (running back Tony Creecy, cornerback David Amerson and tackle Rob Crisp) in 2010.

In O’Brien’s final game, a 27-10 win over Boston College on Nov. 24, only six of the 22 starters on offense and defense were from this state.

Persistence needed

Doeren went 23-4 in two seasons at Northern Illinois with mostly veteran players he inherited from another coaching staff.

Doeren’s two recruiting classes in 2011 and 2012 at NIU included 20 players from the state of Illinois, out of 51 signed. The ‘12 class, which was Doeren’s only chance at a full recruiting cycle, included 16 in-state recruits.

Doeren previously worked as the recruiting coordinator at state schools in Wisconsin and Kansas and has specific ideas about how to keep recruits from leaving home.

“We’ve got to get them on campus when they are freshmen and sophomores and start to get to know them really early in the process and make it where they don’t want to leave home,” Doeren said. “If they want to leave, it’s going to be really hard.”

Doeren, who is 23 years younger than O’Brien, said recruiting is about relationships and tireless effort.

“We will turn over every stone and those stones are going to start in state,” Doeren said. “We will fight for every kid who we think belongs here. If we don’t get one, it’s not going to be for a lack of effort.”

The challenges ahead

N.C. State still has 16 commitments in the class of 2013, with 10 from this state. Only one (defensive back Jack Tocho from Charlotte) is in the Rivals’ top 25 and none are from the top 10. Stanford, LSU, Ohio State and South Carolina have commitments from the top 10.

Doeren’s coaching staff is significantly younger than O’Brien’s and was put together specifically to improve recruiting. Doeren’s first hire was his recruiting coordinator, Ryan Nielsen, who’s only 33.

Doeren has some capital with recruits with Northern Illinois’ historic BCS bowl bid and that should help as he tries to cobble together what he can in his first ACC class before Signing Day in February.

But recruiting takes time, as he noted earlier this month. He also made a comment about the job in general that will apply to the tests he will face as he tries to fulfill Yow’s goals on the recruiting trail.

“I’m not sure what all the challenges are yet at State, but I do look forward to all of them,” Doeren said.

Top state recruits at Stanford, LSU, Ohio State and South Carolina but not N.C. State. There’s challenge No. 1.

Giglio: 919-829-8938

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