The immediate stakes for N.C. State’s trip to North Carolina on Friday are fairly straightforward.
If N.C. State (5-6) wins, the Wolfpack will qualify for a bowl and play again this season.
If the Wolfpack loses to the Tar Heels (8-3) at Kenan Stadium, it could get complicated for N.C. State coach Dave Doeren. Doeren, who has a 23-26 overall record in his fourth season, said the only focus for the team will be on getting ready for UNC and not his job status.
“For a season of ‘almosts,’ we’d love to finish it with a win against our rival,” Doeren said Monday. “I’m sure that would make a lot of us feel better than we do today. But big-picture-wise I’m really concerned more about just this five-day span here and getting our guys ready to play the best that they can so they can feel the gratification of their work.”
N.C. State athletic director Debbie Yow said before the season that Doeren, whom she hired in December 2012, would not be coaching for his future this season.
But after a 4-1 start, N.C. State has lost five of six and many in difficult fashion. The Wolfpack could get to a third straight bowl game with a win on Friday or finish with a losing record for the second time in Doeren’s four seasons.
N.C. State is already guaranteed to finish with a losing ACC record for the fourth time in as many years under Doeren, who has an 8-23 conference record. His home mark in ACC play after Saturday’s loss to Miami is 3-13.
Yow, through an athletic department spokesman, said Monday that she will evaluate the program at the end of the season.
Doeren, 44, has three seasons remaining on his contract and would be owed $2.52 million if he was replaced after the season.
Doeren usually starts his weekly news conference each Monday with a recap of the previous game and some thoughts on the next opponent.
There have been a lot of opportunities that we haven’t capitalized on but what hasn’t happened is no one here has backed down, no one here has turned on each other, no one here has gotten negative. We’re scarred, for sure, angry, motivated and, I think, more together than ever.
On Monday, he started his news conference at the Murphy Center with a two-minute statement about the challenges of the season and expressed his appreciation for the resiliency of his players.
“There have been a lot of opportunities that we haven’t capitalized on but what hasn’t happened is no one here has backed down, no one here has turned on each other, no one here has gotten negative,” Doeren said. “We’re scarred, for sure, angry, motivated and, I think, more together than ever.
“I just want our fans to know we know you want better results and so do we. But also know that we’re never going to quit fighting and believing in what we’re doing.”
Doeren said he understands there are fans who are disappointed by how the season has gone.
“I know there’s always people that doubt or hate or lose faith but I know this, we’ll never quit fighting for you,” Doeren said. “When we do break through, and it will happen, it’s going to be because we never quit and we never lost faith.”
N.C. State has had several close calls this season, a season of “almosts,” as Doeren described it. A missed 33-yard field goal at the end of regulation cost them a road upset of Clemson on Oct. 15. There was a dropped interception late in a 24-20 home loss to Florida State on Nov. 5.
Penalties and other mental mistakes have haunted the Wolfpack in all of its losses but a 54-13 blowout at Louisville on Oct. 22.
Doeren said each time the players have come back to the Murphy Center ready to work and improve their mistakes. He understands there is different perspective from the people outside the program and the ones on the inside.
“Everyone on the outside sees what they see,” Doeren said. “When you are in here, you see a bunch of guys who have dealt with some very tough finishes this year. Then you see them come back and support each other and you see them fight through it and you do so with so much going on the outside that’s out of their control. I just think they’ve shown a lot of resiliency and courage.”
Joe Giglio: 919-829-8938, @jwgiglio
N.C. State at UNC
When: Noon, Friday
Where: Kenan Stadium, Chapel Hill