Dave Doeren’s introduction to N.C. State fans continued Wednesday in front ofabout 300 members of the Raleigh Sports Club. He has cut an interesting figure so far, businesslike and honest, but appearing almost uncomfortable at times with the political aspects of the job.
Less than two weeks away from the first-year Wolfpack football coach’s debut, and a more clear picture of his public persona is emerging: Straightforward. Determined. Passionate about what he does, if not necessarily talking about it.
“We don’t talk about winning championships,” Doeren said. “We talk about winning the day.”
Nothing wrong with that. It’s noble and commendable. But it isn’t necessarily what fans want to hear, particularly N.C. State fans raised on the sound-bite virtuosity of Jim Valvano. They traditionally have gravitated toward the sound and fury of Chuck Amato and Mark Gottfried, not the bland professionalism of, say, Herb Sendek.
Sound and fury isn’t who Doeren is. He doesn’t mess around. He told one opening joke Wednesday, asked for some leniency toward his quarterbacks and walked through the depth chart, position by position. Asked about scheduling some big nonconference games, he said he believed in playing one marquee game, to placate the fans, and only one. His recruiting pitch is about sacrifice and hard work, not ACC rings or the NFL draft.
Doeren is exactly what N.C. State needs right now, a passionate young coach who can relate, recruit and retool the program for the future. By all accounts, Doeren has built significant personal relationships with players on the team. That’s his arena, not public speaking. He isn’t is a glad-hander, a jokester. He’s earnest, intense, all business.
“Just so you know, that’s what you have here,” Doeren said. “A guy that’s going to work hard, that loves to fish, loves his family, loves to grind.”
Two years ago, Gottfried spoke to the same group, at the same place, before he had coached a men’s basketball game on campus. He dangled tantalizing hints (N.C. State schedule that home-and-home with Kansas yet?) and generated excitement with one hand while tempering expectations with the other.
Gottfried knew exactly what he was doing, working that crowd like a motivational speaker. In that way, his personality has been a good fit for N.C. State, where during recent years the ability of coaches to captivate the fan base has played an outsized role in their longevity.
Amato fit that bill perfectly, restoring energy and passion to a football program that lacked it. The results on the field never quite measured up, but Amato was given second and third chances. Sendek, meanwhile, was never embraced by State fans, in part because of his teams’ vanilla style but also his milquetoast personality. There was no question he was respected by fans for his coaching ability, yet few shed any tears when he fled for Arizona State.
If Doeren is as successful as he was at Northern Illinois, none of this will matter. The question is, if the transition takes longer than expected, how long will his honeymoon last in the absence of the kind of fan-pleasing salesmanship that has bought time for other N.C. State coaches, like Amato or Elliott Avent or Gottfried? (Even if Gottfried didn’t need it during Year1, he will now.)
Doeren has a huge advantage to start, with eight home games and a schedule that offers more than a fighting chance at 7-5 even if the Wolfpack struggles at quarterback and elsewhere. Yet he’s completely aware of the unique environment he’s in.
“The fans, the passion, good and bad,” Doeren said, drawing laughs. “Trust me, you can’t have the good without the bad. I’d rather be someplace that has expectations than someplace that doesn’t.”