Dave Doeren is a 40-year-old, second-year head coach at Northern Illinois University. He has been coaching for 18 years, including 13 years at the FBS level and 2 years as a head coach. He played college football at Drake University and has been coaching ever since the end of his playing days.
ESPN Chicago looks at how Doeren climbed the coaching ladder en route to NIU. He's a humble, hard-working, self-made man whose former employers give him plenty of praise. Upon taking the head coaching position at NIU he reflected on his road to becoming a head coach:
"Each one of the schools I've met with were unique from each other. Timing and fit, and this was the right one. ... As a guy who started out coaching high school football, to go back to being a [general assistant] two different times, struggled to pay the rent, having to get supported through the family, my wife supported me as a coach for many of years, it's been a long road to get where I was at Wisconsin. And now to have an opportunity like this to be at NIU is very rewarding."
His players at NIU were immediately receptive to his commitment to hard work and discipline.
"He told us he's a guy who has built his programs, he's worked his way up, and he's a guy who's a hard worker and he wants a physical team," Northern Illinois junior tight end Jason Schepler said. "And that's what this team is. Everyone here is hard workers, so I think it's a good fit for him.
He seems to have a good rapport with his players. He interacts warmly with them: lots of encouragement, laughing, and constructive criticism. Here he is wearing a mic at the 2012 spring game:
He sounds like a man of good character. Of course, character alone does not win football games. Let's get a better sense of his coaching chops by looking at his body of work.
1995-1997, Linebackers coach, Drake University
1998-1999, Graduate assistant, University of Southern California
2000-2001, Linebackers coach, Montana
2002-2005, Linebackers coach/recruiting coordinator, Kansas
2006-2010, Defensive coordinator, Wisconsin
2011-present, Head coach, Northern Illinois (Record: 22-4)
Doeren's first collegiate coaching position was at his alma mater, Drake University.
He spent some time moving around the nation, including a stint at Montana during their FCS-championship-winning season. He joined Kansas as a linebackers coach and recruiting coordinator, where he made a big impact on the Jayhawks' recruiting. In 2006 Bret Bielema brought Doeren aboard as the Badgers' defensive coordinator.
Doeren took over for Jerry Kill who left NIU for Minnesota in the middle of December while the team was preparing for the Humanitarian Bowl. Kill took his OC, DC, and special teams coordinator to Minnesota, leaving Doeren to bring aboard a new staff. With a 9-3 record at the time of Kill's departure, Doeren joined a program on the upswing (NIU had won 7 games the previous two seasons).
Doeren started off 2-3 at NIU but went on to finish 10-3 in 2011. He led the Huskies to their first win in the MAC Championship Game and brought them back to the MAC CG again this season. He has won 20 of his last 21 games with the Huskies.
He inherited an interesting offense at NIU and continues to run it despite bringing in a new set of coaches. Doeren runs a spread offense with a mix of intermediate and deep routes. He's fond of bunch formations among receivers (trips, diamonds) to force mismatches and to get his playmakers in one-on-one situations. This offense has a unique and lethal twist, however: QBs have accounted for a vast majority of the rushing yards at NIU. In 2011 Chandler Harnish was 25th in the nation in rushing yardage with 1379 yards (tops among QBs). In 2012 Jordan Lynch is 6th in rushing yardage with 1611 yards (450 yards more than the next QB). With two more games this season, Lynch should easily break the QB rushing record of 1702. Doeren's teams have been a nightmare to defend, as defenses must account for 4-5 receivers and a QB who can pick up chunks of yardage with his feet.
As Wisconsin defensive coordinator
- 2007: Nothing special: most categories in the 40s-60s
- 2008: 111.71 opp. QB pass efficiency (24th); most other categories in the 50s-60s.
- 2009: 2.89 opp. yards per rush (10th); 36 sacks (12th); 27 turnovers forced (25th); 92 tackles for loss (18th); 35.06% opp. third down conversions (26th)
- 2010: 20.5 opp. points per game (25th); Most other categories regressed back into the 50s-60s.
Overall, his tenure at Wisconsin was solid but not consistently spectacular.
- 2011: Offense: 38.3 points per game (12th); 5.51 yards per rush (6th); 8.3 yards per passing attempt (13th); 152.24 QB efficiency (17th); 0.86 sacks allowed per game (10th); top 10 in number of 20, 30, 40, and 50-yard plays from scrimmage;
Keep in mind that NIU was in the top-ten in many offensive categories during the 2010 season, although under a different set of coaches.
Defense: 94 tackles for loss (19th); The rest of the defensive stats were spread out between the 40s and 80s.
Misc: 53.4 penalty yards per game (76th), 19 turnovers (19th)
- 2012: Offense: 40.5 points per game (11th); 5.60 yards per rush (6th); 155.72 QB efficiency (12th); 8.5 yards per passing attempt (14th); 482.6 total yards per game (16th); 10 sacks allowed (10th); 47.90% third down conversions (16th); 70.97% red zone touchdowns (16th); top-25 in number of 10, 20, 30, 40 and 50-yard plays from scrimmage.
Defense: 17.5 points allowed per game (15th); 3.42 opp. yards per rush (17th); 107.94 opp. QB efficiency (15th); 6.1 opp. yards per passing attempt (17th); 56.0% opp. completion percentage (28th); 34 sacks (12th); 86 tackles for loss (14th); 43.90% opp. red zone TDs (9th).
Misc: 55.4 penalty yards per game (75th), 15 turnovers (21st)
It's nice to see that Doeren continued to run an extremely efficient offense at Northern Illinois. What is really impressive is that within two years he built a top-15 defense in the MAC.
Would he take the job?
We can certainly offer him a big contract. Whether he takes it remains to be seen. He's been on a consistent, upward trajectory his whole career and Cal would be a step up over NIU. Of course, he's spent nearly his whole life in the midwest, so he may be more interested in taking a head coaching gig at a Big Ten or Big 12 school.
"If it does, it does. I've lived by (the idea that) if you do a great job where you are and opportunities come your way, and it may not be the right one," Doeren said, per CoachingSearch.com. "I think that's really important. I have a great job, my family is happy, I like the kids I coach, and they take care of me here. I'm not leaving here for something that I don't think is better than what I have.
"I really have enjoyed the process at NIU and they gave me my first chance to be a head coach. So I'm going to do everything I can to make this the best school that I can make it. If something comes along that I know if better for me and my family, I'm going to have to listen to it. But we're not there yet."
How much would he cost?
Doeren is one of the three highest-paid MAC head coaches. Of course, he is still a MAC head coach and "only" earns $420,000. Cal could offer him a huge pay increase. Although he is under contract through 2017, his buyout is currently $750,000.
Cultural /Academic considerations
Born in Kansas, Doeren is a midwesterner through and through. His playing days were at Drake University in Iowa and he has held positions at Drake, Montana, Wisconsin, and Northern Illinois. The lone outlier is his two-year stint as a graduate assistant at USC. He also has a wife and three young sons, who may have some influence on his mobility.
The Huskies' APR is currently ranked 5th nationally at 987. This is the same as it was in 2011 (3rd in the nation at that time). Since this is a measure over time, Doeren likely did not have a big influence on the number. However, NIU may have taken academics into account when hiring him, as they are rather proud of this ranking. As a student athlete he was a four-year letterman and graduated as an Academic All-American. Hopefully he continues to stress the importance of academics to his players.
He held the position of recruiting coordinator at Kansas and was very effective at his duties. At Kansas he was lead recruiter for standout players such as James Holt, Kevin Kane, Joe Mortensen, Mike Rivera, James McClinton, Darrell Stuckey, and Aqib Talib. Kansas' recruiting declined sharply following Doeren's departure.
Despite being a new hire in late 2011, in three months Doeren put together the 78th-ranked class in the nation, 2nd in the MAC.
Doeren brought in the 4th-best class in the MAC in 2012 and the 94th overall class.
Not surprisingly, Doeren hasn't brought any 4- or 5-star recruits to NIU, but has signed 15 three-star recruits in his two years, second best in the MAC over the past two years.
- If Doeren comes to Cal, he may bring a familiar offensive coordinator: Mike Dunbar! Unfortunately, Dunbar is battling an unspecified type of cancer. Offensive line coach/run game coordinator Rod Carey has filled in for Dunbar as offensive coordinator for the 2012 season.
- Doeren has his fingerprints on the gameplan, but lets his coordinators control the offense and defense. This is a quote from his press conference after first signing with NIU. What effect this would have on the Cal offense/defense remains to be seen.
"I do not want to be the guy that runs the defense or the offense. The x and o’s will have my brand on it, trust me, but I’m not going to be calling the plays on game day."
- He stresses all three phases of the games and was committed to improving special teams after poor kick coverage hurt them in 2011. He called special teams the most improved unit in 2012 (and that's quite a compliment, considering their remarkable improvement on defense).
Final Verdict (pros/cons)
- Young, upwardly mobile
- Demonstrated sustained success at a high level at NIU
- Excels with defense
- Strong academic background
- Emphasis on all three phases of the game
- Inherited a top-10 offense, so it's unclear how well he can build an offense from scratch
- May not desire to move west
- If he brings over the NIU offense, will it fit with Cal's QBs?
If we're going to hire a non-AQ head coach, Doeren has to be one of the top candidates. He has excelled on offense, defense, and with recruiting. At NIU he has demonstrated the ability to sustain success at a high level. Cal can offer him a big pay increase, but he has strong, long-lasting ties to the Midwest and it is not clear if he's willing to take a Pac-12 job. If he's willing to move west, Cal should court him heavily.
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