Quarterback Chandler Harnish of the Indianapolis Colts knows exactly what the current NC State players are going through.
Harnish, who is on the practice squad for the Colts, actually went through a few coaching transitions in his college career. He was recruited by former Northern Illinois coach Joe Novak and played for him for a year, and then Novak retired. He then spent three years with coach Jerry Kill, who departed for Minnesota after 2010, and then finished his college career under new NC State coach Dave Doeren.
Doeren made the transition as smooth as possible for the seniors, and Harnish continued to thrive on the field. He went 237-of-384 passing for 3,216 yards, 28 touchdowns and six interceptions his senior year, and he rushed 1,379 yards and 11 scores on 194 carries. He set new career highs in all the major categories — completions, attempts, passing and rushing yards, passing and rushing touchdowns, and carries for the 11-3 Huskies.
Harnish managed to maneuver through three head coaches, three offensive coordinators and four quarterback coaches at Northern Illinois, and became "Mr. Irrelevant" by being the last pick of the 2012 draft, No. 253 overall in the seventh round. He knows how much Doeren helped make that happen and knows NC State hired a winner.
"They are getting a great coach with a great track record, who is already 23-4 with a couple of championships," Harnish said. "I don't know what his plans are in bringing his staff, but he's a phenomenal recruiter. I don't know situation at NC State [7-5 this season], but Coach Doeren expects to win right away."
Harnish credits Doeren's high energy and motivational skills, which is exactly what NC State athletic director Debbie Yow prioritized in her quick and efficient coaching search.
"He's a football guy and NC State's community will be very happy with him," Harnish said.
Kill went 10-3 his last season at Northern Illinois, but Harnish credits Doeren for a smooth transition. He knows the emotions of the current NC State players from personal experience.
"Right away, he walked into our football facility and he gave kind of the keys of the football program over to the senior class," Harnish said. "He really let us voice our opinion and continue to do some of the things in the past as far as our traditions and daily operations.
"He earned that respect right away from the players. It was easy to buy into his philosophy and his plan. It went really smoothly."
NC State's rising seniors will likely set the tone, such as offensive players Quintin Payton and Rashard Smith at wide receiver, Robert Crisp at left tackle, Duran Christophe at guard, Asa Watson at tight end, and defensive players including defensive end Darryl Cato-Bishop, cornerbacks Dontae Johnson and possibly David Amerson and outside linebacker Rickey Dowdy.
"You have to put your own ego aside and listen to the guy and see what he has to offer and give him a chance," Harnish said. "At the same time, voice your opinion to him in a respectful way and talk to him because he is one of those guys that really is a players coach, whatever that means.
"He cares what the players think, and does everything to suit the player. He doesn't have a big ego by any means. If you buy in, you'll have success right from the start."
NC State will have a new quarterback after having five years of featuring Russell Wilson of the Seattle Seahawks and future NFL player Mike Glennon at the position. Junior Pete Thomas started two years at Colorado State before transferring to NC State, and freshman Manny Stocker played in four games.
"I would tell the quarterbacks to go back and watch what Northern Illinois did in the past and learn what kind of offense Coach Doeren is going to run," Harnish said. "You have to continue to talk and communicate with Doeren, and tell him your strengths are as a player and person, and what your weaknesses are. They may not have a dual threat quarterback, but he'll shape his offense around what your quarterback can and can not do."
Harnish rushed for 1,379 yards in 2011, and current NIU junior quarterback Jack Lynch has rushed for 1,771 yards and 19 scores. Matt Canada was the offensive coordinator in 2011, but left to replace Pitt coach Paul Chryst at Wisconsin, and offensive line coach Rod Carey filled in this season. Carey was named Doeren's replacement with the Huskies.
"I don't know if that's something he always wanted, but it was a niche that we found that started to work," Harnish said. "Going into my senior season, I never thought I'd run for 1,379 yards because I was probably more set on the fact that I'd be throwing the ball more [he did throw 92 times more than in 2010]. We just found some plays that worked that defenses had stopping. Knock on wood, I stayed healthy like Jordan Lynch this year."
Northern Illinois considered Toledo and Ball State its biggest rivals during Harnish's time in DeKalb, Ill., which is west of Chicago. NIU also had Kansas and Wisconsin on the schedule in 2011, which were Doeren's two previous coaching stops.
"He does a great job of making every week important," Harnish said. "The only thing that is important is the next game. There definitely can be a little bit of extra emotion, and you can tell. How can it not be? We are all human. You are going to a place where you just coached and you know a bunch of guys and you want to show them up. He does a good job of keeping things in perspective."
Doeren's demeanor at practice or right before games is usually consistent.
"I had Jerry Kill before Doeren, and Jerry was a little bit more outspoken in a sense," Harnish said. "I think it depends on your personnel. If you have a great senior leadership class, then he probably doesn't need to talk as much. If you are a young team or a developing team, then he'll probably talk more.
"He just seems to do everything the right way as far as getting everybody on board. He isn't too wordy, but gets right to the point. He's just a football guy."
Harnish also pointed out that Doeren's relationships with his players extended off the field too.
"He is a big proponent of being a great person outside of football — socially, academically and just representing the University of team the right way," Harnish said. "He cares deeply about his players getting an education. He does a great job just being there for his guys."
Harnish had some past coaches where they didn't let the players in. Doeren wasn't one of them.
"You could always feel that bureaucratic sense walking through and you'd be intimidated, but not with this guy," Harnish said. "He is just a good 'ol guy, who is down to earth, humble and has a good time, but at the same time be intense and love what he does, and have pride in it."