Head coach Dave Doeren met with the writers at the ACC Kickoff and talked about a variety of subjects, including the roots of his offense, his quarterbacking philosophy, social media and winning on the road. Audio of what Doeren had to say can be found at this link.
Just about the only thing that the first-year coach wouldn't talk about was the famed #RedLight tweets that his staff has become known for on the social media Web site Twitter when they nab a verbal commitment.
"That's an inside deal, man," he joked when he was asked about it. "I don't even remember how it started, but it got a lot of traction."
The quarterback situation
Doeren has only been a head coach for two years, but both installments of his Northern Illinois squads featured explosive offenses led by two outstanding quarterbacks.
First was Chandler Harnish, who threw for 3,216 yards and 28 touchdowns against just six interceptions, and ran for another 1,379 yards and 11 scores as a senior under Doeren and NCSU offensive coordinator Matt Canada. However, he had played in previous years and was coming off a season in which he had led the team to an 11-3 record before Doeren was hired.
The following year, Jordan Lynch stepped into the starting role and worked his way into the Heisman conversation despite Canada's departure to Wisconsin. Lynch passed for 3,138 yards and 25 touchdowns and six interceptions, and he rushed for another 1,815 yards and 19 scores.
The coach doesn't really compare either year's quarterback situation to what he inherited at NC State, where he proudly noted he added two competitors to a roster that featured just two scholarship quarterbacks when he took the job - and he didn't even mention Florida transfer Jacoby Brissett, who will sit out this year per NCAA rules.
"I have better odds of maybe one of them being good enough to get it done and we'll see where it ends up," Doeren said. "At Northern in year two, we had a new quarterback, but he had been there and had played a lot. We lost all of our offensive line, that was the biggest thing that was scary last year. We had five new starters on the offensive line, so to me it was the biggest hurdle we had to overcome.
"At NC State, we lost more starters and more letterman than any other team in the ACC last year. This is a lot different than what I inherited at NIU from that standpoint. We're going to be a young team this year."
Doeren said it will truly be a battle for the starting quarterback gig in Raleigh. Redshirt junior Pete Thomas held the edge on sophomore Manny Stocker following the spring, but in addition to Brissett, who was on campus for the spring, the team has added Arkansas transfer Brandon Mitchell and freshmen Bryant Shirreffs and Josh Taylor.
"We added Brandon Mitchell because we didn't feel like we were in a position yet to name a starter and thought we needed more competition for Pete," he noted. "I think those two being the oldest - are probably the two frontrunners, but I wouldn't count out the competition of seeing what our freshmen can do, either.
"Both of them are very athletic. Bryant Shirreffs and Josh Taylor were state championship players that run extremely well and were 4.0 students, so we'll go into camp and all five guys will get reps. The older two guys will get more early on and the rep count will change pretty quickly. If we can name one, we will. If we can't, then we'll compete a little bit and let a guy win it in a game."
The coach admitted that in a perfect world, the starting quarterback would be decided before the first game, but he isn't sure what will happen at this point. Doeren even admitted that if a two-quarterback system is the best option, the team would utilize it, although he has never experienced that situation as a head coach.
"It doesn't scare me," he said. "As the head coach, I want to put the best possible formula out there for our players to win and if that's two guys then that's what it will be."
The roots of Doeren's offense
Doeren also talked about the roots of his offense, which he said gets mislabeled as a spread offense.
"It is a hybrid," he explained. "It's no-huddle, that's why people say we run the spread, but it's not. It's Wisconsin and Oregon combined. It's power football, it's play-action passes with all the things that go into the spread of making people play in space with the empty packages, jet sweeps and option football that we can run out of it.
"It is an exciting brand, there are a lot of big plays, a lot of explosive plays in this kind of offense and guys want to make big plays as offensive players."
When he became a coach, Doeren's vision for the offensive side of the ball was to ask himself what gave him the most trouble and do that. It was a simple approach - one that Doeren modeled after TCU's attack - but something that served he and Canada well in their first go-round together in DeKalb.
"TCU was the team I played in the Rose Bowl [with Wisconsin] the year I got that job," he said. "Defending their offense, you could tell the head coach was a defensive coach that made their offense do everything that defensive coaches hate to defend. I really have a lot of respect for [coach] Gary Patterson."
Doeren gave Canada a list of 11 things that defensive coaches hate to see and, even if they couldn't do it right off the bat, they were going to eventually incorporate it into the offense.
"The biggest thing is you have to fit what you can do with what you have," he said. "Just because it worked in year one, you can't assume the guys the next year are going to be able to do it exactly the same way. There were things we didn't do in year two that we did in year one, purely because we didn't have the same type of guys. Now, there were other things that we could do the other guys the year before couldn't do. You're always tweaking it to fit what you've got."
Doeren met with the staff Monday morning and re-emphasized certain aspects of the installment.
"[I said] 'Just make sure that our install matches our talent, [and] don't make them do things they're not going to be good at in fall camp,'" Doeren said. "Eventually, we'll recruit where we can do whatever we want, but right now, we've really got to fit our play selection to our talent pool."
TCU is not the only school that Doeren has borrowed some offensive ideas from - he likes to call the optimum NCSU attack a combination of Wisconsin and Oregon.
"There's other teams out there, like Nevada-Reno, the things that they do with the option game," he said. "And obviously from coaching at Wisconsin, I have a great appreciation from being able to run the football and win."
Doeren said he prefers a mobile quarterback, but noted that it is not a necessity for success.
"I think having 11 guys on the field that they have to defend at all times is important," he said. "If we don't have it, we'll obviously do the best we can. There are other ways to do it - Wildcat and other things you can do if you end up with a quarterback that can't run. In a perfect world, your quarterback is like a Wildcat guy where they have to worry about him throwing and running, hopefully we'll have that opportunity this year."
While Doeren admitted to borrowing offensive ideas from various places and mixing them together for an always evolving attack, his approach to defense is quite different.
"The defense that I'm a part of has been the same defense I've been with for 18 years," he admitted. "Not verbatim terminology-wise, but from a shell standpoint - the 4-3 with two high safeties."
Familiarity also played a role in the hire of defensive coordinator Dave Huxtable, who is one of a few assistant coaches that had not previously worked with Doeren before coming to Raleigh.
"When I left Wisconsin, Dave replaced me and two of my college teammates, Chris Ash and Charlie Partridge, were on the defensive staff with me and they are two of my best friends," Doeren said. "Obviously, I'm going to stay in touch with those guys and all they did was talk about how great Dave was, how much they liked working with him, Bret [Bielema] loved him and the players liked him.
"He left with Paul [Chryst] obviously and was at Pitt for one year, they were a top 20 defense. I obviously had a respect for Central Florida when he was down there and then to get a guy that was at Georgia Tech, East Carolina, North Carolina, knows the ACC and the region, I just thought it was a really good fit. I trust Chris Ash and Charlie Partridge to tell me the truth and I know that I'm going to get a guy that I would want to be around every day, even though I had never worked with him. It was an easy sell."
Doeren said Huxtable has fit right in with his staff and has the requisite fire that he looks for in assistants.
"If you don't coach with passion, you can't coach for me," he said. "To me, it's a sport built on passion, competitiveness and fire. I don't like being around guys that don't have it and I think it's a great fit with Dave leading our defense that way."
- "I think any program that's a seven- or- eight-win program and wants to have more wins, needs to learn how to be better on the road. I think that's the difference from maybe a team that qualifies for a bowl and a team that plays in a Jan. bowl game. It's the teams that learn how to win on the road and that's kind of where we're at - we have to get over that hump and that's difficult."
- "Twitter is free advertising. That's how people communicate. That's how kids talk to each other, it's how parents, unfortunately now, have to talk to their kids. It's how girlfriends talk to their boyfriends. [We can't] ignore an outlet that costs no money, it's a great way for us to be a part of the mainstream and to get our image and our vision out there. It just shows how we can relate to our players. They want to go somewhere they're comfortable and they fit in. Our job is to educate them on what they would get by coming to NC Sate and, I think, the more we use social media, the more we can put that image out there."
- "I love [the schedule]. Eight home games. To me, our greatest advantage is Carter-Finley and our fan base. We get our 12th man eight times and then we only have to leave the state two other times. I'm very fortunate. Eight home games with a new quarterback, I guarantee our quarterbacks are ecstatic."
- "I can't measure the wins and losses right now. I really feel good about the nine months that we've had and the progress we've made, so we'll see where it goes."
- On there being a 33-year ACC title drought at NC State and if that surprised him: "That intrigued me to be honest with you because Northern had not won it in 28 years and they had been a good program for a long time. These guys have been a good program for a long time and haven't won the league. I felt like I have a similar blueprint. Not that we're going to win as fast, but this one might be easier in the fact that I'm taking over a team that just lost a bowl game and maybe underachieved compared to Northern, who had just won 11 games when I got hired. When you take over an 11-win team, everybody knows that they're going to have to play their best to beat you; we were on everybody's schedule as the team to beat and that was my first year as a head coach. That was tough, we got everybody's best shot in year one.
"Here, we're picked third on our side, which surprises me with all of the players we lost, and nobody is going to have us circled on their calendars except for maybe UNC because of the rivalry. I think we're in a little bit of a better position from that standpoint, compared to the last one."
- "You got to be a better road team, to me it's about that. I'm not going to judge what has happened here in the past. I know that they have had a lot of players go to the NFL and they've been in a bunch of bowl games, but they've had a hard time getting to 10 wins and usually that means you are not winning on the road as much as you want to win on the road. … There's a lot of reasons that can happen and I don't know why, but I know after being around our guys for 15 practices, that's the biggest thing - teaching them how to take their Carter-Finley game on the road and the best way to do that. Those are things we've be talking about at fall camp. It's a mental toughness, mental preparation part about how you teach during those weeks and get those guys ready. There's a lot that goes into that."