Debbie Yow did about the only thing she could do.
Saturday, NC State’s athletics director issued a statement that said she and the University would honor a contract with football coach Dave Doeren. She included some fancy language about the program being on the right track despite not meeting its goals in Doeren’s fourth season, a post-season bowl game for being 6-6 the only lofty position attained and just barely. Here is a quick review:
In two games this year, the football team performed well but lost to a couple of premier Atlantic Coast Conference opponents—Clemson (11-1 overall; 7-1 ACC) and Florida State (9-3; 5-3)—and was lousy and lost to another top-notch ACC team—Louisville (9-3; 7-1)—which may have shown its true colors in its last two games of the season, both loses.
The Wolfpack had several miscues while losing to East Carolina (3-9), which showed coaching staff weaknesses, and losing at home against Boston College (6-6; 2-6), which showed coaching staff weaknesses. And then there was Miami (8-4; 5-3) which was a bit better than State that day. Those are the six losses.
For wins, State beat William & Mary (5-6 overall) and Old Dominion (9-3 overall), Wake Forest (6-6; 3-5), Syracuse (4-8; 2-6), Notre Dame (4-8; 2-3 against the ACC) and North Carolina (8-4; 5-3). The win over the Tar Heels might have saved Doeren from the unemployment line.
Let’s face it. Yow was in a tough spot following the Wolfpack’s 28-21 win in Chapel Hill. Winning that game is always most satisfying to Wolfpack fans who are then excited about its coach, its football program, and its prospects for the next season. The same euphoria happened in 2014 when State beat UNC 35-7 in Chapel Hill to lift its conference mark to 3-5.
Because non-conference scheduling includes games suspect for a program such as NC State, a better overall barometer is its record against conference teams. Wolfpack fans would give thumbs up to being 0-4 against out of league opponents just to be 8-0 in the ACC and play in and win the ACC football championship, last won in 1979.
Doeren’s ACC record is lacking to put it bluntly. He was an embarrassing 0-8 in 2013 in his first season, tying for 13th in the league, and was 3-5 the last three (tied for 9th each year). That’s 9-23 (.281 winning percentage) against ACC teams. To put that into perspective:
- Tom O’Brien (2007-2012) was fired by Yow after a 22-26 (.458 winning percentage) ACC record in six seasons.
- Chuck Amato (2000-2006) was 25-31 (.446) in seven seasons against ACC opponents and was let go.
- Mike O’Cain (1993-1999) was 26-30 (.464) in the ACC in seven seasons and was fired.
- Dick Sheridan (1986-1992) was 31-18-1 (.620), didn’t win a conference title, finished scond three times, and quit for various reasons.
- Tom Reed (1983-1985) was 4-17 (.190) and didn’t have his contract renewed.
- Monte Kiffin (1980-82) was 8-10 (.444) and didn’t have his contract renewed.
- Bo Rein (1976-79 was 15-8 (.652) and left to coach at LSU.
- Lou Holtz (1972-75) was 16-5-2 (.696) and left to coach the New York Jets.
- Yow honestly and truly believes Doeren has the football program on the right track despite the conference record and the miserable ACC finishes. Maybe the team played better, stronger, and harder and with more desire this year, but the record is the record. Years from now fans will remember three things about the 2016 season: the missed field goal at Clemson that would have won the game, the Notre Dame game played during Hurricane Matthew, and the win in Chapel Hill.
- Yow considers losses to Clemson and Florida State as wins.
- NCSU Chancellor Randy Woodson discouraged a change because the University is in the midst of a $1.6 billion fund-raising effort for scholarships, research, programs and facilities and not to pay off a coach, and he wants nothing to interfere with his fund-raising effort; therefore,
- There is no available money and no booster to pony up several million dollars for Yow to use to buy out Doeren’s contract which runs through 2019, three more seasons.
- Yow could not quickly find a replacement. Or maybe she didn’t think a long search would yield a worthy alternate. Several coaches would love to coach NC State football but, at this point, would NC State football benefit from any of those? Would any top-notch coach from a Power 5 school want to work for Yow which is about the only downside to NC State football which has as good of overall facilities as any team in the conference and maybe the nation?
- Considering Yow’s contract runs through July 2019, maybe she decided it’s not her problem and she’ll let her replacement deal with it if it needs to be dealt with at that time.
What we know for sure is her willingness to dig in when she feels she’s right, which is all of the time. In response to an email sent to her at halftime of the 2015 UNC game in Raleigh when State was down 35-0, she replied that she and the fan have a difference of opinion of the direction of the football program. “You see the glass as half empty, and I see it as half full,” she wrote while watching the second half from Vaughn Towers, the “press box” at Carter-Finley Stadium.
Oh well, here’s where we are. Doeren gets a mild, cursory endorsement from his athletics director instead of being shown the door after four suspect seasons, and he’s on board for next season and, more than likely, to the end of his contract.
One wonders if after beating UNC Doeren requested the AD’s public support and maybe a better endorsement—a new contract and a raise—such as after the 2014 season when he received a two-year extension and a $400,000 salary increase based on a 3-13 ACC record and a signature win at UNC. He may have suggested to Yow that if he coaches the next three years without an extension, his ability to recruit successfully will be diminished. That may be so, but he can overcome that with more wins, a lot more wins.
Unless you get the right coach who wants to stay with you forever, college football coaching is a vicious cycle, sort of damned if you do and damned if you don’t when it comes to success, projected success and changing coaches.
In State’s “modern” age of football coaches beginning with Holtz only three coaches left the Wolfpack program with winning conference records. They did so on their own terms. Amato and O’Brien would have stayed forever if allowed. Sheridan might have if reasons other than illness had been settled.
With all the financial support given over the last 16 years and the record season ticket purchases, NC State fans deserve nothing less than 5-3 in the ACC every year with 6-2, 7-1 or 8-0 every so often, even with the Wolfpack joining perennial winners Clemson, Florida State, and Louisville in the ACC’s Atlantic Division.
Even though Yow did about the only thing she could do with that announcement Saturday, Yow has set the table for Doeren. As noted above, Yow fired O’Brien for an ACC record of 22-26 in six seasons. In the ACC, Doeren is 9-23 after four seasons. So, while Yow is the AD, Doeren’s teams the next two seasons must be at least 13-3 to equal O’Brien’s record.
If Doeren goes 5-3 and then 8-0, or 6-2 and 7-1, or better, the agony Wolfpack fans have endured the last four years will not be forgotten but will be more of a distant memory. Of course, that’s only if the Wolfpack beats the Tar Heels at least once the next two seasons. That seems to quell the idea of his dismissal. It did this season. Maybe that’s why Yow did what she did.