Doeren, staff bring excitement and creativity to N.C. State
Excitement? Energy? Creativity? Dave Doeren and his staff have brought it all to N.C. State.
By LAUREN BROWNLOW FS Carolinas
Every head coach in North Carolina talks about building a fence (and/or a wall) around the state to keep in its top talent, which routinely heads to other higher-profile schools.
It’s a difficult position to be in -- it’s not as if they aren’t trying to build the aforementioned wall. It’s just being scaled by coaches from higher-profile national programs.
In the class of 2013, the highest-ranked player headed to an in-state school (per Scout.com rankings) is No. 7 T.J. Logan, who will be a tailback for the Tar Heels. Three of the top five are headed to SEC schools.
None of the three coaches in the Triangle are afraid of going after high-profile players, though. Even if they have to be creative to land them. North Carolina State first-year head coach Dave Doeren and his staff created a stir in March when a recruit
posted this letter from N.C. State on Instagram.
It was handwritten and featured a lot of yellow highlighting and underlining, and it began "What up, big time?" The highlight, though, was the end: "NC STATE NEEDS = BALLER" and written underneath, "YOU = BALLER".
It’s math. Transitive property.
N.C. State cornerback Dontae Johnson said a letter like that during his recruiting process would have made him look twice.
"Clever. Very clever," he said. "It definitely would have caught my eye to say 'Hey, they did something different. They did something out of the ordinary to try to get my interest.’"
Doeren and his staff are active on social media, and as the recruiting process got cranked up over the summer, they often tweeted excitedly about commitments and punctuated it with hashtags like #Pack14, #RedLight and #goodjuice.
What do any of those mean? Your guess is as good as anyone’s. (#Pack14, at least we can deduce, means N.C. State’s 2014 class.)
Doeren wasn't about to explain it, either.
"That's an inside deal, man. That's an inside deal," he said with a grin. "I don't even remember how that started, but that got a lot of traction."
"I hope it's not red light of the night," a reporter responded.
"I have no idea what you're talking about," Doeren said.
What ever the coaches were doing on social media, they should keep doing it, because it’s working. N.C. State's #Pack14 is No. 24 on Scout.com’s team rankings, and in a late-June span of four days, N.C. State had eight commitments.
The staff's social media presence certainly hasn't hurt. Doeren is kind of the retweet king, but his assistant coaches -- all of which are relatively young -- have plenty of Twitter enthusiasm to go around.
"It's free advertising, man. It's how people communicate," Doeren said. "So for us to 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 and just show them how we relate to our players. I think they want to go somewhere where they're comfortable and they fit in.
"Our job is to educate them on what they would get by coming to N.C. State. I think the more we use social media, the more we can put that image out there."
Doeren is 41, and he looks young. He’s still old enough to be perceived as uncool by his players, if he were indeed uncool. Johnson insists that his head coach is cool, even if the comparison he made doesn't necessarily convey that.
"It's kind of off-topic, but that's like my mom texting. It's great," Johnson said. "They're catching up with our generation, which is good because that’s how we're able to connect and stay in connection. By doing that, I feel like he's able to connect with the recruits and everything like that, which is really smart. It's been helping us tremendously."
If the tweets came across as disingenuous in some way, or as a forced attempt to be cool, then they wouldn’t play as well. But wide receiver Rashard Smith said all of coaches are true to their real-lie personalities on Twitter.
"That's our coaches. They are those type of guys on the Internet," Smiths aid. "That's their personality. That's how they are in person. They're upbeat, they're excited.
"You've got some coaches ... who use words like ‘You've got to go out there and ball today.’ Coach Doeren's favorite word, he likes using the word ‘swagger’. Each coach has his own way of putting things, but at the same time, they all mean the same thing."
Doeren’s hard work on the recruiting trail won't matter much until next year, and this year, he inherited a roster full of players he didn’t recruit. The adjustment has been relatively seamless, in spite of the differences between last year’s head coach Tom O'Brien and Doeren.
O'Brien didn’t have a personal Twitter account. He was a military man through and through -- though he did have a sneakily dry sense of humor, he was all business. Doeren and O'Brien are also more than 20 years apart in age, and he and his staff can relate to the players a little better in that sense.
"The coaches are around all the time. They're great guys. People go to them just to go talk," Smith said. "We could sit down and talk about ice cream. We don't always talk about football with them. The coaches just love being around the players."
Still, it's a delicate balance between respect and friendship when it comes to the coach-player relationship. And Doeren knows that. "We talk openly about a lot of things, but when it's game time or work time, they understand I'm here and they’re here and they need to do what the hell they're supposed to do," Doeren said. "I think they appreciate both sides of it. I like to work hard and I like to have fun, and I do both with our guys."
There's already plenty of fun being had around the N.C. State facilities, both on and off Twitter. Last season, N.C. State didn't live up to expectations in the eyes of some, and burdened by that weight, the players didn't always seem like they were enjoying themselves.
Virtually expectation-free this year, the players do feel freer. But they also feel a sense of excitement that wasn't there before. A sense that maybe hasn’t been around this program since the animated Chuck Amato was the head coach.
"Just a lot of energy, a lot of excitement and a lot of passion," Johnson said. "That fire is back again with N.C. State football. It's just something you look forward to. Fans are excited, players are excited, recruits are excited to come watch us play and just see what N.C. State football is all about."