Doeren, staff bring excitement and creativity to N.C. State

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.”