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MORRISSEY: NIU’s story lies with players, not with coach who left

Dave Doeren

Dave Doeren

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Updated: January 5, 2013 6:21AM

The coach, the one who left, doesn’t exist anymore. That’s the way it has to be now. Nothing personal, but it’s how this must work.

And if the bowl matchup seems to be Northern Illinois against the world, well, that’s about right, too.

Dave Doeren did what he had
to do. If you begrudge him for leaving NIU to take a job at North Carolina State for quadruple the salary, it might be time to go back on those meds.

It’s fair to be disappointed that Doeren, after leading the Huskies to the biggest game in school history, won’t be coaching the team Jan. 1 in the Orange Bowl. There’s something fundamentally wrong with that, but there’s something fundamentally wrong with college football, period.

But not much is going to get in the way of the buzz NIU’s players are feeling, not even the departure of a coach they liked very much or the way the self-appointed keepers of college football are bashing the school. The players are the ones who accomplished all the good things: the 12-1 record and back-to-back Mid-American Conference titles. Not to minimize what Doeren did, but the blood, sweat and tears came from the people in the shoulder pads.

It’s why his players will do what they have to do and try to forget him for the next month. They’ll play Florida State on New Year’s Day and hope to defy the logic that says the school from the big conference should pull the wings off the horsefly from the little conference.

The people who stayed behind will do the defying, not the coach who left. A little amnesia will help. The players need to view Doeren’s replacement, Huskies offensive coordinator Rod Carey, as the guy who always has been there. And if they can’t do that, they should convince themselves they’re playing for a headset on the sidelines. It might be easier that way.

‘‘We have to move on,’’ cornerback Rashaan Melvin said Monday. ‘‘We have Coach Carey, who’s going to come in and do an excellent job. He understands the players; he understands what it takes to win. As players, we play the game. Coaches coach the game.’’

They already had been through this with Jerry Kill, who left NIU two years ago to go to Minnesota. They’ve learned.

‘‘No hard feelings,’’ Melvin said of Doeren. ‘‘No grudges held against him. We understand it’s a business.’’

Doeren informed the players of his decision at a team meeting Saturday. He told them he loved them. They gave him a standing ovation. He thanked them for treating him like family when he took over in 2011. I’m sure his heart is in the right place, but it’s hard to take the ‘‘family’’ concept seriously when the father picks up and leaves.

If there were justice, Doeren would get to coach the team he led to a two-year record of 23-4, and North Carolina State wouldn’t miss out on recruits because of it.

But there isn’t justice in college football. And what a wonderful lead-in that is to ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit, who called NIU’s invitation to a BCS game ‘‘an absolute joke,’’ ‘‘a sad state for college football’’ and an ‘‘injustice.’’

Just to be clear: A long line of crooked college coaches isn’t an absolute joke. Decades of corrupt recruiting practices aren’t a sad state for college football. Universities making millions and millions of dollars off the backs
of unpaid laborers is not an injustice.

But NIU getting to the Orange Bowl ahead of Oklahoma is. Glad you’ve managed to maintain a healthy perspective about life, Kirk.

NIU players have perfect hearing.

‘‘We’re going to focus on our game, focus on this month and go out there and show the world, as well as ESPN, that we are deserving of this bid,’’ Melvin said.

‘‘It puts a chip on our shoulder and makes us work even harder,’’ offensive lineman Jared Volk said.

I’m guessing Carey long ago received his certification in Motivational Methods and already has begun the Nobody Believes In Us portion of his training. The former coach has left, lots of people are complaining about NIU’s bid (if not its very existence) and several Big 12 coaches tried to force the rubes from DeKalb out of the Orange Bowl.

I’ve never been big on the rah-rah stuff, but Carey should work it like a baker kneading dough. His audience is all ears and heart.

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