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NIU football coach Rod Carey real reflection of team he leads

rod Carey

rod Carey

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Time: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday in Miami Gardens, Fla.
TV: ESPN. • Line: Florida State by 131/2.

Updated: February 2, 2013 6:23AM

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — In many ways, Rod Carey doesn’t fit the part.

Unassuming. Bespectacled. Balding. Good sense of humor.

He’s more likely to be identified as a wry math professor or a
genial computer geek than a square-jawed football coach.

But in the most important ways, Carey seems so comfortable in his role as Northern Illinois’ coach that you would think he had been on the job for years, not weeks.

That’s a good thing. Because when Carey, 41, makes his debut as the Huskies’ coach Tuesday against Florida State in the Orange Bowl, NIU will be playing on the biggest stage in school history. It just might be the biggest game in the history of the Mid-American Conference.

‘‘Well, it’s big, and we’re excited about it,’’ Carey said Monday. ‘‘But we don’t look at the big picture a whole lot. Football is about the little things, the details.’’

In that respect, Carey has paid his dues. He was a three-year starter at center for Indiana, which would have been a bigger deal if he had played basketball. After coaching football in 1994-97 at his alma mater, Wayzata (Minn.) High School, Carey began an assistant-coaching odyssey that took him to Minnesota, Wisconsin-Stout, Illinois State and North Dakota.

He came to DeKalb as the Huskies’ offensive line coach in 2011 and became NIU’s offensive coordinator in September, when Mike Dunbar had to leave the team to
receive treatments for cancer. When Dave Doeren left for North Carolina State, Carey was promoted to coach Dec. 2.

‘‘I wanted to be able to hire from within,’’ athletic director Jeff Compher said. ‘‘We’re pretty darn good. We’re not a broken program that needs fixing. When you’re a great program, you can hire from within.’’

It helped that the players lobbied for Carey.

‘‘We want someone who understands how we got here,’’ they told Compher. ‘‘Our traditions and who we are. And why it’s important that we play the way we play.’’

Another reason Carey is a great fit: Just as NIU’s players were passed over by schools such as Alabama and Michigan, he learned his trade in Grand Forks, N.D., and Menomonie, Wis., not Tuscaloosa or Ann Arbor.

‘‘If I was you guys, I’d ask them, too,’’ Carey said, neatly handling the questions about whether the Huskies belong in a BCS bowl.
‘‘Because no one’s heard of us
before three weeks ago.’’

Las Vegas expects NIU to lose by about two touchdowns. But the odds always have seemed to be against Carey and his players.

‘‘Underdog? What is that?’’
Carey said. ‘‘Our kids play with a chip on their shoulder all the time. If we were favored by 21, I’d be more nervous.’’

Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher is wary of Carey and the scrappy Huskies, who are riding a 12-game winning streak and are 21-1 in their last 22 games.

‘‘It is a lot to put on him, but he’s done a great job,’’ Fisher said, discounting the underdog talk. ‘‘Why was Butler in the NCAA finals two years in a row in basketball? Teams can come in all shapes and sizes. If a guy is 6-2 and 290 pounds
instead of 6-4 and 300, some big boy is passing him up. And confidence in an athlete overcomes a lot of things.’’

The form chart says the Seminoles will be bigger, stronger and faster. The Huskies say they’ll show up for the biggest game in school history.

‘‘They won’t have stage fright,’’ Carey said of his underdogs. ‘‘They’ll want to get out of the
tunnel, I can tell you that.

‘‘Our concern is always being too excited, and you worry about that, like the [loss to] Iowa [at Soldier Field] this year. But you try to take that away by focusing on the little things, on the details, and make
it routine for them and muscle memory.’’

The form chart also says Carey will have the underdog team ready to do that. If he does, NIU can see where the chips land.

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