Culbreath: Bailing before bowlsWritten by Matt 'Shaggy' Culbreath | | firstname.lastname@example.org
I desperately wanted Northern Illinois to put on a decent showing at the Orange Bowl. As much as this Midnight Blue and Gold soul loathes the dirty dogs from DeKalb, I equally hated every sports pundit who put NIU down. You know the phrase, you’ve heard it for a month: “Not to disrespect Northern Illinois…,” followed by a full five minutes of disrespect.
Kirk Herbstreit, I’m lookin’ at you.
When the time came for the Orange Bowl, however, the Huskies didn’t do much to shut the haters down, losing to Florida Sate 31-10. The Seminoles didn’t play a dynamite game by any stretch of the imagination, but they didn’t need to do much when NIU spent the entire first half trying to rush QB Jordan Lynch. True, the ground game was his specialty: he carried the ball for more than 1,700 yards during the regular season. Florida State knew that as well, and that’s why they stopped him again, and again, and again. Twenty-two of his 23 carries were for 5 yards or less. I specifically remember a series in the second quarter where Lynch “rushed” for 0, 2, 0, and 2 yards. After the drive failed, I yelled aloud to no one in particular “You think maybe they have that one sniffed out?”
That’s when the ESPN cameras fell on one Dave Doeren, the former coach of the Huskies, sitting in the stands. Not 24 hours after Northern Illinois beat Kent State in the MAC Championship Game, Doeren resigned to take the head coaching job at North Carolina State. Much like the Rockets had to last year when Coach Tim Beckman left Toledo before their bowl game, the Huskies turned to Offensive Coordinator Rod Carey to lead the team. Unlike Matt Campbell, Carey’s playcalling drove me up a wall; it reeked of “It worked in conference play!”
This fate was not Northern Illinois’ alone. Eight other teams were playing in bowls without the coach that led them to those games. Even the Rose Bowl, “The Grandaddy Of Them All”, featured a Wisconsin team without head coach Bret Bielema, who bolted for the Arkansas job. Much like they say in the professional leagues when players are traded, “it’s just business” — coaches take these jobs because they’re better paying, feature better exposure and another step on the ladder in college football. Instead of fighting with mid-major schools for the SEC’s leftovers, you get the five-star recruits. Tiny locker rooms are replaced with beautiful new facilities, all paid for by boosters. You can’t blame them for taking the jobs, because the schools could very easily ask another coach if they don’t want to wait until after the Clabber Girl Baking Powder Bowl for you to come to town.
There’s been more than a few words written about coaches jumping ship this bowl season. I’m not the first to cry foul, and I won’t be the last. After all, that’s status quo in the MAC: coaches in this conference either move up after a quick few years, or they linger for decades. Lost in all the harrumphing, however, is the perfect example of loyalty done right: David Shaw was promoted to the coaching job at Stanford after Jim Harbaugh left for the NFL. In two years, Shaw has continued the success Harbaugh left behind, including Tuesday’s Rose Bowl win over Wisconsin. Before the Rose Bowl, though, Shaw signed a long-term contract extension with the Cardinal, snuffing out any rumors that he would also go pro. Granted, Shaw is a Stanford alumnus, so it’s not as if he fell in love with the Tree mascot overnight. It did, however, send a strong message to his kids, his fans, and his school — he’s not focused on finding a job, he’s focused on doing his job.
I’m not saying that the Northern Illinois Huskies pull out the unlikely win over Florida State if Dave Doeren is on the sidelines instead of in the stands. I am saying that maybe they would have schemed a little better; when you know you’re opponent is bigger than you, then it’s your job to be smarter than them. As it stands, Northern Illinois managed to be slightly less of an embarrassment than Purdue. The worst part is that it’s not their fault: the BCS rules put the Huskies in that spot, and the players can only play what the coach calls. It’s the coach’s jobs to put these kids in the best position to win, and that night, Dave Doeren helped absolutely nobody.