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DeCock: Doeren’s troubled debut season over, Wolfpack taking long view

By Luke DeCock - staff columnist
ldecock@newsobserver.com
Luke has worked for The News & Observer since 2000. He covered the Carolina Hurricanes and the NHL before becoming a sports columnist in August 2008. A native of Evanston, Ill., he graduated from the University of Pennsylvania.
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This season won’t determine the long-term success or failure of Dave Doeren at N.C. State, not by a long shot. There’s no question, though, the first-year coach got off to a rocky start.

Despite a soft schedule loaded with home games, the Wolfpack went 3-9 and winless in the ACC for the first time in 54 years. The on-field struggles were reflected in the stands, most notably when East Carolina fans occupied Carter-Finley Stadium like an invading army in the penultimate home game.

“I think all the people that have been around here and understand what we’re doing from the inside-out really get the progress,” Doeren said last week. “Unfortunately, the win-loss part of it hasn’t matched up with that, but we know where the program is headed.”

That long-term, building-the-program mentality is shared by athletics director Debbie Yow, who understands the fan frustration over the disappointing season.

“Our fans are some of the most loyal in the nation,” Yow said in a text message Monday. “They deserve a winning program and finishes in the top 25. That remains our focus and we will get there. They are part of the solution because recruits witness first-hand their passion for the Wolfpack at our games.”

In August, looking solely at N.C. State’s cushy schedule, it was tough to figure out how the Wolfpack, even in a worst-case scenario, could go much worse than 6-6. N.C. State played four nonconference games against opponents from outside BCS conference and eight of 12 games at home, but didn’t win a game within the state or in October or November.

Along the way, Doeren ruffled feathers by criticizing the ritual halftime exodus from Carter-Finley Stadium after his first game in charge and raised eyebrows with some controversial fourth-down decisions. In neither area was he flat-out wrong, but it didn’t help make a good first impression, either.

Doeren’s aggressiveness is easily defended; if that’s the kind of coach he is, that’s the kind of coach he is. If the team were winning, it’s unlikely anyone would notice. And while halftime pass-outs at Carter-Finley are a legitimate issue, that sacred cow is best addressed by a coach from a position of strength with fans.

So on many fronts, there’s work to be done going forward.

It’ll start on the recruiting trail, where N.C. State’s current class is ranked 28th by Rivals nationally and seventh in the ACC with commitments from 13 in-state players – including West Mecklenberg quarterback Jalan McClendon – and two four-star prospects. That’s not necessarily the “Alabama-type talent” that was bandied about when Doeren was hired, but it’s a start.

Speaking of quarterbacks, Doeren was frequently and openly exasperated by the play of Brandon Mitchell and Pete Thomas this season, but that shouldn’t be as much of an issue with Florida transfer Jacoby Brissett ready to take over in the fall. Doeren also touted the team’s spring GPA and the number of young players who had a chance to play this fall as areas of progress, not to mention plans for an indoor practice facility.

For a program that had been to bowls in four of the previous five seasons under Tom O’Brien, it isn’t much consolation for a winless ACC season. In the absence of results on the field in Year 1, it will have to suffice.

DeCock: ldecock@newsobserver.com, @LukeDeCock, 919-829-8947
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