Jeff Compher knows exactly what kind of situation the head football coach position for the Northern Illinois Huskies.
After former head coach Jerry Kill bolted for Minnesota Golden Gophers only days after the Huskies fell to Miami (OH) RedHawks in the 2010 MAC Championship, Northern Illinois’ athletic director offered a statement that many thought was a rather unorthodox way of looking at a grim situation: He’d rather be a launching pad than a graveyard.
At the time, Compher’s words were interpreted as him settling with the idea Northern Illinois could never have a long-term head coach in what’s become an on-the-rise program among smaller conference schools.
But now, after the Huskies latest coach, Dave Doeren, decided to ditch the Huskie Pack for the N.C. State WolfPack, Compher’s words shouldn’t be too hard to digest with this latest groundhog-esque situation.
That’s because it only took 24-hours for Compher to find Doeren’s replacement: Offensive coordinator/line coach Rod Carey.
While Carey won’t ring the familiarity bell in the majority of college football fans’ noggins, he’s the perfect fit for the Huskies for the next several years — which would fulfill more than half of the five-year contract he recently signed — and that’s exactly why Compher hired him.
Carey’s coaching resume features stops at smaller schools. According to Carey’s coaching profile, the former Indiana Hooiser started his coaching career as a graduate assistant for Minnesota (1998-99). From there, he earned his first post-college coaching job with Wisconsin-Stout Blue Devils (2000-06), then Illinois State Redbirds (2007) and North Dakota Fighting Sioux (2008-10), before arriving at Northern Illinois with Doeren in 2011. From 2000-10, Carey’s coaching titles featured the following: offensive coordinator, offensive line coach and also run game coordinator.
In contrast to Kill and Doeren, Carey’s resume isn’t littered with stops at big schools. Doeren was the recruiting coordinator and defensive coordinator before coming to Northern Illinois. And, Carey doesn’t have a track-record of success; unlike Kill who turned Southern Illinois Salukis into a NCAA Division I-AA powerhouse.
Being the Huskies head coach is undoubtedly the highest position he’s held so far in his coaching career.
Instead of waiting for the coaching carousel to churn, Compher and the Northern Illinois athletic department didn’t wait around. They acted quickly, and, well, actually got some help, but not from a hiring firm. It was players like quarterback Jordan Lynch who suggested Carey would be an ideal candidate to take the reigns as the Huskie helm, so Compher and company listened.
The short overturn from Doeren to Carey gives the Huskies new coach a jumpstart on his first recruiting class. He gets to coach the Huskies in the Orange Bowl – as their head coach without the dreadful interim label – and gets free national exposure. The Huskies have been nabbing players from the Sunshine State often through the last handful of years. And even the bashing from pundits like ESPN’s Kirk Herbstreit gives NIU even more exposure, since it keeps them as a controversial topic in the college football world.
Doeren left behind two recruiting classes; both that are considered strong, at least by MAC standards. Carey’s biggest challenge will be finding a replacement for Lynch, as he made the transition from 2011 Vern Smith Award winner Chandler Harnish without taking a step back in terms of production.
However, it’ll be up to Carey to get the most out of those Doeren recruiting classes, which is very similar to what Doeren did with 2011 roster that heavily featured Kill players, and same can be said about this year’s team.
Success isn’t guaranteed for Carey, though. There have been plenty hires over the years within the MAC that haven’t panned out.
But with the Chesnick Center opening up next year – which Compher considers an essential recruiting tool since most teams within the MAC have indoor facilities for their football teams – Carey is being given all the necessary tools to succeed.
And once college football eliminates the BCS and goes with a playoff format, it’ll be even tougher – if not impossible – for a team like the Huskies to find themselves in a similar position in the coming years.
But for now, Carey and the Huskies won’t sulk about the BCS’ eventual termination.
Instead, they’ll be riding high into what’s become the most historical season in Northern Illinois football history.