DeKALB – Monday was a good day for Dave Doeren, the newest Northern Illinois University head football coach introduced to the public at the Convocation Center.
It was a great day for Jeff Compher.
Compher, the NIU athletic director, started his coaching search by making a promise to the players that they would be the first to find out who the new coach was, a major difference from how they found out Jerry Kill was headed to Minnesota.
News of Kill’s exit leaked hours before he informed the Huskies in a meeting Dec. 5 at the end of the team’s season-ending banquet. Publicly, some players tried to put a good face on it.
The truth was that many were more than a little upset they found out first from media reports, family friends, text messages or Twitter rather than their coach.
Without saying it outright, Compher made it clear Monday that he didn’t want a repeat of that.
“Earlier this morning, [Doeren] met with the team, because I told the team that they would learn who their new coach would be before the public would know,” Compher said.
“They appreciated that.”
After Monday’s news conference, Compher re-emphasized the importance of letting the players know first.
“It was primary to me because the student-athletes, who they stand for and who they are, my relationship with them, is extremely important,” Compher said. “I feel like I owed that to them because I told them that. I was not going to let this get out before I told them.”
Players received a text message at about 11:30 p.m. Sunday that they would meet their new coach before Monday morning’s indoor practice in Lake Barrington.
True to his word, Compher introduced Doeren to the Huskies.
“It means everything,” said quarterback Chandler Harnish, who found out about Kill leaving from a phone call from his brother. “The last thing we want to do is read on the blogs or a website that NIU hired a new coach. So they called us in really early, and I think that shows the amount of respect the administration has for the players and vice versa, and we’re really happy about it.”
And, oh, yeah, on paper Compher seems to have hired a pretty darn good football coach.
Doeren, who has been Wisconsin’s defensive coordinator for the past five seasons, but he was the co-defensive coordinator from 2006-07, has been on a fast track to a head coach’s job for years. He helped resurrect the Kansas football program, and his Wisconsin defense will play in the Rose Bowl. Those are the credentials of a winner.
In the process, Compher endeared himself to the players and, more importantly, to a community that hasn’t always been on his side. His agreement to move a 2009 game with Wisconsin from Huskie Stadium in DeKalb to Soldier Field in Chicago, a deal that was an absolute and much-needed financial windfall for the athletic department, was roundly booed by local merchants and some season-ticket holders.
Monday, Compher got a round of applause before he talked about how he thought the Huskies needed a coach with “experience, credibility, a desire to be here at NIU.”
On paper, Doeren appears to represent all of that, making Compher, again, true to his word. That alone makes for a pretty great day.
• John Sahly is the sports editor of the Daily Chronicle. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.