HOLLYWOOD, Fla. – Northern Illinois coach Rod Carey got some sleep Wednesday, his third full day on the job of leading the Huskies.
On a plane. For an hour.
“Felt awesome, by the way,” Carey said. “Awesome.”
Right now, awesome would seem a most appropriate word to describe what Carey and Northern Illinois are going through. BCS mania has struck DeKalb and it likely will keep ramping up over the next four weeks until the Huskies (12-1) meet Florida State (11-2) on Jan. 1 in the Orange Bowl in Miami.
Carey – unsure when his next good night’s sleep will come and unbothered by that – will make his debut as the Huskies’ coach in that game, the first Bowl Championship Series appearance for the newly recrowned champions of the Mid-American Conference. He spent Wednesday in South Florida, seated on the opposite end of a poolside dais from Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher at a hotel resort, a huge glass bowl of oranges propped between them.
“I think the right word is blessed,” Carey said. “That’s the best way I can say to put it right now. It’s been a crazy four days for me personally and our team, and really this is about our team, not about me. Our team has earned this by going out and doing what they have to do on the field and we’re super-excited to be part of this Discover Orange Bowl and have a great opponent like Florida State.
“What a thrill for us.”
Ever since the Huskies were announced Sunday as being BCS-bound, the debate has been ongoing over whether NIU was worthy of being in one of football’s premier bowl games.
Clearly, the Huskies would think they earned their trip to Miami.
And if they’re not convincing enough, Fisher was more than happy to make the case for them.
“That team had an unbelievable football year,” Fisher said. “You look at the numbers and the people they’ve beaten and the things they’ve done. They’re a great opponent. They’ve had a tremendous year. And to me, it’s disrespectful to Northern Illinois (to question its BCS validity). We definitely don’t think that way. We know what kind of opponent they’re going to be.”
Carey and Fisher did all the buzz-creating things Wednesday, like posing with Obie, the game’s overstuffed orange mascot, and shaking hands while standing on either side of the trophy that will be presented to the winning coach on New Year’s Night.
Fisher even good-naturedly warned Carey about the pratfalls of bringing a football team for a week to Miami – where nightlife can be tempting.
“Know where they’re at,” Fisher said.
“Thanks,” Carey groaned.
“Hey, I’m going to have the same problem,” Fisher said. “My problem is, they know where to go.”
Neither team has started bowl practices yet – NIU returns to the practice field Saturday, and Fisher still is finalizing the Seminoles’ practice plans going forward. So both coaches were at ease Wednesday, sitting in a cool breeze as waterfalls sprayed behind them and a few people lounged on nearby hammocks nestled between palm trees.
Carey probably needed the bit of rest and relaxation. Dave Doeren, who was NIU’s coach for its march to the MAC title, left Saturday for North Carolina State. Carey – a former offensive assistant – got promoted Sunday, when the Huskies learned they were BCS-bound. He didn’t even get a chance to speak at any length about the move to his wife until about 2 a.m. that night.
He knows he’s ready to coach, and knows some nerves will come with that as well.
“I think that would be normal,” Carey said. “I think it’s like walking down the aisle when I was marrying my wife. You have those last-second thoughts – but those thoughts don’t stop you from doing it. It’s 10 years later and I’m married.”
So now, he’s turning much of his attention to other commitments – the ones of the four-year variety, from recruits. And he already is noticing one distinct advantage of calling recruits from “BCS-bound Northern Illinois” as opposed to just “Northern Illinois.”
“They call back, which is a new thing,” Carey said. “So yes, absolutely, are we using that. And why wouldn’t we be?”
Notes: Fisher said his former Florida State defensive coordinator Mark Stoops – now the coach at Kentucky – might come back to help the Seminoles prepare for the Orange Bowl. Fisher also said that Seminoles’ defensive assistant D.J. Eliot, who will be Stoops’ defensive coordinator at Kentucky, also is expected to be with Florida State for the bowl preparation, once the recruiting period goes dead later this month. “D.J. will definitely come back and coach in that game,” Fisher said.