Seeing teams compete in bowl games without the coach who led them there is completely normal in today’s college football landscape.
For the second time in three seasons, Northern Illinois will be playing in a bowl game without the man who was on the sidelines throughout the regular season.
In 2010, Jerry Kill left DeKalb for Minnesota, and interim coach Tom Matukewicz led the Huskies to a 40-17 win over Fresno State in the Humanitarian Bowl less than two weeks later.
When NIU takes the field for the Orange Bowl at Sun Life Stadium on Jan. 1, the Huskies will be without Dave Doeren, who accepted the North Carolina State job after leading NIU to a 12-1 record and a second consecutive Mid-American Conference championship.
NIU certainly isn’t alone when it comes to playing in the postseason without a coach. This season alone will feature nine teams taking the field without the coach who actually led them to the bowl game.
The only coach who accepted a new job but will stay with his old team for the bowl is Kent State’s Darrell Hazell, who will lead the Golden Flashes against Arkansas State in the GoDaddy.com Bowl. Ironically, Arkansas State will be without Gus Malzahn, who accepted the same position at Auburn.
On the surface, one might think playing in a bowl game without a head coach might hurt a team’s chances of winning. Going off records, that has been the case in recent memory, to a certain extent.
Over the past five years, teams playing in bowl games without the coach they started the season with are 8-13. These totals don’t include two games from last season, the TicketCity and Kraft Fight Hunger bowls, which featured two teams with two interim coaches.
A number of the current NIU players are going through a coaching change for the second time in their careers.
After Kill left DeKalb in 2010, it was a tough time for the Huskies at first. Eventually, the team rebounded behind Matukewicz.
“Everything’s a difficult process when the coach leaves,” junior safety Jimmie Ward said. “Eventually the team worked through it. We understand, we’ve got to be here for the team.
“When Tuke stepped in, we felt like Tuke had always been family.”
This year will be a different experience. First off, NIU is in its first ever BCS game. Plus, the coach stepping in, Rod Carey, will also be leading the team next season. He’s not an interim coach like Matukewicz was.
The team has had nothing but support for Carey ever since he was named as the team’s next head coach prior to the announcement of NIU competing in the Orange Bowl.
“He was my No. 1 choice out of the choices that we had. I didn’t know of any other possible coach they were going to pick. Because I want to keep my offense,” junior offensive tackle Matt Krempel said. “We completely understand it now, we don’t want to make any changes. I think he’s going to be a good fit with all that.”
Since the BCS was formed in 1998, two teams have gone into BCS bowl games after their original coach took a new job. West Virginia won the 2008 Fiesta Bowl, 48-28, over Oklahoma after Rich Rodriguez took the Michigan Job. In 2009, Cincinnati faced Florida in the Sugar Bowl after the Bearcats’ coach, Brian Kelly, went to Notre Dame. The Gators won big, 51-24.
NIU will be in a rare situation New Year’s Day, competing in a BCS bowl game with a new coach.
The Huskies hope to follow in the lead of the Mountaineers and earn an upset victory.