Nov. 22, 2011
DEKALB, Ill.- Northern Illinois head football coach Dave Doeren spoke at NIU's weekly press conference at the Jeffrey and Kimberly Yordon Center to preview the Huskies upcoming game against Eastern Michigan. Joining Doeren were quarterback Chandler Harnish, linebacker Pat Schiller, and center Scott Wedige. Below are excerpts from the press conference.
NIU Head Coach Dave Doeren
"Great win for our team. Seems like it was a long time ago already. Ball State played extremely well. They were well-coached and well-prepared. It was a game in which we were down quite a bit early, due to us beating ourselves with penalties and turnovers. Great resolve from our coaching staff and players to fight their way back, make plays, to finish, and a great kick by Matt Sims under pressure to win the game. It was an up and down night.
"Our guys have found a way in these tight games to get through it. It's leadership. The same guys making mistakes are the same guys winning the game for us, which I like to see. You see Chandler fumble, then he comes back with a performance I know he was down about, but was statistically impressive. Nate Palmer fumbles, comes back and scores a huge touchdown for us to get rolling. So guys that made some mistakes also made up for them, which is a maturity process. I'm just proud of the way they've fought to get to where we're at. November's important, which as a football coach, that's what you want. You want November to be a month where you're playing for a championship. That's where we are.
"We're playing against a very good Eastern Michigan team this week. Fortunately, we've had some time to rest our guys, which we needed coming out of the grind that we had - the three-game road stretch, followed up with two back-to-back games with teams that had 10 days to rest for us. It allowed them to be as physical as they possibly could be, in my opinion. So we've had some time to get ourselves healthy. We're about as healthy as we've been as a football team. I know our guys feel good. We've had some nice weather, so we've been able to get some practices in, too.
"The timing of our kickoff with Eastern is a challenge. So we were able to get a couple of 10 a.m. practices in on the weekend, and we'll get another one tomorrow to prepare our guys for being up at 6 a.m. to start the day, trying to be bright-eyed and bushy-tailed for kickoff at 10 a.m. so they're ready to go. I'm very excited to play Eastern to continue our playoff run. That's what we've considered our season since Central Michigan; a season of playoff games. So, this one is no different. It happens to be against a team that's very good at running the football. They're well-coached, they have two of the better safeties, in my opinion, in the league. They hit, they're rangy. They're playing sound and smart special teams. It's going to be a great football game."
"Before I open it up, I would to plead to the public to come watch our team play. We have 19 seniors that are going to be - currently, the fifth-winningest class in NIU football history. If we would find a way to win out, they would be the all-time winningest class in NIU football history. In my opinion, we have one of the most dynamic players ever to wear a Huskie uniform in Chandler Harnish. If he finds a way to finish statistically the way he could, he'd be the only quarterback in college football history to rush for 1,500 and throw for 3,000, more than Cam Newton, more than anyone else in college football history. I hope the public can find a way. I know it's tough with the Thanksgiving holiday, but we play 10 a.m. Friday against a team - you get to see two great teams play, a great senior class play, and a game that means an opportunity for us to clinch back-to-back West division titles."
On reaching this crucial final game
"It's fun to finally be at the point where you say, hey, all the stuff we've been talking about, it's finally real. When we started talking about playoffs, you really don't know what's going to happen. You didn't know Toledo was going to win out after we played them, we didn't know they'd be tied with us. But now you know that we truly are in control of our own destiny - if we win, we're in. So it's nice to have that carrot we've been dangling to actually be right there in front of your nose."
On how the mood of the team
"I think our guys have had great focus. They know our plan. They've appreciated the days off. We've really spent time on our academics, trying to get caught up. With the three straight Tuesday games, as good as it is exposure-wise, is very challenging academically for a football team. We had back-to-back road Tuesdays, so our kids missed class Monday and Tuesday. Then they came back at 6 a.m. or 5 a.m. and had to get up and go to class on a Wednesday. So we had two weeks of that. We've spent a lot of time trying to get our guys ready for their final projects, tests, exams, papers, and final exams are here in two weeks. So that's kind of what we've been doing. There's a good buzz with a great senior class. They're excited to play. They're in shock that it's their last game at Huskie Stadium. I'm really anxious to see them practice today and tomorrow. We've had two good days of work so far."
On if he understands what the game means to EMU
"I am. I know Coach English, I know how good of a coach he is. They've lost two out of their last three and they've been heartbreak losses. Obviously this program understands what that feels like. So I know how thirsty they are to feel victory. I know, as a coaching staff, what going to a bowl game means. It means extra practices for your development, and that's key when you're trying to rebuild. I don't know how much of a rebuild he's doing right now; they're pretty good. They should be sitting there with eight wins. Two different plays, and they are an eight-win team. Very similar to how we felt after being 2-3. We felt we were a 4-1 team and missed out on two plays. That's probably how he feels right now football team-wise. We know what it means to them, and I personally know a lot what it means, having been at a couple schools that have rebuilt a program. Being in a bowl game is a huge deal."
On winning close games
"At the end of the year, no one's going to look back at that. If we do what we can, get there, and do what the '83 team here did. No one talks about the '83 team's point spreads, or margins of victories. They talk about that they won the conference. That's all that people are going to care about at the end - did we win, or didn't we. The fact that it's been difficult to do because of the three-game road stretch - I think that adds to the value of the story maybe. But you're either a champion or you're not.
"This has built our character I think. We're a very mentally and physically tough team because of the scars we have. The loss we had at Kansas made us a tougher team. The loss we had at Central Michigan, and the way we fought back to almost win the game, made us a tougher team. The way we held on at Buffalo made us a smarter team, teaching us that we have to finish when we're up. Then the belief and faith our team has, winning the games we have at Toledo and Ball State. I'd like to see us play a complete game, like we did with Bowling Green. But I don't know if it's possible with as good as Eastern is, but we'll see."
On what wining close games says about a team
"It shows our resolve; it shows our toughness. When I was at Montana the year we won the national championship, we won a couple double-overtime games and played a couple come-from-behind games. I don't think you can put our team in a scenario right now where they wouldn't feel like we can win. We're always at that point where we know we can win the game because we haven't been in 40-point wins, week-in and week-out, where we'd be in shock to be in a tight game."
On how they've won the close games
"Very proud of our team; I'm proud of our coaches. I think it says a lot about our belief in each other, our chemistry as a staff, our players' belief in our plan. That's what we've been doing since we've got here, is talking about how to win, and what you have to do to win. I don't think you can point at me, point at our coaches, or point at our players - it's all of us. It goes through our building; our strength staff, our training staff, our equipment staff. I think everyone's drinking the same kool-aid around here right now. This is how you win games, and that's why we're doing what we're doing."
On Chandler Harnish
"I didn't know him at all coming into the job other than watching him play in that bowl game. I did a lot of research on him once I got hired. I had a feeling of what I was getting myself into. You click on the website; he's the first video that comes up. You have to listen to his speech about the business school. This a pretty powerful guy if they're going to make him the face of the program. So I had a pretty high expectation of what it would be. He's matched it or gone beyond it. Just the way he carries himself and treats people. The children of our coaches that come around - he acts like he's their big brother.
"We had Big Brothers, Big Sisters come to practice one day, and he's the first one over there talking to the kids. How he wants to show his Christian values in front of people. What he does on the field speaks for itself. It's the stuff he does off the field is really who the guy is. That's why I tell people, if he's not on an NFL team, he's going to be running somebody's company. That's just the kind of person he is. May not be right away, but it'll be soon."
On Harnish's achievements
"Last week I asked [NIU Athletics Sports Information Director] Donna [Turner] after last game if I could get a list of everything Chandler's ever done, because I knew we were at the point where I was going to have to vote for all-conference and player of the year type things. I wanted to know what I was dealing with. When I saw that - we're not going to sit there and try to break records for him, we're going to do what we do - when I saw those stats, it's a body of work. It's impressive to look back on what he's done."
On Harnish's possible 1,500 rushing yards and 3,000 passing yards
Doeren, Harnish, Schiller and Wedige discuss the upcoming game against Eastern Michigan
"I don't know how you get better. Honestly, if he continues to take care of the ball and does those things, that's everything you want out of a quarterback. That's production and management."
On EMU's turnaround
"I never watched them on tape until this year. They're playing a very sound defense, they've got good speed, they're physical, and they're aggressive. You always start there with a rebuilding job. If you can stop people, you've got a chance. You don't want to have to outscore people with no defense on a rebuild, that's hard. And he's done that. He's also made a decision to be a running team. There's been games where they've thrown six passes. If you can play defense, run the ball, and not hurt yourself on special teams, in the fourth quarter, you're fighting. I think that's what they've done. And they've recruited well. Their two safeties are transfers from Louisville and UCLA, they're both seniors, and they're playing like it. They're good players."
On if EMU's offense resembles NIU's
"Not really. Their QB run game does, and some of the option power read stuff they're doing is similar to ours, but we throw the ball a lot more than they do. They do a lot of stuff with extra linemen in the game. They'll throw a tight end jersey on them, but they're offensive linemen. There are seven O-linemen in there a lot. That's not who we are, but it works for them.
"They're trying to out-gap you, go unbalanced and see how many hats they can get on you, and let their quarterback run. He's a really good player; Gillett's legs are doing a lot of things. And he's thrown the ball well the last two weeks for them. So he's getting better in that area of his game. His receiver, No. 80, Nick Olds, is a really good player. They have one of the best tight ends in our league; Garrett Hoskins, No. 85. I think is a dynamic player. He's made a lot of plays for them. They do a great job. I love Coach English's demeanor, the way he's gone about his business. Nobody's taken him off schedule, out of his vision. Outside of competing against him, I think he's a good coach."
On playing the first MAC game of the day on Friday
"Honestly no, I really don't care about that. I wish we were playing where it's easier for our fans to get here. That's the biggest thing I look at, is how many fans can we get here to support our seniors. That's why I said what I said earlier. I don't get to pick when we play, so unfortunately I'll take what they give us. We'll do everything we can - we're out at handing out tickets at Hy-Vee and restaurants. I know the administration, [NIU Associate Athletics Director] Shelley [Binegar] and her staff, have done everything they can to promote it. We just need everyone in DeKalb, Sycamore, Geneva, St. Charles, and all the surrounding areas, Rochelle - if they're not going anywhere for Thanksgiving, get up, come to the Stadium, and support our senior class."
On what surprises he's faced this season
"Every day. I have a surprise every day waiting for me here somewhere. That's part of being the head coach, I think. You make a calendar, I have a schedule. From the minute I get here to the end of the day, and how many of those hours get changed; that's the surprise. You have 109 guys that you really don't know what's going on - who's grandparents are sick, who's girlfriend broke up with them, who got an A on a test, who just got called and got picked to do an internship. Every day there's something new that walks in that you didn't expect. It goes all the way to our coaching staff. We have 17 children on our staff. The dynamics of allowing our coaches to still be good husbands and fathers is part of the surprise you deal with every day as well."
On handling surprises as a head coach
"I don't know if I'm there yet. I'm just a regimented guy. I said it to Sara [Doeren] the other day, you don't want to become where you don't want to be regimented. At the same time, I think you have to look at every new surprise as an opportunity. I'm still learning how to do that in a positive fashion every day. You want things to always be going the right way, how you planned them. I'm improving, I'm getting better. It's a fun job. I love my job, can't wait to come to work. I love my players and my coaches. I'm supported by our administration and president. I feel very comfortable here. The ins and outs of being a head coach, it's no different than what you guys do. You probably get better every day and every story. That's how I feel."
On Matt Sims confidence over the past week
"I don't know. Matt doesn't show any emotion. He's a blank face. He'll tell you, it was his job to make that kick. I never told that to him, but he's right. That's why he came here, was to kick the game winner. So I'm really proud of Matt, proud of the snap, hold, kick, and protection. If you slow that kick down, it was a millimeter from being blocked. It was an awesome operation. They did a nice job of rushing it. That was a fun play for him."
On how Sims won the starting spot
"Being hired here in the winter, and you guys know how long the winter is, we don't have an indoor, we don't have an indoor place in town other than the DeKalb rec where I send the kickers when we go into offseason program and do some things. But we don't video that stuff. So as a coach, I really didn't know how good or bad Matt Sims was. All I heard about was how he got beat out last year, lost his job, you need a new kicker, and all the stuff that people tell you. I didn't know. I didn't know until August how good or bad he was going to be. In the spring, the wind's blowing so hard that you don't always get a real evaluation on how good a guy is. And we don't go out there and try to block kicks in practice every day because of injuries. I didn't know. We brought in a lot of competition. We brought in [Josh] Gallington; we brought in [Tyler] Wedel. [Ryan] Fillingim is still here. Basically what I told all those guys is I'm going to have a stack of guys here, and one of you guys is going to step up and be the man. And that was him after camp. He won the job."
On the senior class
"Cameron Bell moved from tailback to fullback for me. He's had a great season for us, even on special teams. What Coach Canada's been able to do, and Coach Kane, with him. He plays a lot, he's getting carries, he's blocking people, he's physical on our kickoff team, he's a transfer - so he's had to go through a lot of things."
"Willie Clark. I think his story is pretty unique. He's had so much success here. He had to change and take the backup spot because of how well some other guys were playing. Then he started to come on, so his production increased. He's a weapon for us in a lot of ways because of how versatile he is. He's in the H spot, he's in slot, he's at X. We're pitching the ball to him, he's in the backfield. To me, Willie is the consummate team player."
"Adam Coleman hasn't played a snap, but he's been our backup long snapper. Every practice, he's on and he's ready. If he'd have to go in for me to sleep at night, knowing we have that is a big deal. So I was able to redshirt a kid because of Adam. Boomer Mays redshirted because we had Adam. That helps the future of our program."
"Jordan Delegal, a guy who transferred in and been a productive player for us. He's a very positive player in our locker room with our guys."
"Ryan Fillingim has done some sky kicks for us and competed for the job."
"DeMarcus Grady, another guy that's moved positions, been unselfish, very popular on our team. Made some clutch third-down catches for us this year to move the chains. People don't know that DeMarcus has been fantastic on our special teams. For a quarterback to be on kickoff return and punt return; he's done some great things for us there."
"Chandler we've talked about already, what he's done for our program, and what he'll continue to do."
"Jas Hopkins has had a good year; leads us in touchdowns with 16, and I think is finally healthy. People don't know how much stuff he's been playing with, and he's finally healthy. So excited to see him in that phase."
"Kyle Jenkins was playing tight end when I got here, and I moved him to defensive end. He's had a very silent but productive year. Kind of a blue-collar guy."
"Adam Kiel moved from offensive line to tight end for us when Schepler got hurt. He's done a lot of things, helping us block on the edge and is our personal protector on our punt team. Leads our team in community service; he's a fantastic human being."
"Jack Marks became a scholarship player for us, and is a starting tight end. Plays on our special teams."
"Pat McAvoy, to me, embodies our team. He's a walk-on that wants to be a college coach. Brought in, had a huge fourth down catch in one of our games. Starts in every special teams unit."
"Ron Newcomb has been our most productive player on defense for the season. He was player of the week two or three weeks in a row. Really proud of Ron's production. Ron didn't go through spring ball or fall camp. He had surgery - the day I got here, he had foot surgery last year after their bowl game. Played injured in their bowl game, had surgery, and now is our most productive guy."
"Trevor Olson started 51 games as an offensive lineman. Go find another guy who's done that. Says a lot about who he is."
"Keith Otis has played extremely well this year. I thought Keith really struggled in the transition early, but has played as well as I'd ever hoped he'd play."
"Nate Palmer is our leading receiver. Has made a ton of plays, electric on the field, and really doing well."
"Joe Pawlak, another unsung guy who's a three-year starter. Our goal is to be the top rushing team in the league and we still have a game to win that. I think we're like 0.1 yards behind Temple, and I know that's something they want to win."
"Pat Schiller, a guy who had an ACL injury, changed positions from outside to inside, inside to outside then back inside. Playing well for us; one of our most consistent players."
"Scott Wedige, to me - he lost 30 pounds from spring ball to the fall. That was dedication to be a great player as a senior and being a no-huddle offense, where you have to be a well-conditioned athlete."
"So it's a great senior class, very proud. I told them all before the last game, as a coach when you come into a program, it's easy for the seniors to not really buy-in because they've had other guys and I didn't recruit them. Then taking me in as part of their family - because of them, we're where we are, there's no doubt. Even though our defense isn't senior-laden, the seniors lead our team in every facet. I'm really happy with that class, and I'm going to be sad to see them go, for sure."
On what he'll say to the team on Friday
"I'm not a big talker on game day, except for halftime sometimes. It's going to be a build-up. We talk a lot during the week as a team, we had team meetings, we'll talk to the guys tomorrow night, and we'll talk on game day. But more about how thankful we are. It's not our last game together so I won't get too emotional; it's just their last home game."
Chandler Harnish, Quarterback
On focusing on EMU this week
"I think it's easy for us to stay focused on Eastern Michigan. They're a heck of football team and have made huge improvements this year. Well-coached, play sound defense, run the ball well. We have to focus; we have to play our A game. Let's not kid ourselves - this is a team that could beat us. If we don't bring our A game, then we'll find ourselves in a bad spot. We have to be just as focused as we were for every other game this year, and we can't take them lightly. If we beat them, then we can start talking."
On how much is at stake for both NIU and EMU
"We're definitely aware of it. There's a lot at stake for this game. That's what we want; we want their best shot. We feel that's what we've had all year. Teams want to beat us because of what we did last year. We wouldn't have had it any other way."
Pat Schiller, Linebacker
On winning close games
"We're not taking wins for granted this year. Last year you can look back and see some of the scores of those games. We kind of got used to winning. I don't think that's the case this year. That Central Michigan loss, in a way I think it helped us. It reminded us that we can be beat if we don't play all four quarters and we don't play together."
On being close to a MAC Championship berth
"It's not too far off, going to another MAC Championship. But we're kind of treating this Eastern Michigan game like the MAC Championship just because of how close the other games have been the past few games. We know if we want to get there, we need to be at Eastern Michigan. It's kind of been that playoff system for the past seven weeks now. It's just one of those things where it's unbelievable that this is our last one, our last home game as seniors, playing here. It's crazy how fast it's gone by. But we know that our ultimate goal this year is to go to the MAC Championship, and the only people in our way is Eastern Michigan."
Scott Wedige, Center
On the early losses bringing them together
"I think it really built our character as a team. It's not fun to lose early, and it's not the way we wanted it to happen, but it's a blessing in disguise. We came out, and it helped us gel and come together as a team. Blessing in disguise. I've never been part in this close knit of a team."
On the goal of having the MAC's top rushing offense after Friday's game
"Definitely. Every week our goal is to rush for over 250 yards. As an offensive line, you don't get many stats - sacks allowed and rushing yards is really all you get. We're cognizant of it; we know it's there. Ultimately, we just want to win football games. But it's great to run the ball as well as we have the past few weeks."