CHICAGO -- Northern Illinois quarterback Chandler Harnish was as worried as anyone about the team’s future when coach Jerry Kill left the program for Minnesota near the end of last season.
Harnish had already been through two offensive coordinators and three quarterback coaches, and he understand with Kill’s departure he was going to add another coach to each of those columns for his final collegiate season. He had gone through the process before, and he knew it wasn’t always easy.
Now nearly eight months after Dave Doeren was hired to replace Kill and Matt Canada was brought on to be the Huskies offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, Harnish’s concerns have completely vanished. Harnish’s transition from one staff to another was smoother than he could have ever imagined, and it’s made him optimistic that Northern Illinois could be one of the nation’s most explosive offenses.
“It was a lot easier transition this time around,” Harnish said during NIU’s media day at Soldier Field on Wednesday. “I probably credit that to just being older, being more experienced, going through it before.
“The things that coach Doeren and his staff along with coach Canada brought in are so similar to last year. This year we’ll be doing a no-huddle offense, but conceptually running the ball, power run game, zone run game, the throw schemes are all the same. The way we read coverage is coached exactly the same. They like to put their spin on it, but it makes it easier when the concepts are so similar.”
It was a no-brainer for Canada, who was previously Indiana’s offensive coordinator, to keep a lot of Northern Illinois’ offense the same from last season. The Huskies averaged 38 points a game during last year’s 11-3 season.
“Coach Canada is smart enough to know that they were one of the best offenses in the conference last year,” Doeren said. “The tempo we run at may be different, but the actual selection of plays and formations is not. For [Harnish], it wasn’t like you’re reinventing the offense.”
Harnish got to know his new coordinator and quarterback coach well through the team’s spring practices, and he feels comfortable with him now moving forward into the season.
“It was kind of trial by fire,” Harnish said. “What we did was we came in, and we didn’t take anything slow. Coach Canada, our offensive coordinator, threw the offense at us, and we just jumped in. To me, that’s the best way to learn is to take it all in and just play and actually learn from experience and you learn from your mistakes. We made a lot of mistakes, but we did a lot of good things, too. We were able to develop a lot of our offensive scheme through spring ball.”
Expectations are high on Harnish heading into his senior season. He completed 189-of-292 passes for 2,530 yards, 21 touchdowns and five interceptions and rushed for 836 yards and seven touchdowns last season. He’s been named to the watch lists for the Maxwell Award, Walter Camp Award and Davey O’Brien Award.
Doeren hasn’t seen Harnish live yet in a real game, but he knows what to expect having watched plenty of film on him.
“He’s a big, big competitor,” Doeren said. “That kid is competitive. That’s what you want. You want the guy in there that wants to ball in his hands to win the game, and that’s what he is.”
The one adjustment Harnish will have to make this season is running a no-huddle offense, but it’s a change he’s looking forward to.
“We have such a good offense,” Harnish said. “Why not run more plays during a course of a game? The more plays we run, theoretically, the more points we should score, the more yards we should put up. That’s the way to look at it.”
“If you have a defense tired, you’d like to be able to speed it up and really finish them,” Doeren said. “As a defensive coach, I know where [Canada is] coming from. If the offense has the ability to go at both speeds, you’re constantly concerned about it, you’re worried about it, you have to prepare for it. We have the capability of going slow or fast. I don’t think you can do that unless that’s who you are.”