Northern Illinois' second consecutive MAC championship celebration came to a halt less than 24 hours after it began as Huskies coach Dave Doeren announced Saturday he was leaving for North Carolina State.
Doeren's move wasn't unexpected. With Doeren’s 23-4 overall record and 15-1 conference mark in two seasons and the Huskies knocking on the BCS door this year, Huskies athletic director Jeff Compher even said recently he understood Doeren was going to be a hot commodity very soon.
"If you look at some of the best football programs in our conference, many major universities and conferences come chomping in the MAC," Compher said in November. "That's what we anticipate down the road. Whether or not that's something this year or five years down the road, we always have to be prepared for that."
Replacing coaches will soon become old hat to Compher, who has been on the job since 2008. Just two years ago, he went through this same problem. The football program had gotten too good under former coach Jerry Kill, and Minnesota came calling for Kill after three consecutive bowl berths.
And now, Compher has to go through the process all over again. He said in a statement Saturday the search had already begun.
"We will move quickly, as we have in the past, to get the right person to lead this program going forward," Compher said Saturday. "We are confident there is a high level of interest in Northern Illinois as the incoming staff will take over one of the best programs in the country."
Compher was prepared for Doeren’s early exit and was able to protect Northern Illinois financially. Northern Illinois will be paid $750,000 by N.C. State.
A little extra cash could help bring in another top coach, but there are plenty of other reasons why high-profile assistants and some lower-level head coaches will be tripping over each for a chance at Northern Illinois.
Northern Illinois' recent history is a key factor. After this season, the Huskies will have been to seven bowl games under three different coaches since 2004. What began with Joe Novak turning the program around in the early 2000s was carried over by Kill and then followed by Doeren.
Plus, all of that success was accumulated without the program having access to its own indoor facility in the often cold, snowy, windy and rural DeKalb, Ill. That will change next year when the Chessick Practice Center opens.
Add the tradition to the indoor center to the fact the Huskies started four underclassmen on defense and 10 on offense (including junior quarterback Jordan Lynch) in Friday's MAC championship, and you have one pretty attractive job.
It wouldn't be surprising if Compher turned to the Big Ten again for his next football hire. Doeren was a Wisconsin defensive coordinator when he was brought on board. Compher also scoped out the Big Ten for men's basketball coach Mark Montgomery, who was previously a Michigan State assistant.
Michigan State defense coordinator Pat Narduzzi and former Purdue defensive coordinator and current Illinois State head coach Brock Spack are two possibilities. Narduzzi's defense was one of the best in the country this season and he was Northern Illinois' linebackers coach from 2000 to '02. Spack, who is originally from Rockford, Ill., was hired at Illinois State in 2009 and the Redbirds are 8-3 and in the FCS playoffs this season.
Although Compher certainly hoped Doeren would have stuck around long, Compher gets Northern Illinois' place in the FBS pecking order, and that's just fine by him. He had no doubt Northern Illinois would reload with another quality coach even if that means losing that person in a few years' time, too.
"We understand who we are," Compher said in November. "I've said this, if you have a successful program, the commitment of the university and the fans are committed to the program, it makes the next hire easy. They know they can get it done at certain schools. I believe we're one of them."