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Dave Doeren Searching For Answers With Coaching Staff Changes

By Dave Holcomb
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In 2019, N.C. State finished with its worst record (4-8) since head coach Dave Doeren’s first season in 2013. Heading into 2020, Doeren has made sweeping changes to his coaching staff in hopes of rebounding back to near the top of the Atlantic Division

N.C. State counted on massive offensive changes, both to the program’s staff and starting lineup, to keep the Wolfpack relevant in 2019. That didn’t happen, though, as N.C. State finished with its worst record (4-8) since head coach Dave Doeren’s first season in 2013.

But Doeren is turning to a similar strategy again this offseason, making sweeping changes to his coaching staff in the hopes of rebounding back to near the top of the Atlantic Division.

N.C. State will have a new offensive and defensive coordinator in 2020, and it’s the second straight season the program will have a new play caller. Last season, the Wolfpack promoted Des Kitchings and George McDonald to a split offensive coordinator situation after Eli Drinkwitz left for Appalachian State. McDonald will return as an assistant head coach and passing game coordinator this season, but Kitchings will not.

It was hardly only their fault, but Kitchings and McDonald couldn’t jump start the Wolfpack offense in 2019. N.C. State finished 11th in total offense (380 yards per game) and 12th in scoring (22.1 point per contest) in the ACC. It was N.C. State’s lowest scoring output in a season under Doeren.

A big part of the problem was trying to replace Ryan Finley. Three different quarterbacks attempted at least 95 passes for the Wolfpack last season, and the team only had 14 passing touchdowns versus 10 interceptions. Two of those touchdowns through the air came on trick plays from wide receiver Thayer Thomas.

Interestingly, Doeren demoted Kitchings and McDonald for a coach who was recently demoted himself. Former Texas coach Tim Beck will serve as offensive coordinator for N.C. State this season.

Beck has mostly been in at least a co-offensive coordinator role in every season since 2011, but this past season, Texas took away his playcalling duties. Then on Dec. 1, Tom Herman announced Beck would lose his offensive coordinator title at Texas. He stayed to coach the quarterbacks for Texas’ bowl game against Utah. A day later, N.C. State hired him.

It was a disappointing season for Texas. While the Longhorns only lost to a pair of playoff teams -- LSU and Oklahoma -- by a touchdown each, they also fell to unranked TCU and Iowa State. They also dropped an affair to Baylor (all three of those losses were on the road) by 14 points.

However, from a statistical standpoint, it’s tough to see exactly why Herman demoted Beck. Texas finished second in points scored and third in yards per game in the Big 12 last season. Furthermore, the Longhorns posted the fewest giveaways and possessed the most efficient red zone offense (based on touchdown percentage) along with the second-best third-down conversion rate in their conference.

Texas’ offensive numbers were not as good when Beck called plays in 2017 and 2018. Over his final season as play caller, the Longhorns were fifth in points scored and sixth in yards per contest.

But over his tenure at Texas, the Longhorns averaged 32.6 points per game, and they were ranked 53rd or higher nationally in scoring. N.C. State has averaged under 30 points per game since the start of 2017.

Beck was also highly important in the development of Texas quarterback Sam Ehlinger. Again, signal caller is the biggest problem for the N.C. State offense, and Beck should be able to help immediately.

But the Wolfpack also changed defensive coordinators. N.C. State fired Dave Huxtable, which was a little bit of a surprise, considering he had been the program’s defensive coordinator since the start of the Doeren era in 2013. N.C. State promoted Tony Gibson to full-time defensive coordinator (he was a co-defensive coordinator last year).

Gibson has previous defensive coordinator experience from his stint at West Virginia from 2016-18. The Mountaineers best season defensive under Gibson came in 2016 when they were ranked second in the Big 12 in both points and yards allowed, but the unit slowly worsened over his final two years.

Doeren isn’t necessarily on the hot seat, but to prevent his chair from getting any warmer, he’s counting on these coaching changes being a lot more effective than the alterations he made to the staff -- at least on offense -- last year.