A day after Northern Illinois won the biggest game in school history, its coach left for a new job at North Carolina State.
On Dec. 2, just before it was revealed the Huskies would play in a new “biggest game in school history,” Rod Carey was introduced as the 22nd coach in NIU history.
“Every opportunity Rod has had to step up and make a difference in our program,’’ athletic director Jeff Compher said, “he has done it. ... I’m confident he will do it again as our head coach.”
When Carey ran out onto the turf at Sun Life Stadium on Tuesday night for the Orange Bowl game against Florida State, he did so as a head coach for the first time.
Before the game, he promised he wouldn’t be changed by the promotion.
Carey was NIU’s offensive coordinator this past season after serving as the school’s offensive-line coach since 2011.
“What’s changed for me is this stuff, which is good,” Carey said, referring to his pregame news conference.
“I’m happy to do it for NIU and for our football program. But other than that, listen, I’m more comfortable with a whistle around my neck and coaching than I am with a mike in front of me in a suit, I can tell you that.
“My wife likes it when I dress up in a suit. I hate it.”
Carey, 41, took over a rising NIU program from Dave Doeren just a day after Doeren left for Raleigh. Soon after Carey was introduced as coach, the BCS standings were revealed. Northern Illinois, a commuter school located 60 miles from Chicago, had crashed the BCS bowl party.
The Huskies were invited to the Orange Bowl and became the first Mid-American Conference team to play in a BCS bowl. Northern Illinois also became the first team from a BCS non-automatic qualifying team to play in the Orange Bowl.
Doeren, who led the Huskies to 23 wins and a pair of MAC championships over the past two seasons, traveled to South Florida to watch Tuesday’s game against Florida State.
What Doeren — as well as former NIU coaches Joe Novak, Jerry Pettibone and Jerry Kill, who all attended Tuesday’s game — saw was an NIU team that wasn’t afraid to take some risks.
After scoring a touchdown to pull within a touchdown at 17-10 in the third quarter, Carey called for an onside kick. The Huskies recovered but turned it over on an interception deep inside FSU territory.
“The program is in good shape,” Carey said. “We’re obviously headed in more than just the right direction. We’re going down a path that we want to be, that we’ve worked for.”
Although Carey got to a BCS bowl game in his initial game as a head coach, it has taken FSU’s Jimbo Fisher a bit longer.
Fisher was formerly FSU’s offensive coordinator and Bobby Bowden’s replacement-in-waiting. Following the 2009 season, Fisher was given the job full time when Bowden was forced into retirement.
For Fisher and the Seminoles, coming to the Orange Bowl wasn’t the disappointment some might have portrayed it to be.
FSU had set its sights on playing in South Florida next Monday in the BCS title game, but an October loss to N.C. State all but killed those hopes. A loss to Florida in the season finale ended them definitively.
Yet, 2012 was a move forward for Fisher. For the first time in Fisher’s three seasons as coach, the Seminoles won 11 games. FSU also claimed its first ACC title under Fisher and played in its first BCS bowl game.
“This is the first time we’ve been to a BCS bowl game in seven years,” Fisher said. “Am I disappointed in our season? No, I’m very excited about what we’ve done and how we’ve won a championship. ... I think we’ve taken a lot of steps in the right direction.”