Exclusive Q&A with N.C. State Coach Dave Doeren: ‘Have a Growth Mindset’

By Dan Guttenplan, FNF Coaches Editor

Dave Doeren has a record of 47-42 in seven seasons as the head coach at N.C. State. He led the Wolfpack to back-to-back nine-win seasons in 2017 and 2018. In 2018, a school-record seven players were drafted by NFL teams – the highest total in the ACC and the second-highest total nationally.

Doeren recently joined FNF Coaches for an exclusive interview.

When did you start to get a sense that you wanted to go into coaching?

“It happened during my junior year of college (at Drake University). Going into my senior year, I went home that summer, and my high school coach offered me a job helping out with 7-on-7. I fell in love with working with the guys at that point. I spent my senior year trying to find jobs, and ended up going back to my high school to coach.”

Why did you eventually choose to coach at the college level rather than high school?

“When I started coaching high school, I enjoyed it so much, I didn’t want to leave that level. My college coach was persistent. He had a graduate assistant opening, and he kept calling and got me to come up. I wanted a Masters degree. That was important, and it gave me the opportunity to do that. I was able to be with people who had already helped me in life, so that made a difference.”

What approach do you take to team-building during this time of year?

“Everything in our offseason is about competition and connection. We want to build chemistry throughout the roster, not only through offseason competitions and running programs, but through in-house teams that we put together. We track performance and allow them to compete. We build teams with different position groups combined. It’s not just your side of the ball and position. That creates team competitiveness and camaraderie. We’re competing to improve. We take the kids bowling or do other fun activities.”

Are you just tracking athletic performance? Or do you have that compete in off-the-field endeavors?

“It’s athletic performance, weight training, how you attack runs and academic performance. We have accountability for all of those things. We’re giving guys extra points for perfect attendance in their academic lives. We have the scholar ballers with GPAs above 3.0. There’s a reward for that. We hang their pictures on the wall and do different things to throw nuggets at guys performing not just as athletes. We have community service competitions all year, but it’s hot and heavy over the summer.”

Is there any new technology that you’re using that would be beneficial for high school coaches?

“We’re very active with analytics, but I have no idea of the cost effectiveness of that for high schools. We use different analytics companies. We use Catapult technology every day to monitor performance, from top speeds, to acceleration, to change of direction, to total volume. Once you have stats on a guy, you can see what is too much. Maybe he did the most running of his career on a certain day. You don’t want to duplicate that the next day. You can’t really know a player’s workload until you put that tracker on. Then you can see who has explosive movements and a lot of other variables.”

How have you adapted to so many more spread offenses and RPOs?

“I think football is always evolving. One side or the other is constantly trying to catch up. The challenge now is getting guys down the field to defend the pass. How we play zone is different from how we played it before. We’re fitting gaps, and they’re throwing the ball right behind us. Evolution is the name of the game. Our job is to stay ahead of the curve. We study ourselves, our opponents, NFL teams. We have to find new ideas.”

Is there a fine line between turning every offseason drill into a competition and giving your players time to motivate themselves?

“I think it depends on the individual. Some guys, no matter what, will push themselves to the peak of their ability. There are other guys, if they’re not paired up, they won’t do that. The competitive side of all of us brings out more. It’s not about trying to lift the most weight; it’s about getting your personal best each day. If that’s adding 5 lbs. more, then it develops over time.”

How do you develop leaders in the spring?

“The evolution of leadership depends on the success guys are having. Most of these guys were the best players on their high school teams. They were captains, so they come in with the ability to lead. Some are more vocal and some lead by example. Most won’t step up until they have the confidence to lead, which happens on the game field by making plays. Freshmen don’t typically come in and start bossing people around. There are three types of guys: Emerging leaders have it in them but don’t feel it’s their right to do it. Servant leaders won’t be vocal, but they will be positive and push the guy next to them by leading by example. Vocal leaders get up and say how it’s supposed to be.”

A Growth Mindset

Doeren encourages high school coaches to seek out mentoring opportunities from college coaches. He and his staff welcome coaches to attend practices and watch game film.

“I think the visits are important,” Doeren said. “You can go to clinics, and those are good as well. Coming to practice and watching film is so valuable because we have somebody on staff clarify and review.”

Doeren wishes he sought out more of those opportunities in his younger years, when he was an up-and-coming coach.

“What would I do differently?” Doeren said. “That’s probably a nine-hour conversation. The biggest thing as I get older is I realize I didn’t know as much as I thought I did. Everyone is very confident in this business, but you have to have a growth mindset. When you’re younger, you don’t see it that way. You think you know more than what you know. The more you can get around experienced coaches, you have opportunities to learn we’re all going to fail. It will open your eyes to say, ‘I need to listen.’ A growth mindset is critical for all coaches.”