UW football: Former Badger Doeren tested early at Northern Illinois

2011-09-15T05:35:00Z 2012-05-23T17:54:04Z UW football: Former Badger Doeren tested early at Northern IllinoisTOM MULHERN | tmulhern@madison.com | 608-252-6169 | Twitter: @TomMulhernWSJ madison.com

Dave Doeren never expected to jump out of a plane as a head football coach.

"It wasn't on the map, that's for sure," the former University of Wisconsin defensive coordinator said of plotting the path that led him to being named the coach at Northern Illinois last December.

Doeren had skydiving on his bucket list, but he was not motivated enough to do it until agreeing last summer to take part in "Doeren Discovers," a series of webisodes to increase media exposure for the football program.

He also sang during the seventh-inning stretch at a Chicago Cubs game, drove in excess of 125 mph at Chicagoland Speedway and took batting practice with the Kane County Cougars minor league baseball team.

But the stomach churning that went on before those publicity events was nothing compared to hearing the phone ring at his home at 1:30 a.m. last April.

"I knew it wasn't going to be good," Doeren said.

As a linebackers coach and defensive coordinator for the Badgers — who face the Huskies on Saturday at Soldier Field in Chicago — Doeren knew what it was like to worry about his players. 

"The thing about Dave is, he really cares about the players he coaches," said UW defensive line coach and co-defensive coordinator Charlie Partridge, who is one of Doeren's closest friends. "Now, he's got 100-plus (players) that he has the same emotions and attachments to."

Doeren picked up the phone and heard from one of his players that Devon Butler, a standout linebacker for the Huskies, had been shot and taken to the hospital.

Police were later able to piece together that Butler was an innocent victim of a drive-by shooting while visiting a friend's off-campus apartment in DeKalb, Ill.

"It was one of those moments that put things in perspective," Doeren said. "We had practice that day and Devon had his best practice of the spring. Earlier in the day, you're talking about run fits and stopping certain plays, then you're sitting there holding his hand, hoping he's still alive."

Doeren, the first of UW coach Bret Bielema's assistants to be named a head coach, thought he had done everything in his power to prepare for this job. Bielema finally reached Doeren after the shooting when he returned home, following 17 hours at the hospital.

"Nobody ever really prepared me for this one," Doeren told Bielema.

Butler was flown to a hospital in Rockford, Ill., for emergency surgery. He is from Pembroke Pines, Fla., so his parents were not able to get there right away.

"So, a lot of the medical questions were coming to me," Doeren said. "You're standing there acting as a parent. It was scary."

Linebackers coach Tom Matukewicz was at the hospital with Doeren and they were told to say their good-byes to Butler, before surgery.

"We went in and told him how much we loved him," Doeren said. "We didn't know if we'd ever see him after that."

A multi-tasker

Partridge knew Doeren was destined to be a head coach from early on in their coaching careers. Partridge and Doeren played college football together at Drake and started their coaching careers there.

"You ever meet someone who walks into a room and they can take the room over?" Partridge said. "Dave has that ability. He has the ability to spin a lot of plates, he can multi-task with the best of them. That's when you know he has all of those qualities that a head coach needs."

After Jerry Kill left Northern Illinois to become the coach at Minnesota, Huskies athletic director Jeff Compher was looking for a coach with strong backgrounds in recruiting and the Midwest.

Doeren, who is from the Kansas City area, had spent 16 years as a college assistant, including five years with the Badgers. He was a linebackers coach, co-defensive coordinator and recruiting coordinator in 2006 and '07, before spending three years as defensive coordinator.

Doeren did two things in the interview process that made a strong impression on Compher. When the subject of hiring a staff came up, Doeren pulled out a sheet of names.

"He had an offensive and defensive three-deep chart for all of his coaches," Compher said. "That was pretty impressive for me to know that he was that prepared.''

On the day Doeren was supposed to meet the school's president, a snowstorm hit the Midwest. Doeren dug through the snow in his driveway in Madison before a friend came by and plowed out the last few feet, then drove his family to Chicago.

"An incredible sign of his desire to be a Huskie," Compher said. "That meant a lot to all of us."

'Straight shooter'

All of Compher's instincts about Doeren's readiness to be a head coach were reinforced on the day when Butler was shot. Doeren went to the hospital every day for nearly a month.

"The compassion that he showed to Devon and to his family, the way that he was ever-present at the hospital ... just impressed the heck out of me," Compher said.

Butler, a standout linebacker, has done some light drills in practice and is expected to return to the field next season.

"I've always felt like one of my responsibilities as a coach is to be that player's parental figure away from his home," Doeren said.

The Huskies are 1-1, coming off a last-second loss to Kansas last week, but Doeren has won over the players with his direct approach.

"I'm a pretty straight shooter and there's not a lot of gray area," he said. "They appreciate the fact I'm not going to let them forget details and hold them accountable, and I'm going to do the same in my end of the deal."

— Jim Polzin contributed to this story.

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