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Local Column

Olson: Carey's departure an opportunity for NIU football

Former Northern Illinois head coach Rod Carey reacts during the first half of the Mid-American Conference championship game against Buffalo in Detroit. Carey's departure creates an opportunity for NIU, Eric Olson writes.
Former Northern Illinois head coach Rod Carey reacts during the first half of the Mid-American Conference championship game against Buffalo in Detroit. Carey's departure creates an opportunity for NIU, Eric Olson writes.

So, Rod Carey has left for … Temple?

Well. Happy trails, coach.

Temple is not a step up from Northern Illinois in any discernable way – except that it’ll probably pay Carey more than the $533,000 base salary he was going to make as head football coach at Northern Illinois next season. Maybe that's enough.

One big reason Carey’s new coaching job should pay well is that Temple just got big-timed by Miami. Manny Diaz was head coach of Temple for almost three weeks, at which time Miami paid Temple $4 million to take him back. Enter Rod Carey, who's almost certain to stay longer than that.

"This is where I want to be," Carey said at a press conference announcing his hire Friday. "Put whatever buyout you want on it. This is where I want to be."

That's what Diaz said, too.

Apparently, Temple has had a football team since (it says on Wikipedia) 1894. Back in 2004, they were thrown out of the Big East for showing a lack of commitment to the football program. They played with NIU in the Mid-American Conference from 2007 to ’11, but now are in the American Athletic Conference.

Temple has been turning things around lately, though. They’ve been in bowl games in each of the past four seasons, a school record. They didn’t play in the Orange Bowl or anything, but still.

Another upside: The Owls actually won the Gasparilla Bowl in 2017 – so Temple fans might be a little more patient if Carey loses the next four and runs his bowl-game record to 0-10.

Carey’s six full seasons as the Huskies’ head coach were largely successful. NIU won two Mid-American Conference championships and had some signature wins against power conference opponents – among the most memorable is the win at Nebraska in September 2017.

This year’s thrilling, 30-29, comeback win over Buffalo in the MAC Championship aside, let’s not pretend the team was terribly inspiring last season. The offense was pedestrian most of the time, and the play-calling left something to be desired. The team followed up the big conference championship by getting drubbed by UAB in the Boca Raton Bowl, 31-17.

Days later, the Huskies' biggest star, defensive end Sutton Smith, announced he would enter the NFL Draft.

So maybe it was just time for a change, not just for Carey, but for NIU, too.

NIU will receive $800,000 from Temple as a buyout in Carey's contract. That should give Athletic Director Sean Frazier something to work with as he searches for a rising star to lead a FBS football program with a winning tradition.

The Huskies need a coach whose philosophy (and the players they recruit) will bring some excitement to a program that has struggled to draw fans, especially on those cold Wednesday nights in November.

The clock is ticking.

• Eric Olson is general manager of the Daily Chronicle. Reach him at 815-756-4841 ext. 2257, email eolson@shawmedia.com, and follow him on Twitter @DC_Editor.

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