Ask him about Kinnick Stadium, and Rod Carey will share a few colorful memories.
Carey is entering his first full season as Northern Illinois’ football coach, but his roots stretch back to the Big Ten Conference.
He played center for Indiana in the early 1990s, under coach Bill Mallory.
“I think the first year we went there (Iowa City), coach Mallory had the pink locker room covered in paper,” Carey recalled. “And we got run out of town.”
When Northern Illinois enters Kinnick Stadium for an Aug. 31 opener against the Hawkeyes, it will mark another milepost in Carey’s unlikely journey.
When the same teams met last September in Chicago, Carey was the Huskies’ offensive line coach.
The following week, he was promoted to offensive coordinator. Less than three months later, he took over the entire program.
“That feels like a lifetime ago, in a lot of ways,” Carey said. “Life is funny. The older you get, the faster it goes.
“In a lot of ways, it’s really gone too fast.”
Carey’s rapid rise came as Northern Illinois was making an improbable trek to the Orange Bowl.
Health issues forced Mike Dunbar (a former Northern Iowa coach) to step down as offensive coordinator following an 18-17 loss to Iowa.
Under Carey’s play calling, the Huskies averaged 38.6 points per game (13th highest in the nation) and 469.6 yards (20th), while winning 12 straight games and the Mid-American Conference title.
When head coach Dave Doeren left for North Carolina State, Carey moved up another notch.
He was the man in charge during a 31-10 loss to Florida State in Miami, but otherwise, the transition went smoothly.
“There really hasn’t been much difference,” offensive lineman Tyler Loos said. “It’s nice because of the continuation with coaching. We’re all trying to work together, just to keep everything pretty similar.”
Carey inherited a roster of playmakers, led by quarterback Jordan Lynch, a trendy Heisman Trophy pick.
“I’m really familiar with him,” Lynch said. “I think the defense will have to get used to him, because they’re not used to hearing his voice.”
Most preseason projections list the Huskies as a favorite to win their third consecutive MAC championship.
“I don’t care what outside expectations are,” Carey said. “No one has higher expectations for us, than us.”
Players have noticed Carey’s transformation, and its impact in the locker room.
“I know the O-line it’s kind of weird for them,” running back Akeem Daniels said. “Because they went from joking around with him, to now, they have to turn that switch on, that he’s the head coach.
“You’ve got to respect him.”
That doesn’t mean they can’t have some fun.
“He’ll hang out with the defense a little more,” Loos explained. “So we kind of say he’s big-timing us.”
Carey was a member of Doeren’s supporting cast when Northern Illinois and Iowa played at Soldier Field.
In May, Carey landed on YouTube, after singing “Take Me Out To The Ballgame,” at Wrigley Field.
“I’ve had a lot of change personally, a ton,” Carey said. “But when you have good people around you, that makes change a whole lot easier.”
Category: Iowa Hawkeyes Football