Northern Illinois has been through a lot this season, and it isn’t done yet. But the focus on Monday was all about next season. When the Huskies step onto the field for the first time in 2011, it will be the first time Dave Doeren steps on as a head coach. Doeren, the Wisconsin Badgers defensive coordinator the past five seasons, was named as Jerry Kill’s successor inside the Convocation Center on Monday.

Northern Illinois has been through a lot this season, and it isn’t done yet. But the focus on Monday was all about next season.

When the Huskies step onto the field for the first time in 2011, it will be the first time Dave Doeren steps on as a head coach. Doeren, the Wisconsin Badgers defensive coordinator the past five seasons, was named as Jerry Kill’s successor inside the Convocation Center on Monday.

“Ten days ago we lost a heartbreaker in the MAC Championship game. Eight days ago we learned our head coach was leaving,” NIU athletic director Jeff Compher said. “Now we’ve found our guy, and we’re moving forward.”

Of course, there still is that little matter of Saturday’s bowl game.

“This team has always had pretty good focus, and all of our focus has been on this bowl game. But it has been tough, with all the uncertainty that came on when Coach Kill left. It’s been rough,” redshirt sophomore defensive back Tommy Davis said. “We’ve handled it well, but it is nice to have some clarity now.”

NIU (10-3), coming off a 26-21 loss to Miami (Ohio) in the Dec. 3 Mid-American Conference championship, will take on Fresno State (8-4) in the Humanitarian Bowl on the blue turf of Boise State. Some of the talk about the Huskies’ bowl matchup has been tabled since Dec. 5, when Kill announced he was leaving to become the next head coach at Minnesota.

That’s where Doeren, a 16-year college coach with experience at the high school, FCS and FBS levels, steps into the picture. Though both sides will part ways for the bowl season, a lot of questions that lingered for a week were answered when Doeren stepped to the podium.

“You’re getting someone who is very, very proud to be here. I’ve been through a lot to get to this place,” Doeren said. “I know Coach (Joe) Novak, and I know Coach (Jerry) Kill, and I know what they stand for. I’m very excited to step into this situation. It’s not a rebuilding process — this team is good; this team is ready.”

Saying things like that also will get him in good with his new players, especially those who have stepped up and had good seasons this year and plan to return. The Huskies ran the table in MAC play, tied a school record with 10 wins and qualified for a bowl for the third straight year.

They didn’t get much of a first impression — the new coach talked to his new players for about 20 minutes this morning — but what they did get, they liked.

“We haven’t had a lot of time to do that. He announced he was a new coach, and we got on the bus and went off to practice,” junior quarterback Chandler Harnish said. “But he seems like an energetic, very passionate coach, and he brings the same mentality that we’ve had here for years.

We play tough, hard-nosed football and we punch teams in the mouth. That’s what we’ve done and that’s what we’re going to continue to do. I think he’s a great fit for this position.”

Doeren will return to Madison and coach the Badgers when they take on TCU in the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif. After that, he will join the Huskies family for good. He will try to keep it together until then.

“I really know I’m part of this family right now,” Doeren said while choking up a bit. “It’s just an awesome, awesome day.”

And hopefully for Huskie fans, there will be plenty more of those to come on the football field.

College reporter Jay Taft can be reached at 815-987-1384 or jtaft@rrstar.com.