Dooley hire a triumph of substance over style

Vince Dooley remembers the day that his youngest son, Derek, made it clear that he wanted to be a football coach.

Derek had received his undergraduate degree from the University of Virginia where he played for George Welsh. He then attended law school at the University of Georgia.

His mother, Barbara, had seen her husband dedicate their entire married life to the coaching profession. That was enough heartache for one family. Her son–the baby of four children–was going to someday be a partner at King & Spalding, one of the biggest law firms in the country.

There was just one problem. Derek Dooley did not enjoy being a lawyer. He loved football. He had seen his father’s level headed, methodical approach to the profession and decided that was who and what he wanted to be. So, just like his father, Derek Dooley put together a game plan to convince his parents that leaving the legal profession–and the financial rewards that came with it–to make NO money in coaching was the right thing for him to do.

“He put together a compeling argument and had all of his bases covered like a good lawyer would,” Vince Dooley told me. “Finally, I stopped him and told him that he had convinced me. The real challenge was going to be talking to his mother.”

Barbara Dooley knew it was coming and knew what her response would be. Birds gotta fly. Fish gotta swim. Coaches have gotta coach. As Lou Holtz often says “Only coach if you can’t live without it. It’s just too hard.”

Derek Dooley couldn’t live without coaching and today he is the head coach at the University of Tennessee.

“Obviously, I am very proud of him as a father,” Vince Dooley told me Friday night. “As a coach, I know how hard these jobs are and I know what the challenges will be. There is part of me that wishes I could take some of the hits for him. But Derek is his own man. He proved that long ago.”

Some Tennessee fans may not be excited about this hire. They wanted a sexy name like a Will Muschamp or a Jon Gruden. First of all, neither of those guys were coming. Secondly, you have to understand that with this hire AD Mike Hamilton had to go with stability and competence over flash. Tennessee didn’t need somebody to win the press conference. They need somebody to run the football program. They didn’t need somebody to tweak Urban Meyer and get the chat rooms humming.

It was that desire for sexyness–of style over substance–that got Tennessee into trouble in the first place.

Here is what I mean by that. There seems to be this notion that in order to recruit the modern day high school football player you have to offer him some kind of show-business, NFL draft camp, MTV new-age mentality approach to the game.

The reality is that what has worked in college football for over 100 years still works today: You recruit good players with the opportunity to improve themselves educationally as people and professionally as athletes. You hire good coaches and you set high standards. You demand that everyone in the organization meet those standards. You understand that you work for the institution and not the other way around. You never do anything to embarrass the institution and you honor its history and traditions. You put together the plan for success and implement the plan. Those who do not wish to follow the plan are free to leave or will be asked to leave.

And that’s it. As the head coach, you do those things well and the rest will follow.

Is Derek Dooley going to have some rough spots ahead of him? Sure, because when everything shakes out, there may be more damage done to the program by Lane Kiffin than currently meets the eye. There were obviously some misgivings by others, who turned down the opportunity, that there are some real problems in this program.

But in the final analysis, the younger Dooley is not only the right kind of coach, he is the right kind of MAN that Tennessee needs to lead its football program at this point in history. Tennessee got away from the things that made it great–the fundamental principles of General Neyland–with the hire of Lane Kiffin. It went reaching for something that was totally out of character for the institution hoping to keep pace with the University of Florida and to get back to the top of the SEC.

Tennessee is Robert Neyland, Bowden Wyatt,  Doug Dickey, Bill Battle, Johnny Majors, Phillip Fulmer and Peyton Manning. It stands for something fundamental and unchanging. It does not alter its mission and values hoping that talented players will come. It offers talented high school students an opportunity to be part of something special–something bigger than themselves.

Tennessee forgot that for 14 months. With the hiring of Derek Dooley, UT now has a chance to get it back.

348 comments Add your comment

T Zachary

January 16th, 2010
3:31 am

Great piece Tony. As a Tennessee student and fan, I feel that this hire is a step in the right direction for the program. We may take some lumps on the way, but I’m confident we’ll be back in contention for conference titles sooner rather than later with this Coach Dooley. Next up, we’ll see what kind of staff he assembles and what kind of class he can salvage from with such little time left. However it shakes out, I’m looking forward to the guys running through the T come Fall.

Bob in SF

January 16th, 2010
3:32 am

Unfortunately Derek will have two, maybe three seasons tops to reach double digit wins, an SEC championship or a BCS game before the natives start grumbling. There is no honeymoon for coaches in today’s SEC. Ask David Cutcliff as I’m sure he had his reasons for not coming back after getting run off from Ole Miss.


January 16th, 2010
3:45 am

What about Bowden Wyatt? They fired that Battle guy.

Marc Zontine

January 16th, 2010
4:27 am

Wait a second – didn’t you just tweet that Cutcliffe was perfect for UT? Now Dooley is perfect for UT? What gives?

Tony Barnhart

January 16th, 2010
4:36 am

Simple, Marc. Both men–because of their value system–were the type of people that fit Tennessee. There is never only one perfect coach. Coach Cutcliffe decided to stay at Duke. He would have been a good fit. Same goes for Derek Dooley.


January 16th, 2010
4:47 am

Tennessee’s seventh choice is the right choice. Derek is a great coach and will represent Tennessee with class and integrity. He’s an outstanding recriuter and will build a program Tennessee will be proud of, if they will give him a reasonable amount of time to do so. Derek didn’t come to Tennessee with a dream of being somewhere else, like Kiffen.

Tim in Oregon

January 16th, 2010
4:54 am

Tony, I seldom agree 100% with your articles, but you nailed this one. I totally agree with everything you said. UT fans were going to be disappointed, regardless of who was hired because it wasn’t going to be as sexy as the Lane Kiffin hire. I watched Kiffin’s USC acceptance speech, and Dooley’s right after and there is no comparison. This guy is class. I felt proud listening to him speak that he is our guy. The SEC was right about Kiffin. Now that he’s not one of us, he looks like an absolute Bozo. Congrats and welcome Derek Dooley!

Tim in Oregon

January 16th, 2010
5:01 am

….and I’m already impressed with his impact on the players. The few qoutes that I’ve read are all positive, and stem strictly from his values and integrity alone rather than just X’s and O’s. It was refreshing to hear something other than, “We are the best staff, and we just need better players”. This is what UT is about and what we’ve obviously lacked for 14 months.


January 16th, 2010
5:03 am

Derek is an outstanding coach AND person, however, this is the University of Tennessee, and the state of college football is in a digression of values. Derek will have to retain assistants he may not want, and he will be given a very short rope by the fans of UT. God be with you DD.

Eric Berry

January 16th, 2010
5:39 am

Great article! As a UT fan very excited. Go Vols


January 16th, 2010
5:53 am

Great hire for the Big Orange. Not a UT fan but lived up there for a long time. I’m sure most fans are breathing a big sigh of relief. They got a good one. Good article.


January 16th, 2010
5:56 am

It is great to see a Dooley back in college football. Wonder why UVA did not go after Derek for their coach to replace Groh? Go Dogs!!


January 16th, 2010
6:18 am

Great article, Tony. Derek has the potential to be a great coach at Tennessee, much greater than David. David Cutcliffe seems to enjoy the continuing challenges at Duke. He didn’t want to leave his assistants behind, so he never received an offer from Tennessee. Derek has the energy, the charisma, and the genetics to be a truly outstanding coach…..slam dunk among those considered.


January 16th, 2010
6:19 am

Thanks Tony:

So much interesting new in colleg football and I had to read the other two people who the AJC lets put stuff in the editorial sports page (how’s that for being nice?). Thanks for REPORTING. I bet you shake your head everytime those two fellas leave the room.

You know, I don’t like Tennessee. But, I am happy for them and the young men that will not be influenced by Lane Kiffin. Like UGA, Tennessee is a great college with a GREAT college of football tradition.

My favorite FOOTBALL game I ever went to at UGA was when we stopped the 9? game losing steak to Tennessee. I hope one day that they fire Dooley for not being able to beat UGA!


January 16th, 2010
6:33 am

As a Dawg, I was certain I loved have Lame Kiffin in Tennessee. He was destined to take it to the toils of NCAA sanctions. I agree with you in the “style over substance” regard but I am not certain Derek Dooley is the right guy. I think UT sold itself short and I don’t believe that ANY name should have been out of the realm of possibilities. They are a SEC school with a HUGE budget just over a decade removed from a National Title. Their former coaches you listed reads like a “who’s who” of coaches. I wish Baby Dooley all the luck in his pursuit of 2nd place in the SEC East!

Mike Slive

January 16th, 2010
6:33 am

After 14 long months of shame,some class back at UT ,best of luck
I guess Barbara busy learning the words to “Rock Top”

Robert Karma

January 16th, 2010
6:34 am

Excellent column on our new HC! I agree that Derek Dooley is cut from the same cloth as our previous coaches before the Lane Kiffin Error. Kiffin tried to remake a storied program into USC South and you can’t do that with a successful and tradition laden program like Tennessee’s. I understand the temptation for fans and ADs to bring in the brash young guns like Kiffin to invigorate a stagnant program thinking his attitude and arrogance are what is needed to bring attention to the program and to bring in a Top 5 recruiting class. I believe the monster in college football that drives this thinking is the explosion of media, especially on cable, that focuses time, money and attention on the college game. You are a member of one of these media outlets, CBS College Sports, that lives off of college sports, especially football. General Neyland never had to deal with the scrutiny that the modern coach deals with nor the power of the TV contract like the one the SEC now has with ESPN. Based on all of the positive character testimony I have read from those who know Coach Dooley, I feel UT made the right decision in hiring him to turn UT around and back on our Big Orange tradition filled football track. I fear his first year will be very difficult given the murderous schedule we have to play this fall. We could have a better team and still start 3-4 in our first 7 games. He will have to hit the ground running but at least we can trust that he won’t be thinking about his next job like our previous head coach. This reminds me of the old curse, “May you live in interesting times.” Indeed.


January 16th, 2010
6:44 am

If you’ll notice, all the names that UT went after are considered anti-Kiffin’s. I don’t begrudge Kiffin for leaving to take his dream job and was certain that he was rebuilding the program – not so sure how that would have played out off the field (probations, suspensions, etc.). Still, I’m not sad to see him go because it was too much about him, not Tennessee. Go Coach Dooley and Go Big Orange!


January 16th, 2010
6:48 am

I think UT just made a very smart hire. They must give him time. Having said that, I wonder how many of the remaining ass. coaches will be run off when the “hot tub” photos and scandal hit the “fan. It will get really ugly.

Big time?? Not

January 16th, 2010
6:53 am

I’ve known Derek since he was a kid…..he will do a great job. Wish Kiffen had stayed……he was much easier to pull against.

I can’t pull for UT but will pull for Derek.

Big time?? Not

January 16th, 2010
6:54 am

Oh, Four tickets, four hot dogs, four cokes


January 16th, 2010
6:57 am

I think the vols got a good football coach!! He learned from two of the best football coaches of all time!! Being a bama fan and watching a Saban guy coach against Saban will be intestering to watch this fall. Good luck to Derek Dooley and the vol nation in turning around the runaway Lane train mess!!

Dawg stuck in Bham

January 16th, 2010
7:08 am

As a UGA, it’s going to be tough to dislike the Vols as much as I have in the past. Dooley is class.and will bring it back to UT. I feel about him the way some of my non-UGA friends feel about Richt. It’s just dang hard to hate their team when you know there is an ethical and moral man at the helm.
Kiffin has left Dooley a can of worms. 15 starters gone and this year’s recruiting class in shambles. That makes for a tough 2-3 years. Will UT fans be that patient??? Sadly, I doubt it.

Michael Smith

January 16th, 2010
7:21 am

But everything “bad” that Kiffen allegedly did to Tennessee — “leaving the program abruptly!” — “and without notice!” — “and throwing the program into disarray!” — “and confusing all the recruits just weeks before recruiting day!” — all that stuff you AJC guys were damning Kiffen over — well, Derek Dooley just did the same thing to La Tech.

So why is it okay for Dooley to suddenly switch jobs when it was such a horribly evil thing for Kiffen to do? And what’s more, Dooley has quit two jobs, not just one.

Big Orange Doc

January 16th, 2010
7:24 am

You nailed it. This coaching pick will help the Vol family see that they almost sold their soul and should drop to their knees and thank USC for taking Kiffin. Success will come slow, but it will come.

Watch What You Say...ESPN

January 16th, 2010
7:24 am

Finally…Great job Tony, I’ve gotten so sick of listening to ESPN prognosticators offering the question; Is UT done? Has it lost it’s soul? It’s all so sickening to here some of these TV
spin idiots talk like it’s no longer a prestigious desirable university to attend, and then of course switch to what is Urban doing. I wish Tennessee and The Dooley’s The Very Best!!!!!Oh!Did I mention I’m A UGA Faithful!
Thanks for lettin’ me share !

Brad in Jasper

January 16th, 2010
7:24 am

Agreed, Bham. Kiffin was the new Spurrier of the SEC. No, I take that back because I like ol Steve-O, because he at least tells it like it is and he actually has WON something. Kiffin was beyond anything we in the South had seen before, worse than even Petrino. Good riddance. I wish UT and Coach Dooley luck on the road to redemption. Will be a neat story seeing younger Dooley between the hedges on Orange. I’m sure his folks are proud of him. Go Dawgs!

johnny reb

January 16th, 2010
7:27 am

Tony great article! Dooley is quality hire: smart, Saban’s former recruiter at LSU & a proven headcoach. Cutcliffe give me a break! Otis wanted to bring Roper with him to Knoxville what a joke. Rockytop will be proud in the very near future.

Brad in Jasper

January 16th, 2010
7:30 am

Also, Tony – I agree that Cutcliffe would’ve been a stable hire, but perhaps in the longer run UT will be better off with Dooley. He has no ties to the Fulmer days, and has more coaching years left in him if he turns out to be successful. Even though Kiffin wasn’t the answer, a fresh page is still called for, all due respect to coach Fulmer. The potential ceiling is higher. Derek strikes me as a guy, not unlike his father, if he succeeds could be a Vol lifer – never mind it was not his alma mater (Vince at Auburn).


January 16th, 2010
7:31 am

Tony…agree totally with you…in this day and age of coaches becoming nothing more than “prostitutes” to the profession…Derek Dooley will be a breath of fresh air in Knoxville. The guy has great football genes…I’m aging myself here but I remember back in 1985 when the football team of which I was an assistant coach…Douglas County High School…played Clarke Central and Billy Henderson’s kids in the state playoffs. Derek was an all-state tight end and the kicker was Jon Kasey. We lost 12-2…Kasey had a bad night but Dooley killed us with his performances on the field. It started with Henderson’s influence and later his dad, he’s got the background and with this legal training, that might come in handy up there…I don’t think you’ll see Dooley selling his soul to bring in any more hoodlums like Nu’Keese Richardson anytime soon. He’ll know the legal ramifications!!! Of course Mike Leach had a law degree too…but with Dooley, at least he got his feet wet in the legal world. Tennessee made a good hire.


January 16th, 2010
7:32 am

dooley can cut his teeth at ut for ten years until richt retires.then it’s time to come home.

Cracket Jacket

January 16th, 2010
7:33 am

Good young coach even with losing record. Don’t think he will ever get the full support of the fan base. Sad but true! Too many problems yet exposed! Dooley will be there until the next Big Time Coach is ready to move!


January 16th, 2010
7:49 am

KEVIN SUMLIN of HOUSTON would have been a better choice,

SABAN IS HAPPY. OH, by the way Univ. of HOUSTON and Kevin SUMLIN beat OKLAHOMA STATE 45-35.

BAMA will not have to worry about the VOLS

War Jacket

January 16th, 2010
7:50 am

Spot on Tony! You paint Derek as an old school coach, and a good fit for a conservative, if not provencial university and fan base. I hope this approach can be successful in this day of the “me centered”, what have you done for me lately world of college football, but I have my doubts.

I am no fan of UT, but I will be a curious observer of this experiment.

SC Boy

January 16th, 2010
7:58 am

He’s coming into the conference at a very tough time. LiIkely losses-UF, USC, UGA, Bama just for starters. Lost their best player in Berry. QB gone. OL dismantled. Rough sledding for the first few years whether Vol fans want to admit it or not. High character guy with limited experience so Vols will have to hang in there. They are already torn on this hire but will eventually drink the Dooley KoolAid like they did with Kiffy.


January 16th, 2010
7:59 am

As an outsider to UT Football, I am glad that the “Lame” Kiffin ordeal is over. I love SEC football and the solid rivalries it spawns, but Kiffin not only embarrassed UT, he embarrassed the league.

Some may not like the Dooley hire, but he is a man of integrity and intelligence. His coaching record will be spelled out over time. That being said, UT will not have to live through the embarrassment of a Lame Kiffin with Derek at the helm.

I hope he will feed the character of the young men that are currently in the UT football program. Your former coaches set a stage for a far different environment. I’m sure there will be some fallout, but remember that Dooley didn’t bring this to Knoxville, it was Mr. Hamilton and young Kiffin.

This is a great opportunity for Derek and owed entirely to Mike Hamilton. UT fans can thank him for Dooley, but you must also blame him for Kiffin, the way Phil was treated, and the fact that no “known” coaches were interested in this job.

I don’t have any skin in the game, but as and outsider looking in; I believe you need to look at your AD. If he is not to blame, you need to look deeply into the confines of the University and root out the cancer that plunged UT to the current level…………….my god, even Ol’ Miss had could see that Ed Orgeron was a cancer.

Good luck to UT and Derek Dooley……..and please don’t let Hamilton and company do this to the SEC again.

Oh and by the way, I think USC will get exactly what it deserves!


[...] Tony Barnhart of the AJC says UT hire is substance over style. [...]


January 16th, 2010
8:24 am

Nice column Tony. But hold on a minute UT fans. Yes, Dooley may be the anti Kiffen, but have you seen his record in the MAC? ANd other than the gig at La Tech, what else has he done to earn the gig on Rocky Top? The DUKE coach told you guys to pound sand, for heavens sake!! HAHAHAHA.

Bob Lee

January 16th, 2010
8:31 am

Tony: UNC gave “a young Dooley” a chance in 1967 ….. Vince’s little brother Bill. That worked out rather well. UTenn may have done better for itself than it deserves. UTenn had another coach with “DD” initials – Doug Dickey. He did well too.

Now we know Coach Cut will be at Duke until he’s toe-tagged. That reassures his future recruits. He will make Duke consistently “good”. Better than “good” is a bit much to hope for!


January 16th, 2010
8:32 am

La tech? Losing record. No tony what it shows was they were desperate and had to take someone who wanted the job to try and save any recruits left. You don’t hire this guy with that record unless you are forced to.


January 16th, 2010
8:37 am

Good column for a change…Maybe you should follow your own advice…substance over style…hmmmmmm

tony's a homer

January 16th, 2010
8:40 am

Why does a grown man with a law degree have to convience his parents about changing professions.

And, where are all the Gene Chizic bashers now. Kiffin was the real bad hire, not Chizic.

tony's a homer

January 16th, 2010
8:43 am

Why does a grown man with a law degree have to ask his parents about changing professions.

And, where are all the Gene Chizic bashers now. Kiffin was the real bad hire, not Chizic.

The Other Saint Simons

January 16th, 2010
8:46 am

Great article. Kiffin is a slimeball. He actually made me pull for the Gators this year (albeit for one day).

Glad to see something positive written about all of this mess.

In the end, the SEC won. Thanks Tennessee for upgrading big time. Too bad UT didn’t bounce that little pri**k out on his arse a long time ago.


January 16th, 2010
8:51 am

Nice piece of writing Tony. I really agree with the part on the integrity of the institution. I am a GT, UT & UGA fan in that order. UGA with the Richt hire did exactly what you are talking about. GT with the Johnson hire did the same. And now UT with the Dooley hire.
Some things are more important than any one person and the outcome of any one game. This morning I feel pretty good about all three of my teams.

Jesse James

January 16th, 2010
8:52 am

Brian – I can tell you don’t know anything about college football or you would know the job he did at LA Tech. That program was as low as it could get until he got there. I felt if Les Miles left LSU, Derek Dooley would be the next man there. If Coach Richt ever left or retired from UGA ( and I hope no time soon) I would hope they would hire Derek Dooley. The SEC and Tennessee just got a coach with high morals and ethics, the way the SEC use to be.


January 16th, 2010
8:55 am

“…have you seen his record in the MAC? ANd other than the gig at La Tech, what else has he done to earn the gig on Rocky Top?”

Actually he has done a lot more than his Daddy did when UGA turned the reins over to him. That worked out OK.


January 16th, 2010
8:56 am

you handful of morons who are judging his abilities by his record have no clue. how about judging the man’s work based upon how La. Tech’s program was before he arrive and now that he’s been there 2 years. They were 4-8 this year, but their schedule had LSU, Auburn, Navy, & Boise.

It seems that every one who actually knows Derek well KNOWS that he will be a fabulous coach. This is not a desperation hire – it is a good one. If you disagree with that statement, then I’m guessing you don’t really know too much about the new UT coach.

To answer the questions about how Dooley leaving LaTech differs from Kiffin…I’m betting that everyone at LaTech knew that it was only a matter of time for Dooley to leave. Talented coaches from nonBCS conferences do that every year.

The day before the hire, Jeff Dantzler was asked on Athens radio who he would most “fear” as becoming the next UT coach (as a Georgia fan). Guess his answer? Derek Dooley.


January 16th, 2010
8:58 am

Yes, this hire is all about substance. You nail it Tony. Even if his name is Derek Barnhart, I am sure he is still hired by TN without a doubt. Man, he is a proven winner in WAC with an unbelievable 17-20 record. There is no way TN can miss this diamond.

sc dawg

January 16th, 2010
9:00 am

Good work Tony . . . I think everyone is “called” to something, the happy people are the ones who answer the call. Seems the younger Dooley falls into that category. The only problem is this . . . I grew up respecting Tennessee football, then I moved to Nashville, they ran Johnny Majors out of town, hired Fulmer, and started beating UGA like a drum. So, I learned to strongly dislike Tennessee football. Lane Kiffin made that even easier. Now, with this hire, I suppose I’ll have to look at Tenessee differently . . . definately a step in the right direction. Class instead of a$$!!!!!