A strange postseason (Urban Meyer, Mike Leach, Jim Leavitt) led into a stranger week (Lane Kiffin), capped by the strangest of days: Georgia and Georgia Tech hire defensive coordinators hours before the son of the Bulldogs’ greatest coach becomes the new lord of Rocky Top.
Thus does Tennessee move from one coaching scion to another, with this difference. Lane Kiffin was, is and will forever be a brat, and he traded on his dad’s name — he even brought Monte Kiffin to Knoxville to coordinate the defense that was the one and only good thing about Li’l Kiffy’s one and only band of Volunteers — to get the Vols’ job. Derek Dooley has always made his own way.
He played at Virginia, walking on as a wide receiver while his famous dad was still coaching Georgia. Vince would retire as coach after the 1988 and, while still the Georgia AD, would try to attend as many Cavalier games as possible the next few years. But Barbara Dooley, Vince’s almost-as-famous wife, would be in Charlottesville whenever UVA teed it up. Her husband still worked for Georgia, but that was her baby playing.
Derek Dooley spent only one year with the Bulldogs, that as a grad assistant under Jim Donnan. Coaching wasn’t originally Route 1 on Derek’s career path — he graduated from UGA’s law school and went into practice in Atlanta — but eventually he felt the pull.
Turned out he was pretty good at it. By 2007, barely a decade after he’d left lawyering, Dooley had a program of his own at Louisiana Tech, where he wasn’t just the coach but eventually the athletics director as well. Which only made sense, given that his father was every bit as good an AD as he was a coach.
And now, stunningly, he’s the head Vol. Reached early Friday in St. Simons — he was attending a meeting of the Georgia Historical Society; on Thursday he’d received the Bear Bryant Award for distinguished service at a banquet in Houston — Vince Dooley gave no hint of what would happen before nightfall. He thought there still might be someone ahead of Derek in the line of Vol possibilities.
Turned out there wasn’t. Turned out Dooley the Younger is now an SEC head coach, just like his daddy was. Derek’s introduction in Knoxville late Friday was as gracious as Kiffin’s exit was grating. He called Tennessee “the essence of college football” and invoked the names of Johnny Majors and Phillip Fulmer. (But not, pointedly, his predecessor’s.)
There are those who’ll say he’s only getting the job because of his name, but Steve Spurrier Jr. is likewise a coach — he’s an assistant to his dad at South Carolina — and you didn’t see a school with 100,000 seats to fill knocking on the Evil Spawn’s door. Derek served his apprenticeship and learned from the best.
Indeed, it’s believed Muschamp, who played at Georgia and who coached alongside Dooley under Nick Saban at LSU and with the Miami Dolphins, championed Dooley to Tennessee AD Mike Hamilton, who at that frazzled point needed every hint he could get. He’s not a sexy hire, but betting on sexy is how the Vols got into this mess in the first place.
This isn’t to say Derek Dooley is dull. He and his brother Daniel went skydiving with their father — yes, Vince Dooley jumped out of a plane — over Monroe a while back, and once the three Dooley men went fishing off Alaska’s Windy Bay. A stiff wind left their boat stranded on the rocks. Said Daniel: “We’d been told we’d freeze if we got into the water and if we got off on land the bears would get us.”
And who was having the time of his life? Vincent J. Dooley, who told his sons: “Men, people pay big money for this [extreme adventure]. We’re getting it for free!”
The never-dull Dooley clan is about to face another extreme adventure: On Oct. 9, 2010, Vince Dooley’s son will coach the visiting team in a venue that’s past due to be renamed Sanford-Dooley Stadium. Asked early Friday if he planned to redo the color scheme of his wardrobe if Derek became Tennessee’s coach, Vince said: “I won’t, but my wife might.”