DEREK DOOLEY’S BIO
Born: June 10, 1968, in Athens, Ga.
Parents: Vince and Barbara Dooley.
Wife: Dr. Allison Jeffers Dooley
Children: John Taylor, Peyton, Julianna.
High School: Clarke Central.
Education: Virginia, 1991; University of Georgia Law School, 1994.
Playing career: Receiver, Virginia 1987-90.
Law career: 1994-95, Atlanta, Nelson Mullins Riley and Scarbrough.
Assistant coaching career: Georgia, 1996, grad assistant; SMU 1997-99, wide receivers, co-recruiting coordinator; LSU, 2000-02, recruiting coordinator, tight ends; LSU, 2003, running backs, special teams; LSU, 2004, assistant head coach, running backs, special teams; Miami Dolphins, 2005-06, tight ends.
Head coaching career: Louisiana Tech, 2007-09 (17-20 overall).
Honors: Louisiana coach of the year 2008 (Louisiana Sportswriters Association),
Hired at Tennessee: Jan. 15, 2010.
The search for the University of Tennessee's next president has lumbered through task forces and committees for more than a year.
Last January, Mike Hamilton hired a football coach in 56 hours.
"There's a greater sense of urgency in athletics,'' said Hamilton, in his seventh year as UT's men's athletic director. "You're simply operating on a matter of hours.''
Which, considering the stakes, must give an athletic director pause - if not an ulcer.
So much is riding on a hurried decision to entrust UT's program to Derek Dooley, a relatively unknown coach from an off-the-beaten-path school: a multi-million-dollar enterprise; jobs and careers; the hopes and prayers of a fan base that has been rocked by turmoil.
Hamilton says now he was energized, not stressed, by the 56-hour crucible:
"Like I heard Derek say, every day is fourth-and-1 playing for a championship.''
Still, given the unusual circumstances, you can't help but wonder if you hired the right man to get the Vols back to playing for championships.
It might be a couple of years before Tennessee knows for certain. Hamilton, however, felt assured on the evening of July 9.
When news of football players involved in a bar brawl broke, Hamilton placed the dreaded call to his coach who was out of town vacationing.
"When he picked up the phone, he's already on the way home from vacation,'' Hamilton said. "That tells you something.''
Within hours of arriving in his office, Dooley had sorted out the stories, dealt the punishment and addressed the fan base through a hastily called news conference.
"That,'' said Hamilton, "was the first true crisis moment where I had a chance to be behind the scenes with Derek.
"In my mind, he passed with flying colors.''
His mother thought so, too.
"He's extremely organized and extremely disciplined like his dad,'' said Barbara Dooley.
"I wouldn't have expected (Derek) to have handled it any other way. That's how you build a team.''
Tennessee, in fact, is in the unfamiliar position of needing to build not only a team for the 2010 season but also to rebuild a program for the future.
Born between the hedges
UT fans didn't know a whole lot about the 41-year-old coach who was introduced to them last winter. He'd worked for Nick Saban. He'd run his own program at only one place, Louisiana Tech.
But the fact that he grew up in the household of Vince Dooley, the iconic Georgia Bulldogs coach, they could relate to that.
Derek was born in 1968, four years after his dad began a 25-year run (1964-88) as Georgia's coach. The baby of the Dooley brood, Derek came of age observing a father who was not only the head coach but the athletic director (from 1979-2004).
"I was able to watch someone who was in charge of a program, who had to make a hundred decisions every day,'' said Dooley.
"Now I wasn't sitting there taking notes. But it's no different than any child watching their father. It just becomes part of you.''
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This particular father won 201 games. He won a national championship in 1980 and was named national coach of the year.
He won six SEC titles, was seven times SEC coach of the year, took the Bulldogs to 20 bowl games, developed a Heisman Trophy winner and was president of the American Football Coaches Association.
And Derek Dooley absorbed it all.
"I had a rule the kids had to be a certain age before they came on the sidelines,'' Vince Dooley said, "but when you're the baby, mamas tend to throw out those rules. So she maneuvered a way to get him down there a lot earlier than the others got down there.''
Looking back from the desk in his office at the Neyland Thompson Sports Center, Derek Dooley sees that he picked up plenty.
There was the big picture: the philosophy of winning and winning big.
And how to go about it:
"Setting a real high standard on everything you do,'' Dooley said, "and everybody in the whole program. Not accepting substandard performance in any way.
"I think I took the intangible of how a team competes. Nobody ever said my father was an Xs-and-Os genius, but they always hated to play his teams.
"I watched him with the media. He was always very gracious and respectful and honest.
"And when things were bad he didn't go in the tank. And when things were good he never got too high.
"There are just so many things you need from this chair.''
Talent evaluation being one of them.
Derek set a record for attending Georgia football camps but when he became a recruitable athlete at Clarke Central High School, his father had to make a tough call.
"Ray Goff, who was my recruiting coordinator, wanted me to sign Derek,'' Vince said. "Derek was what you call a possession receiver, which means you were smart but didn't have a great deal of speed.
"I didn't want to coach a possession receiver who was my son.''
Princeton recruited young Dooley and his dad was pulling for an Ivy League education. Derek, however, wanted to play in the big arena.
He walked on at Virginia.
"I'm proud of him,'' said Vince, "because he lettered all four years and was a starter. So he made the right choice.''
Derek enjoyed the big-time football experience. Just not the way it ended.
Virginia, in 1990, played its way to the Sugar Bowl - against Tennessee.
Dooley, however, pulled a hamstring four days before the game. He watched the Vols' come-from-behind 23-22 win in street clothes.
"That was a real hard thing because it was my last game as a player,'' he said, "and I knew I wasn't going pro.''
A verdict overturned
He still didn't know what he was going to do so he enrolled in law school at Georgia.
"I never planned on being a lawyer, but something pulled me in,'' he said.
Perhaps it was the competitive nature of the courtroom. Like football, there was a contest with a clear winner and loser.
He was on the moot-court team. It was, in its way, the next-best thing to suiting up in a stadium.
"We went to competitions and when you won, you had that feeling of victory,'' he said.
"And when you lost, you were sitting there saying, 'Man, I screwed that up, I screwed this up. I'm learning from it.'"
He landed a plum job with a big firm in downtown Atlanta, specializing in civil litigation. As a beginner, much of his work was in a law library rather than the courtroom.
"My personality is very aggressive,'' Dooley said. "I thought in the first six months on the job I was ready to try a $100 million case.
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"I wasn't scared. I didn't know what I was doing but I didn't care. I wanted to play. Like playing in a game.''
Alongside his physician wife Allison, Dooley the attorney appeared set for the good life in Atlanta. Not so fast.
There came a point, about a year in, where Dooley began to realize law might not be his calling.
"I loved the 20 percent,'' he said, "and probably wasn't getting much back from the 80 percent.''
New career, new mentor
On the last day of the 1995 college football season, Dooley's unrest crystallized. By the time he watched Nebraska hammer Florida in the national championship game he had pretty much determined to quit law and go into coaching.
It wasn't a popular decision in the Dooley family.
"I did everything in my power to keep all of them (her children) away from coaching,'' Barbara Dooley said. "It is a very, very hard life for everybody.''
Vince, by then retired from coaching but still Georgia's AD, mounted a brief resistance.
"I started to argue,'' he recalled, "but they teach 'em to argue in law school.
"Plus, he was on the debate team, so I lost the argument in 10 seconds.''
Derek's entry was a grad-assistant post at Georgia in 1996, after which he got hired at Southern Methodist in '97.
Three years later he landed an interview with Nick Saban, who had taken the LSU job.
"I didn't know who Nick Saban was, to be frank with you,'' Dooley said.
He did recognize an opportunity to jump into college football at its highest level.
"He never hired young coaches,'' Dooley said. "You'd have to ask him why he hired me.
"I could tell right away he was going to be very demanding, and that's what I wanted. I knew he was a very intelligent Xs-and-Os guy and that's what I wanted.''
After a five-hour conversation, Saban said, "Nice to meet you,'' and it was over.
"I was like, 'What does that mean?'" Dooley said. "I thought, 'I guess that's done.'"
It wasn't. Saban hired this young coach and they were together five years at LSU and two more with the Miami Dolphins.
The 2003 season produced a national championship win over Oklahoma. But you won't see Dooley sporting a gaudy championship ring. It stays at home.
"I've never put it on,'' he said. "That's not my deal.
"I don't coach to wear a ring or to hold up the crystal ball. Certainly, that's what you're trying to do, but you're on to the next thing.''
If not the bling, Dooley brings the wisdom of that championship with him to his new job.
"You know what good looks like,'' he said. "I think that's very important.
"And you learn how to manage your personality and your players' personality in that kind of venue. Because it's different.''
Surprisingly, Dooley doesn't hold that BCS win over the Sooners as the defining moment of his LSU tenure.
'A great victory'
That distinction goes to a night Tennessee fans recall as one of their most bitter disappointments - the 2001 SEC Championship Game.
"Probably the greatest victory I've ever been a part of at any level,'' said Dooley, "peewee, high school, playing in college, (assistant) coaching or head coach.''
UT, fresh off a stunning win at Florida, was ranked No. 2 and had only to beat LSU to play for the national title in the Rose Bowl.
Saban's second LSU team had "back-doored" into the title game and was a distinct underdog.
The Vols led 17-10 at the half and had nearly hit a TD bomb just before time ran out. LSU had already lost its starting quarterback and tailback to injuries.
"Nothing was going right,'' said Dooley. "I remember walking to the locker room saying, 'I don't know if we can even keep this game close.'"
The second half wasn't close. LSU dominated and won 31-20.
"You could feel the shift in momentum,'' Dooley said, "and to watch our kids start to believe they can do it, I've never had a feeling like that.
"That's what makes great victories.''
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His own man
When Saban left the Dolphins to take over at Alabama in 2007, Dooley had the opportunity to follow.
But Vince and Barbara's youngest son has repeatedly indicated he is his own man. He turned down an Ivy League education to walk on at Virginia. He quit a lucrative law career for an entry-level coaching gig.
And rather than board the luxury liner Alabama he was ready to captain his own ship, even if it was small and would plow choppy seas.
Louisiana Tech gave him that opening. In three seasons he went 17-20, shouldering the double load as athletic director.
At a school that faces an average road trip of 1,700 miles in the Western Athletic Conference, perhaps progress could be measured closer to home:
In 2007 the Bulldogs went to LSU and got drilled 58-10. Dooley was embarrassed. In 2009, Tech went back to Tiger Stadium, led at the half and lost 24-16.
His 2008 team went 8-5, beating Mississippi State and then Northern Illinois in the Independence Bowl.
It was enough to get him an interview for the Auburn job (that Gene Chizik got) and in consideration at Mississippi State (which hired Dan Mullen).
Tennessee, too, was hiring a coach in 2008, but it is not believed Dooley ever got a real look.
But when Hamilton needed a coach in a hurry last January - an awkward time in the hiring cycle - Dooley was suddenly more appealing.
He and Hamilton huddled for two hours on a Thursday morning. They got back together on Friday and by that evening, Dooley was in Knoxville sporting an orange tie and avowing General Neyland's game maxims.
"He's 10 times more prepared for this than I was when I got to Georgia,'' Vince Dooley said.
"First of all he's 10 years older than I was (41 compared to 31) and has a much broader experience.
"He had the good fortune to be around a good program at Georgia. My daddy was an electrician.''
Tennessee in a tempest
Tennessee boasts a proud tradition but the current team is battered by the winds of change. The roster is short 15 or so players due to departures from back-to-back coaching changes.
"The attrition,'' Dooley said, "you can sugar-coat it all you want but that was a devastating blow.''
The players who stuck around have been through a revolving door of leadership.
For 32 years UT had only two football coaches, Johnny Majors and Phillip Fulmer. Now, three coaches in a span of 15 months.
"You might as well throw away all the cliche, politically correct answers,'' said senior Nick Reveiz. "It's been hard.
"It's something that I've sat in bed some nights wondering why.''
Dooley is attuned to their confusion.
"Every team,'' he said, "adopts some personalities of their head coach and here's a team that's had three in three years.
"When you don't understand what the expectations are ... it takes a couple of years to get the engine going.''
The transition from Kiffin is especially pronounced. A consummate detail man, Dooley has been involved in every aspect of revamping the program's internal structure.
"The philosophy is so different (from Kiffin's) it's almost like starting from scratch,'' he said.
In Kiffin, Hamilton went for a fresh approach to the long-standing status quo. Perhaps, in retrospect, Kiffin was too fresh.
In choosing Dooley, Hamilton admits he was "hypersensitive to fit.''
Fit translates to stability and Tennessee needs stability. It needs patience, too.
Vince Dooley knows a thing or two about evaluating football teams.
"I see where Tennessee is picked second to last in the East and that's probably very realistic,'' he said. "I think the talent is short, really short, and the schedule is demanding.
"I think he's got a real tough rebuilding job.''
If Hamilton hired the right guy and if the current climate will allow him time, Dooley hopes one day to recapture the exhilaration he experienced in the 2001 SEC Championship Game.
Only this time, Tennessee will feel it with him.
Seven months in, on the verge of the season-opener, Dooley more than ever appreciates the scope of the challenge he has taken on.
He didn't expect to see his roster shrink so drastically in that interim, but he is undaunted.
"There's no doubt we can re-establish what made this place great,'' he said. "There's nothing that tells me we're not going to get Tennessee where it needs to be.
"In many ways I feel better than I did when I took the job, I do, that we can get there.
"But I also know that there are a lot of things that can't get changed immediately and that's going to be the real challenge.''
The challenge was launched in a whirlwind of 56 hours.
To see it through will take infinitely longer.
Mike Strange may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 865-342-6276.