Derek Dooley: Sneaky-Good Hire for Vols or Desperation?

Joel Barker@joelabarkerSenior Writer IJanuary 16, 2010

BATON ROUGE, LA - NOVEMBER 14:  Head coach Derek Dooley of the Louisiana Tech Bulldogs reacts after a call during the game against the LSU Tigers at Tiger Stadium on November 14, 2009 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.  The Tigers defeated the Bulldogs 24-16.  (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
Chris Graythen/Getty Images

I find it hilarious when fans of teams immediately dismiss a prospective coach and say all manner of ridiculous comments when, in fact, they have no earthly idea who the coach is.

As you can imagine, I have heard this stuff all week long.

Sure, I made my list of the "Do Not Hire" coaches. I even checked it twice. But the bottom line is, I knew all about them. I took the time to research and gave valid reasons for each coach on that list.

Today, when word was leaked that Louisiana Tech's Head Coach/Athletic Director Derek Dooley was set to take over the reins at Tennessee, I was inundated with hate messages from ticked-off Vols fans about a guy that no one knew.

Maybe it was because no one knew him. Maybe it was because they looked at his record of 4-8 in '09. Maybe it was because he was the coach at lowly Louisiana Tech.

So during these next few paragraphs, I will synopsize Derek Dooley's past and present, and I will ultimately give my opinion on his future—so those of you who quickly dismissed this hire with a hatemongering attitude can better see what Tennessee has just done.

Derek Dooley is the son of longtime Georgia coach Vince Dooley. If you don't know anything about Vince, he is perhaps the greatest coach in Georgia football history.

The younger Dooley has among his credits a longtime friendship with Nick Saban—both professional and personal. He was The Great Saban's longest-tenured assistant, following St. Nick from LSU to the NFL.

While at LSU, Dooley served as Saban's recruiting coordinator for three years. During that time, LSU had one No. 1 class ('03), and the Tigers' '01 class was in the top three in the nation.

Saban considers Dooley "a very articulate and bright guy."

Quick off-subject mini-rant: As you know, articulate is more than we can say for the last guy.

Now back to the story.

Dooley has served in the role of athletic director in addition to his duties as head coach since March '08.

More importantly in his role as head coach, Dooley has had success at Louisiana Tech. Louisiana Tech!

If you know nothing about La. Tech, I'll fill you in. Traditionally, the school has been a plaything for larger schools to schedule on homecoming. Many SEC schools, Tennessee included, have whipped up on the Bulldogs through the years.

In 2008, Mississippi State thought that trend would continue. After all, they were an SEC school, and La. Tech was but a measly WAC team. The measly WAC team upset Mississippi State on that night.

In 2009, when Tech was supposed to make a marked improvement from the '08 Independence Bowl-winning 8-5 club, the injury bug hit with reckless abandon.

At one point during the season, there were 18 freshmen and sophomores in the two-deep chart because of injuries.

Yet the Bulldogs managed to lead LSU's homecoming game 13-10 at halftime and lost by only eight.

Dooley's team lost by 10 to Boise State, by one to Idaho, and by two to Fresno State—all bowl teams. This despite a roster decimated by injuries.  

A 4-8 record is still a 4-8 record, but taking into account the variables (as so many of us never do), one can reasonably expect a better record with a healthy team.

Dooley has been mentioned for major job openings before. Auburn had him high on its wish list before hiring Gene Chizik last year, and Mississippi State was reportedly interested until Dooley took himself out of the running for that job.

Derek Dooley has the pedigree. Derek Dooley has the connections. Derek Dooley has a resume that is incredibly impressive.

So why all the hate?

Did we Vols fans honestly think an NFL head coach who is owed $11 million during the next two years was going to take this job?

Did we expect a former NFL coach who is the most popular new NFL analyst on TV to take the job?

No, we expected a coach who just won Coach of the Year and led his "mid-major" team into its first BCS game.

Or maybe we expected a guy who will take over one of the most successful programs of the last decade in a few years to take the money and run to Rocky Top.

Those guys would have mugged Tennessee for everything they could get. Those coaches did not want to be at Tennessee.

This one does.

Dooley wants us as badly as we need him.

Forget that his overall record is 17-20 as a head coach.

Another off-subject mini-rant: By the way, 17 wins is five more than the last guy has in college and the NFL combined. That guy was 5-15 in the NFL when AD Mike Hamilton hired him.

Back to the story again.

If you cannot forget that record, then at least realize he was in the process of rebuilding Louisiana Tech. Louisiana Tech!!!

I personally believe this could be a sneaky-good hire.

I'm nowhere near ready to proclaim this the hire of the decade in the SEC. I'm pretty sure Alabama, Florida, and Georgia could all lay claim to that title.

But Derek Dooley is a remarkable upgrade from what Tennessee just lost (I prefer "bailed-out" rather than "lost" on the last ridiculous decision).

Dooley knows how to discipline players. He expects and commands respect. He has more class in his pinkie than the last guy had in his whole body.

Not to mention, Tennessee hiring the son of a Georgia coaching legend gets all up in the Dawgs' faithful's business. They hate it. Which automatically ensures my appreciation.

This hire will not elicit one of those "We love him" cheers from a drunk, scantily-clad female outside Nick Saban's coronation in T-Town a few years ago.

It won't cause anyone to pick the Vols to win the SEC East, start the season in the top 25, or cause five-star recruits to knock down the doors of the Tennessee Admissions Department immediately.

This is a hire that lets Vols fans know rebuilding is going to take some time. Dooley will save some recruits in this class. But this hire was not about this class. This hire was about the next four recruiting classes.

From where I sit right now, I see no reason to bash this move.

Anyone who would do so simply has not looked at the man's resume or his connections.

Will all that change once the Vols hit the field in September? We'll just have to wait and see. 

For now let's give this move a chance to be sneaky-good before proclaiming it was made out of desperation.


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