Why Derek Dooley Is A Good Hire for Tennessee

He certainly has credentials. He’s been a positions coach—wide receivers, running backs, tight ends. He’s been a special teams coordinator. He’s been a recruiting coordinator. He’s done most of this under Nick Saban, both in the SEC and in the NFL. He’s been a head coach. And, he’s been an athletic director. And, he has the lineage, being the son of a coaching legend.

But even if you didn’t know this about Derek Dooley before Friday night’s press conference, you likely came away “dooley” impressed. I certainly was.

What impressed me the most was his reference to his personal history of getting out of his “comfort zone.” That is the trait of a successful person, one who continually stretches themselves beyond limits and boundaries.

He has always been his own person. He chose UVA over family ties and UGA. He initially chose to follow his own career path outside of his father’s, becoming an attorney. Later, he shrugged off any fear of failure by taking over a decimated Louisiana Tech program instead of following his coaching mentor to Alabama. Now, he enters the intense cauldron of the Southeastern Conference instead of staying in the comfort of the surroundings that he worked so hard to build as head coach and athletic director in Ruston.

The scene in Knoxville, Tennessee at Derek Dooley's press conference to announce him as the Vol's 22nd head football coach. Photo by Adam Brimer.

At 9:50 pm last Tuesday evening, as Tennessee Athletic Director Mike Hamilton was returning from a trip to Denver, Lane Kiffin’s resignation began a process that is still cloaked in some mystery as far as the details are concerned. What emerged out the other end Friday evening at 9:00 pm was the newly-named 22nd head football coach in the history of Vol Football, 41-year old Derek Dooley.

We still don’t know that much about him other than his CV and what we all saw and heard as he stood in front of General Neyland’s Seven Maxim’s: poise, confidence, humility, directness, intensity, intelligence, steeliness, an appropriate sense of humor, genuineness, respect for the SEC and its coaches, genuine respect for Tennessee’s traditions, and a southern drawl—qualities that seem as important to a Vol Nation that’s licking its wounds right now as the Maxims themselves.

Video of Derek Dooley’s Opening Remarks

Video of Q&A With Derek Dooley (Part 1)

Video of Q&A With Derek Dooley (Part 2)

Thank God The General Knew What He Was Doing!

New Vol Head Coach Derek Dooley and Neyland's Seven Maxims. Photo by Adam Brimer.

Derek Dooley nailed his press conference Thursday night. He opened with a few minutes of remarks—he didn’t read them, he just talked about things that were important to him and that he knew were important to his audience.

It was obvious that he knew about events over the past year that had touched a nerve with some people, he knew what topics were appropriate to address, and he knew how to address them. He then fielded questions from the press, giving answers with the same aplomb as with his opening remarks.

He said all the right things.

  • He would have to earn his players respect over time, not demand it (maturity).
  • It would take him time to learn the traditions of Tennessee; he wasn’t going to make you think that he knew them by delivering sound bytes (a thinly veiled reference to Kiffin’s famous Singing Rocky Top All Night Long comment at his opening press conference).
  • He said there was no answer to the question of how to make us believe he wouldn’t up and leave like his predecessor did (he’s not a snake oil salesman).
  • He indicated that during recruiting, you sell the program and the institution, not the coach (he’s not an egomaniac).
  • He said it’s the player’s program, not the coach’s program (he has the correct perspective).
  • He gave us a glimpse that he will attempt to instill mental discipline and toughness, because without that, we will have no hope of winning championships, much less ball games (he’s been on the coaching staff of a championship team).
  • He became genuinely emotional when recounting what it was like saying goodbye to his Louisiana Tech players earlier in the day (he’s an authentic guy).
  • He painted a football season as a process, one day at a time (he’s got his feet on the ground).
  • He refused to take an ESPN radio reporter’s bait when questioned if he was going to call USC recruits (a reference to Orgeron’s alleged calls of a couple of days ago in Knoxville).
  • He paid genuine homage to his mentors: his father, his mother, and Nick Saban (he comes from good stock).
  • He paid homage to Tennessee’s past, recounting how he used to watch the Johnny Majors Show on Sunday nights—he loved watching Johnny pound the table talking about a play (indeed Johnny used to do that. Dooley is not a fake).

And that’s just a few.

He touched the heart and soul of all Vol fans with a reference to the father of Tennessee Football.

He was asked a question by a student from the university radio station about the Seven Maxims, which were up on a large structure behind Mr. Dooley as he spoke, and how he planned to balance traditions such as Robert Neyland’s famous guides to winning games that are important to the fans while interjecting his own “spice.”

Dooley responded by saying he was glad he believed in everything up there on the board. He chuckled when he recounted how he was told earlier in the day “We have these maxims” and he thought to himself “Gosh, I hope they’re what I believe in!” He looked up at the board and said “Thank God the General knew what he was doing! He was something special! And if I didn’t agree with them, I’d better change, because this thing’s been around a long time and has won a lot of football games!”

Back to Tradition While Looking Forward

Then Derek, completely off the cuff, talked about tradition. And this I think is what sold all Vol fans that he is truly genuine. He said,

“It’s going to take me some time to really feel the heart and the soul and the spirit of this place, but when we do, we’re going to embrace everything out there, and there’s nothing more important to me than that.

“There’s nothing more important than an institution’s culture and an institution’s tradition, because this isn’t my program. It’s been here a long time. It’s going to be here long after I’m gone. And I think the worst thing you can do is do a canned set up anywhere you go.”

—– New Tennessee Head Coach Derek Dooley

It seems like Lane Kiffin has been gone for years, doesn’t it?

He’s Outside of His Comfort Zone Once Again, And We Should Be Thankful That We Have A Man Than Desires That

In the end, the question really is: Is Derek Dooley the Man? Or, is Derek Dooley THE MAN?

Derek Dooley addresses the Vol Nation as their new coach. Photo by Adam Brimer.

Is Derek Dooley just who we have now, the tail end of a search that began with (presumably) overtures to Jon Gruden and progressed through Will Muschamp, Gary Patterson, Troy Calhoon, David Cutcliffe, and Kyle Whittingham? Or is Derek Dooley the real deal, schooled under the right mentor, within the right systems, in the right conference, under the right circumstances, with the right attributes, and now with the right opportunity to succeed?

Time will give us the answer, of course.

But one thing struck me in his press conference: His reference to stepping outside of his comfort zone.

He recalled how when he was at the Miami Dolphins, an assistant under Nick Saban. Nick was ready to leave to become the head coach of the Alabama Crimson Tide. Dooley said how easy it would have been to just follow Saban to Tuscaloosa, and how that would have ended up with him standing on the sidelines winning the NCAA championship game a couple of weeks ago.

Instead, he chose not to stay in the comfort zone. He’d always been his own guy. He didn’t stay home to go to school. He went to Charlottesville instead of Athens. Similarly, he chose to go to Ruston, Louisiana to take over a decimated football program instead of following his mentor once again and work under the bright lights as an assistant in the SEC. He wanted to make his own name on his own terms and build something of his own. He “planted a lot of seeds” in Ruston as he said Friday night. It was hard for him to leave what he was building down there, but he chose to once again leave his comfort zone and reach for the stars.

Mike Hamilton, too, has made a gamble with the hiring of Derek Dooley. I applaud Mike’s hire of Dooley. Even though it appears that Coach Dooley was Mike’s seventh contact, we may all be glad some day that the other six made their choice not to come, and perhaps chose to remain in their own comfort zones.


Podunkdawg takes a slap at the Vols new hiring of Dooley – they just can’t help themselves.

Dooley hire a triumph of substance over style (Tony Barnhart)

Dooley paid dues to get his UT shot (Mark Schlabach)


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2 responses to “Why Derek Dooley Is A Good Hire for Tennessee”

  1. TK says :


  2. rockytop78 says :

    Coach Derek Dooley is bringing in Charlie Baggett from the St. Louis Rams to be Assistant Head Coach/Wide Receivers Coach: http://www.govolsxtra.com/news/2010/jan/18/baggett-leaving-rams-be-uts-assistant-head-coach/?partner=RSS

    It looks like he has coached some quality wide receivers in the course of his career, and may help keep Markeith Ambles and some other wide receiver prospects here.

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