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.
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.
Thank God The General Knew What He Was Doing!
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