Wednesday, October 21, 2009

the replacements: Derek Dooley

The old hard drive still needs to unhand my data, but for blog purposes the computer is functional again, so we press forth. Al Groh is still on the hot seat, so speaking of pressing forth, we're continuing this series. How do I define "still on the hot seat" in any given week? Suppose we lose this weekend's game; it is a given that the Groh-bashers will open their flaps for the rest of the weekend. If it's possible to respond to "groh sux" on Sunday following a loss with "dude, look at all we've accomplished this season, it's been a great year" and not have that sound completely silly, then Groh is off the hot seat. That is not yet the case.

This week we have the alumnus option.

Derek Dooley

Main qualification: Has UVA degree

Coaching resume:

1996: Georgia (GA)
1997-1999: SMU (WR)
2000-2004: LSU (TE/recruiting '00-'02; RB/ST '03-'04)
2005-2006: Miami Dolphins (TE)
2007-present: Louisiana Tech (HC)

I would probably never have bothered with this but for Dooley's alumni status, to be blunt about it. Dooley is all of 41 years old and has, as resumes go, a short coaching career. He has never been a coordinator, which is usually considered a prerequisite for a head coaching gig. And, though so far he's had in general more success at Louisiana Tech than Louisiana Tech usually enjoys, he hasn't exploded the Bulldogs onto the scene the way, say, Cincinnati or Houston has.

That's not to say Dooley hasn't opened some eyes among a lot of people. Dooley's followed in his famous father's footsteps (dad is legendary Georgia coach Vince), dual-hatting as both football coach and athletic director at La. Tech. He managed to impress the Tech president enough in one season as football coach that he was asked in the spring of 2008 to head up the whole department. Lot of people around Ruston, Louisiana love them some Derek Dooley. Terry Bradshaw loves him some Derek Dooley. Dooley is a made man at Louisiana Tech if he wants to be.

Dooley also beat out some impressive names - names now very familiar to football fans - when he was hired there. Among the interviewed candidates were Jimbo Fisher and Kevin Sumlin, both assistants at the time at big-time programs. Fisher, as you know, landed a slightly higher-profile gig not too much later as the coach-in-waiting at Florida State, and Sumlin has landed the Houston Cougars in the top 25 and even more prestigiously, is a likely future subject of this very series. He's a certified branch of the Nick Saban coaching tree, an association which by itself guarantees he'll be a subject of interest in coaching rumors from now until he leaves Ruston, and which probably helped get him that job at Tech despite having no coordinator experience. His experience is on the offensive side of the ball, primarily as a tight ends coach, though Louisiana Tech's mini-renaissance under Dooley has come without any noticeable uptick in offensive production. It's their defense that's improved.

One thing Dooley can point to is coaching the Bulldogs to their first bowl win in program history since 1977. And they weren't even I-A back then - the Independence Bowl invited Southland Conference members in its first years. They returned to the Independence Bowl last year - the only I-A bowl they've ever gone to except for one Humanitarian Bowl visit in 2001 - and won it. However, they will have to scratch and claw and pull off an upset or two in order to go back to a bowl game this year - the kind of sustained success that Boise State has had in the WAC takes a while.

Dooley's UVA ties are to the George Welsh era, naturally. He played wide receiver for Welsh in the late '80s; wasn't exactly a superstar. Might have been overshadowed a bit by the man who would become his brother-in-law: Patrick Jeffers.

So: verdict? How would Dooley fare? Quite possibly very well. He's impressed a lot of people at Louisiana Tech, he worked under one of the best coaches in the game for seven years, and he can call up one of the legends of college coaching and say, "hey Dad." As an alum, he would almost certainly listen if UVA called, despite having put down a few roots in Louisiana by taking up the AD job. And he'd have to listen to his wife too, who is also an alum. Hiring Dooley would be a major, major risk, though. His coaching career is short and in the cold, hard results department, he's got a nice resume bullet or two but can't even tie the shoelace of most of the rest of the (my) candidate list. In the end, we don't really know what we'd be getting. Maybe we'd have a guy who'd be a UVA lifer, coach 20 years, and get his bust next to George Welsh in the stadium. Maybe he's just that good a coach and nobody knows it yet because he's at frickin' Louisiana Tech. As a Saban acolyte, that's not outside the realm of possibility. Or maybe we get a guy who took the leap into the deep end of the football pool before he was ready.

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