On December 5, 2009, Derek Dooley led his Louisiana Tech football team to a commanding 55-20 victory over San Jose State. Five weeks later, Dooley was hired as the head coach of the University of Tennessee.
These two sentences belie a normal transaction; they suggest that this hiring followed a familiar pattern - the young and upcoming coach rewarded with his first big time job. The simplicity of these two sentences, however, masks the truth.What precisely happened in that five week period? What was it that UT saw in this victory, in this season, indeed in the career of Derek Dooley up to this point? Should it be mentioned that San Jose State ended that year 2-10? Should it be mentioned that LA Tech was 4-8 in 2009, including a 1-6 stretch through October and November? Was LA Tech known for gritty defense played under Dooley's trademarked schemes? (They weren't.) Were his teams known for explosive offensive stats accumulated under his brilliant play-calling? (They weren't.) So what exactly was Derek Dooley's football specialty? Did he have a niche?He did, as it turns out. And it wasn't offensive creativity, defensive genius or special teams consistency. In essence, Derek Dooley had only shown real ability in two areas: organization and management. He had literally demonstrated no discernible talent in any actual football coaching skill; instead, he had only revealed his ability to be a well-organized and well-spoken assistant to future Hall of Fame coach Nick Saban. His best trait, as has become clear since his much scrutinized tenure as the Vols head coach, is this: excellence in Corporacracy.I don't want to dismiss this conclusion as fact, so it's necessary to more closely look at Dooley's career track. After graduating from law school at Georgia, Derek Dooley took an associate position at Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough in Atlanta, and he worked there for less than two years. Because his "lawyerness" is frequently tossed about as a positive among his supporters, I think it appropriate to further dissect this period of his life, as it I believe it is too casually cited as irrefutable evidence that Derek Dooley is both brilliant and possessing of unlimited potential in coaching.First, not all lawyers are smart. This is an irrefutable fact. Feel free to ask a reasonable lawyer you know after he's had four beers. Second, research has revealed that Derek Dooley did nothing to stand out while in law school at the university where his father was a legend. Third, Dooley's employment at this Atlanta superfirm does not necessarily demonstrate his capability; his name alone was likely enough to get him the job upon graduation. And fourth, being a "General Litigator" for an enormous firm for around 20 months does not a law-career make; in fact, all it does is demonstrate that Dooley was exposed to high-level Corporatism, as he worked at a massive law firm defending massive corporations. In short, I would simply suggest this - being a lawyer for less than two years does not prove that Derek Dooley is a genius, nor would this career choice necessarily provide any skills that would actually make Dooley a better football coach.At this point, Dooley alleges that the call of coaching was simply too much for him to ignore. So he quit and took a job (shockingly) at Georgia to chase his dream as a graduate assistant. Dooley was then hired as a WR coach at SMU from 1997-99, and his real talent for organization must have become clear. He was given the title of assistant recruiting coordinator, a role which is many ways is predicated most upon organization more so than talent scouting. He then worked for Nick Saban at LSU and the Miami Dolphins until 2006, serving as the recruiting coordinator for two years and being shuffled around from coaching TEs to RBs to Special Teams and finally back to TEs. I am unaware of any major improvements in these squads directly attributable to Dooley's coaching, nor am I aware of any discussions to make Dooley a coordinator at either team.In late 2006, Dooley took the head job at Louisiana Tech. I will let the stats speak for themselves. Since December 17, 2006, Derek Dooley is:28-34 as a head coach0-17 v. Top 25 teams0-13 when trailing at the half4-12 v. the SEC in two yearsWorst loss in Neyland everSnapped a 26 game winning streak by losing to a 5-7 Kentucky team that was playing a WR at QB and amassed 13 total yards of passing offense2011 - last the SEC EastAnd here is the rub: Dooley's teams at Tennessee have ironically failed at the one thing he champions: discipline and organization. Tennessee has been the most disorganized football team in the SEC, and perhaps the country, losing games late with exhilarating combinations of costly penalties and maddening field and clock management.So now to the primary issue - why would Mr. Organization struggle so mightily to organize his football team? The answer: micromanagement and the failure of Derek Dooley to actually do what he is ultimately paid for.Derek Dooley has been a tireless worker since he got to Tennessee. He was involved in the design of coaching gear with Adidas (which he later simply refused to wear, stoking the ire of the apparel giant.) He has been instrumental in the founding of the Vol for Life program, which teaches his kids to be better men, but off the field. He has been hands-on in the design of the new additions to the football facility (per an architect involved - he literally stood over the blueprints, scrapping and changing already designed plans.) He has instructed his players about the positives of cleanliness via showering technique lessons and frugality via personal budgets that his players submit and he individually reviews. He has fired hairstylists for lackadaisical work (per a 20-year vet who quit after one session with him, she was told for 45 minutes not just how to cut his hair, but how to cut hair in general. The hair obsession is an actual obsession.) He literally created a flowchart that was posted in his office, demonstrating to his new employees how any form of communication must move through the football department and to whom what message-type would be assigned. He immediately curbed the distracting and counterproductive tradition of former players coming unannounced to practices, setting up an RSVP system requiring alums to communicate with the employees designated in his previously-described flowchart. He has instructed the media and fans about world history, playing loosely with battlefield facts in order to prove a point about how poorly his players reacted to adversity. He personally designed a "signature look" and then allowed the school to promote a campaign about the look he just invented.What he has failed to do, at any measure, is to win meaningful football games. He has frequently been snarky with the media, has castigated players away from team settings, and has demanded better work-ethic and preparation from his team while wholly failing to prepare and/or motivate them. None of this should be surprising, however. Dooley was never an offensive genius or a defensive wizard. This is not why he was hired. He was hired to put a "good face" on the Tennessee program by soothing the fans with his "aww-shucks" thick drawl and fostering hope because of his last name. And what Dooley actually does behind the scenes is manage, micromanage, delegate, organize, hyperorganize, obsess and ultimately shuffle responsibility. He will no doubt fire some of his assistants and likely blame departing seniors for their lack of leadership. This should surprise no one, as it is straight from the corporate playbook - the model for inefficiency that was so beautifully summed up in the classic film Office Space
. Dooley doesn't necessarily need wins, he just wants everyone to file their TPS reports.
So the Volunteer family is now stuck in a tough situation. We are currently led by a coach who loses games, who has no particular football genius, and has now lost the confidence of much of his fan base. The Derek Dooley era is not yet over, and I have not lost all faith that he can fix this situation. The potential turn-around, however, is predicated upon Dooley realizing one thing - his primary job is not to better his players as men, no matter how admirable his intentions are; it is not to draw up more efficient ways to move emails throughout the department; it is not to design clothes. It is to win football games
. And unless he figures that out in 2012, it may be time for the Bobs to sit him down and ask - "What would you say you actually do here?"