ATHENS, Ga. — This Georgia-Tennessee gameweek will certainly be different for Vince and Barbara Dooley.
Their youngest son, Derek, and his new team, the Dallas Cowboys, are getting ready to play the Denver Broncos on Sunday.
Orange pants aren’t a requirement for the new Cowboys wide receivers coach, who ditched that sideline look when he was fired last November before the final game of his third season at Tennessee.
“I did what most coaches do,” Derek Dooley said by phone last week. “They get rid of the old gear and put on the new gear, so I’m wearing the blue and the silver and the Dallas star. I’m enjoying anonymity. That’s probably the best thing about it. … I’m used to talking to 30 people a day for five days a week. Now I get one about every three months.”
Dooley took over for Lane Kiffin in 2010 and went to the Music City Bowl his first season. He went 15-21 in his time with the Volunteers and was replaced this season with Butch Jones.
“You’re never prepared for sitting there and you don’t have a job and you’re not sure what to do,” said Dooley, 45, an Athens native who played for Clarke Central’s 1985 state title team. “The most important thing I had to do was heal because it’s very difficult when you don’t achieve what you wanted to achieve when you had a job. I spent the month of December trying to get myself right and get myself in order.”
Dooley “inherited a very, very difficult environment,” athletic director Dave Hart said last year after making the coaching change after Dooley went 4-19 in SEC play.
“It’s a sign of the times,” former Georgia football coach and athletic director Vince Dooley said. “They’re paying big bucks. While patience was thin in the past, it’s a lot thinner today. There’s not much of a margin for error.”
Derek Dooley lost all three times to Georgia, where his father won 201 games, six SEC titles and a national title.
“It probably won’t be difficult for them to not like orange again,” Derek said. “It was hard enough for them to like it for three years. … I think it was harder on my father more than anybody. He’s someone who poured 40 years of his life into building such a great program. It’s hard for him and I understood that because his heart’s at Georgia and that’s where it should be.”
Vince Dooley avoided going to the Georgia-Tennessee game the past three years, choosing to stay home and watch it on TV to avoid cameras focused on him as his son’s team played his Bulldogs.
“Obviously, I’m more comfortable than I was the last few years,” Vince Dooley said. “You’ve got two loves. You’ve got a family love and you’ve got a school love that’s been my family in a lot of ways for what is now – which somebody pointed out – 50 years because we’re going to have the reunion for my first team next year. I’ve been here a long time and all my family has been raised here, went to school here. Yeah, that was a tough situation.”
Derek Dooley enjoyed doing some TV work last winter surrounding the national championship game and signing day.
Dooley, who reportedly had a $5 million buyout from Tennessee, thought he might do more of that and take a season off, while his father thought some administrative possibilities were something he should consider.
Dooley was offered a job on Jason Garrett’s Cowboys staff after the two talked at the Senior Bowl.
“I thought I’d probably do a lot better working around the clock then I do working a couple of days a week,” said Dooley, who has a law degree. “I still love coaching and I love being around the players.”
The most important thing, he said, was to get out of Knoxville.
“It wasn’t because we didn’t like Knoxville,” he said. “It’s always a tricky dynamic. There’s a lot of coaches that stay and I think it’s hard on the family and it’s hard certainly on the coach. It’s harder to get going with your life when you’re constantly surrounded. You know how it is? No matter who’s the coach, there’s going to be a lot of criticism of the former coach, but that’s OK.”
Dooley has coached in Dallas before. After serving as a graduate assistant at Georgia, he was wide receivers coach and co-recruiting coordinator at SMU from 1987-89 under Mike Cavan, who now works in the development office for Georgia.
“It’s funny because we live about four blocks from where we lived,” Dooley said. “It’s been a pretty easy transition from a family and familiarity standpoint.”
Dooley’s wife, Dr. Allison Jeffers Dooley, is a native of Fort Worth and her parents live in the area. Her brother and sister live in Austin.
Dooley and his wife met when he was playing for Virginia. She’s an OB/GYN and completed her residency at Parkland Hospital when he was at SMU. Dooley said she could go back into that field once she gets licensed again.
Dooley first got to know Garrett when he worked his camp for kids in the Dallas area. They reconnected in Miami when they were both on Nick Saban’s Dolphins staff and stayed in touch when Dooley was at Louisiana Tech and then Tennessee.
When Dooley was growing up in Athens, he said he actually used to read a Dallas Cowboys weekly newsletter.
“That was my team when I was little,” Dooley said. “In 1975 when Georgia went to the Cotton Bowl, my Dad took me to a Cowboys practice. It’s funny because I have a picture of that (with coach Tom Landry) hanging in my office.”
He added: “As I hit my teenage years, I was quick to open up to the middle section where they always featured a Cowboys cheerleader.”
Vince and Barbara are planning to spend Thanksgiving in Dallas when the Cowboys host the Raiders.
Derek Dooley doesn’t know where his career might take him.
“All I can tell you,” he said, “is I’m enjoying what I’m doing now.”