Derek Dooley embraces new challenge at Mizzou
This weekend, Derek Dooley will coach against both his son and father’s team, and somebody has to lose. Family games are messy.
Derek Dooley is Missouri’s first-year offensive coordinator. His dad, Vince, coached Georgia to a national title in 1980 and has a statue next to that school’s athletic complex. Derek’s son J.T. is a walk-on wide receiver for coach Kirby Smart’s Bulldogs.
The three generations will converge in Columbia for the Dooley Bowl.
“I was a Kirby fan and a Georgia fan when I was (coaching) with the (Dallas) Cowboys, but that’s not where I am now,” Derek said.
This year, his heart is with the Tigers.
When Derek was Tennessee’s head coach from 2010-12, his dad couldn’t bring himself to go to the games. He watched on TV in his Athens, Georgia, home.
“(My wife) was pretty strong about pulling for Tennessee, but I couldn’t do that so much,” Vince said.
On Saturday, the 86-year-old Vince will finally watch his son coach against the Bulldogs in-person. Derek is only going to be handling one side of the game so Vince feels comfortable rooting for Georgia while still hoping his son’s unit does well.
Vince initially wasn’t planning on traveling to the game, but he changed his mind when two Georgia horticulturalists invited him to a gardening seminar this weekend on Missouri’s campus. Dooley will be able to get dinner with his son Thursday evening, and he plans to meet Missouri head coach Barry Odom while in town.
J.T. went to his grandparents’ house for dinner Sunday. Over barbecue ribs, Vince asked JT who he’d root for this weekend. Derek’s son said he would pull for the Bulldogs — but he hopes Missouri can move the ball.
“He’s Georgia through and through,” Vince said, “but of course he’d like for his daddy’s offense to do well.”
The receiver, who Georgia did not make available for an interview, is a redshirt freshman and made his Bulldogs debut in their season opener against Austin Peay. He is not on Georgia’s travel team but told Vince he plans to fly to Columbia to watch the game and see his dad.
J.T. streamed last week’s 40-37 Mizzou win over Purdue on his computer, and Vince watched at home with his wife, Barbara. As the Boilermakers mounted a late comeback, Barbara darted in and out of the room. The close score made it hard for her to watch.
“She gets emotionally involved in it,” Vince said. “I thought she was going to have a conniption fit during the ballgame Saturday.”
Derek’s ties to Georgia don’t stop with family. He spent the 1996 season as a graduate assistant with the Bulldogs — his first coaching job. Smart, now Georgia’s head coach, was a sophomore defensive back on that year’s team.
Smart showed coaching potential as a player, which Derek remembered nearly a decade later while coaching at LSU. Ahead of the 2004 season, Derek and defensive coordinator Will Muschamp recommended Smart to head coach Nick Saban, who decided to bring the young coach aboard.
Smart said Derek helped him with recruiting when he got to LSU, and they have remained friends. The now-Georgia coach later joined Saban with the Miami Dolphins, and they coached together for nine seasons at Alabama.
Vince praised Smart’s Georgia team, and he said the Bulldogs’ defenders will pose a challenge to his son’s offense, a unit that has impressed him this year.
“Well, they’ve scored points,” the 86-year-old said. “That’s the best sign I know of (for) an offensive team.”
Derek mentioned his ties to Georgia while meeting with media on Tuesday. While the coordinator said he was proud of his son, he was adamant that, when kickoff comes, his focus will be on football. It’s what his family knows best.