Fri Jan 15 02:26pm EST
First, the good news: After being rebuffed by no fewer than four potential candidates -- Utah coach Kyle Whittingham added his rejection to the others this morning -- Tennessee apparently has a new head coach in time to begin its final recruiting push when the NCAA-mandated "dead period" ends on Sunday. The bad news? Well, there is no bad news, exactly, but ... who on earth is Derek Dooley?
For his entire life, the first answer to that question has always been "Vince Dooley's son." The Georgia legend won six SEC championships and one national title in 25 years in Athens, and Derek has hardly emerged from his father's shadow through a 17-20 run in three years as head coach at Louisiana Tech. The best you can say for the younger Dooley's efforts in Ruston is that he inherited one of the worst programs in the nation -- and certainly the worst defense, a unit that finished dead last in total and scoring D the year before his arrival in 2006 -- and made some not-too-sour lemonade, improving the Bulldogs' record in 2007 and guiding them to just the third bowl win in school history in the '08 Independence Bowl. But after last year's 4-8 effort -- punctuated by a five-game losing streak that included losses to Idaho and Utah State -- his stock wasn't exactly soaring at the end of 2009. And there is the whole thing about being a young, relatively unproven comer with a famous last name, which didn't work out so well for Tennessee the last time.
As a fifth choice, though, he'll have to do. And unlike his now-reviled predecessor, Lane Kiffin, Dooley's ties make him more attractive -- and far, far less likely to suddenly bolt -- to a program in Tennessee's position. He grew up in the SEC and has spent his entire career in the South, including a graduate assistant stint at Georgia and five years on Nick Saban's staff at LSU (I'm sure he'll show you his 2003 BCS championship ring if you ask nicely, Vol fans). He followed Saban from Baton Rouge to the Miami Dolphins, and landed the La. Tech gig a couple weeks before Saban bolted for Alabama; he added the title of athletic director after his first season at Tech. He has a law degree and seems to regarded as a smart, disciplined pro. The Vols are springing for (or settling for) a guy with impeccable connections, who knows the region, who will value the unique traditions of Tennessee football and who's been preparing for this opportunity his entire life.
He is not a guy who has actually, you know, won a lot of games or distinguished himself in any way in a very short time as a head coach. Considering what a late-breaking disaster their search was, though, and how desperately they need someone to salvage what remains of Kiffin's recruiting class over the next three weeks, the Vols probably could have done a lot worse. I say "probably," because we really have no idea what Dooley actually brings to the table beyond his name and his willingness to keep a half-dozen assistant coaches on staff to save the athletic department from an expensive round of buyouts.