New Tennessee head football coach Derek Dooley spent his childhood surrounded by college football. Growing up in Athens, Ga., and watching his dad, former Georgia coach Vince Dooley, lead the Bulldogs against the SEC’s best each and every year, he realized at a young age college football was different at Tennessee.
“I grew up in the SEC,” Dooley said. “It didn’t take me long as a youngster to realize that Tennessee was the essence of college football.”
Dooley played high school football at Clarke Central High School in Athens as a tight end, helping lead his team to the 1985 AAAA Georgia State Championship.
After high school, Dooley enrolled at the University of Virginia and was a walk-on wide receiver. He earned a scholarship in his second season as Virginia won the ACC championship in 1989.
Dooley received Academic All-ACC honors and played in the Senior Bowl in 1990. He graduated from Virginia with a bachelor’s degree in government and foreign affairs and went on to earn his law degree from the University of Georgia in 1994. He practiced law in Atlanta for two years before deciding to pursue his coaching career.
Dooley started coaching as a graduate assistant at the University of Georgia in 1996. He spent the 1997-99 as wide receivers coach at Southern Methodist University, while also holding the duties of assistant recruiting coordinator in his final two years at SMU.
In 2000, Dooley was hired by Nick Saban at LSU as the recruiting coordinator and tight ends coach. While LSU’s recruiting coordinator, Dooley helped the Tigers land top-ranked recruiting classes in 2001 and 2003.
In 2003, the Tigers won the SEC championship as well as the BCS National Championship. Dooley spent the 2003-2004 seasons coaching the Tigers’ running backs and special teams, and in 2004 the Tigers finished first in the SEC in rushing led by Joseph Addai, a first-round draft choice of the Indianapolis Colts in 2006.
“(Dooley is) the kind of coach that’s got a lot of energy, and he’s somebody that you can relate to on a personal level,” Addai said. “He’s great at giving advice while being upbeat at the same time. There aren’t many coaches that will let you have fun while getting the job done at the same time. He has the ability to get that out of you.”
Dooley left LSU in 2005 with Saban to help coach the Miami Dolphins. Dooley’s importance on Saban’s staff wasn’t lost in the mind of the current Alabama head coach.
“Derek is a very articulate, bright guy,” Saban said. “He’s a great coach and a hard-working guy. He was always a very good recruiter in college, which I think is paramount if you’re going to have success as a college coach.”
When Saban left to coach Alabama, Dooley opted to pursue his own head coaching career. In December 2006, Dooley was hired as head coach at Louisiana Tech University. In his second year at Tech, Dooley led the Bulldogs to the program’s first bowl bid and victory in more than 30 years as they defeated Northern Illinois in the 2008 Independence Bowl.
After former Vols head coach Lane Kiffin departed Knoxville to coach Southern Cal, UT athletic director Mike Hamilton tabbed Dooley as the 22nd head coach of the Tennessee Volunteers.
“We wish him the best of luck, and it’s a position he has well earned after turning the (Louisiana Tech) program around to a contender for a (Western Atlantic Conference) title,” Louisiana Tech Media Relations Director Patrick Walsh said.