Despite the fact that his son, Derek, will be calling plays for the home team, Hall of Fame Coach Vince Dooley did not originally plan to attend Saturday’s game between No. 2 Georgia and Missouri in Columbia, Mo. (Noon, ESPN).
Dooley, who served Georgia as head coach and director of athletics for 41 years (1964-2004), has always tried keep it low-key when Derek, named Missouri’s offensive coordinator earlier this year, is involved in a game against his beloved Bulldogs. In 2010 Derek Dooley returned to Athens, where he grew up and attended law school, as Tennessee’s head coach. Vince Dooley sat it out at his home on Milledge Circle. Georgia won 41-14.
He and his wife Barbara were prepared to do the same on Saturday.
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But then came the call with an offer he just couldn’t refuse. The call came from the Mizzou Botanic Garden at University of Missouri. The offer was to spend the weekend touring the facilities, meeting the faculty and staff, and to take in the game as their guests.
Dooley, who won 201 games and six SEC championship as Georgia’s coach, has a passion about a lot of things, but especially horticulture. The botanical garden in the backyard of the Dooley residence has become a tourist stop for people visiting Athens. In fact, Dooley collaborated with artist Steve Penley for a book on his garden.
Over the years Dooley has worked extensively with two world-renowned Master Gardeners, Michael Dirr and Alan Armitage, who will be with him on the trip to Columbia. Dooley is himself a Master Gardener and has created his own strain of hydrangea which, of course, is registered as the Dooley Hydrangea.
“We’re excited about the trip,” Dooley said when we talked by phone on Tuesday. “They have the whole schedule mapped out. Otherwise, we would not have gone to the game.”
Of course, there is the game on Saturday featuring MIzzou, which is 3-0 after a 40-37 win over Purdue last week. With Derek Dooley calling the plays and future NFL quarterback Drew Lock executing them, the Tigers are No. 2 in the SEC in total offense with 589 yards a game.
But the elder Dooley has attended each of Georgia’s first three games. And at this point Vince Dooley, the father, gives way to Vince Dooley, the coach.
“They (Missouri) are getting ready to go into a different league,” said Dooley. “They won at the end against Purdue but this is a tough assignment. But as a competitor I know he (Derek) is excited.”
Read into that whatever you choose.
Lock, the SEC’s No. 1 passer at 354 yards per game, came back to school this season to further refine his game for the NFL. Derek Dooley, who has spent the past five seasons with the Dallas Cowboys, was hired to help him. On Tuesday Lock said that the relationship is going well.
“So far he’s done a really good job and I know he’s looking forward to Saturday,” Lock said on the Paul Finebaum Show.
Here is a little background on Derek Dooley. He is the youngest of Vince and Barbara’s four children. He played his college football at Virginia for George Welsh and then went to law school at Georgia. He practiced law for a couple of years and decided he missed football too much. He had to convince his parents—especially his mother—that leaving the law for coaching was the right thing to do.
In 1996 he joined Jim Donnan’s staff at Georgia as a graduate assistant. That season he met a bright young defensive back named Kirby Smart.
Smart is now the head coach at Georgia and on Saturday Dooley will be callings plays against Smart���s No. 2-ranked (in scoring) defense.
In fact, when Derek Dooley joined Nick Saban’s staff at LSU in 2000, he and Will Muschamp—a former Georgia player who’s now the head coach at South Carolina—recommended that Saban take a hard look at Smart. Smart joined Saban’s staff in 2004 and worked for him 11 years before becoming Georgia's head coach in 2016.
“When he was a player and I was a GA he was one of the best coaches on our staff,” said Derek Dooley of Smart. “You knew he was going to be a great coach.”
After spending seven seasons with Saban at LSU and the Miami Dolphins, Derek Dooley became the head coach and athletics director at Louisiana Tech. In 2010 he was named head coach at Tennessee, replacing Lane Kiffin. He was let go after three seasons and joined the Dallas Cowboys as an assistant coach.
This is Derek Dooley’s first season as an offensive coordinator and play caller.
“He wanted to get back into college coaching,” said Dooley. “He wanted to become an offensive coordinator. He’s had a lot of good training to prepare him for this.”
Here’s one more twist to the Dooley Dynamic for Saturday’s game. Derek Dooley’s son and Vince Dooley’s grandson, J.T., is a walk-on wide receiver at Georgia. J.T. probably won’t make Georgia’s 70-man travel squad for the Missouri game but may come up to be with the family.
There are going to be a lot of conflicted emotions in that family room.
Derek Dooley learned this lesson, among many, from his father: On game day all of those thoughts and feelings must be set aside to focus on the task at hand.
“I was a Kirby fan and a Georgia fan when I was at the Cowboys but that’s not where I am now,” Derek Dooley said. “I’ve put a lot of hard work and sweat and tears with this coaching staff and this team. That’s where your heart is on game day.”