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Derek Dooley Follows in Father Vince's Footsteps, Including Winning

Sep 4, 2009 – 2:00 PM
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Jim Henry

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Derek Dooley thought he was happy practicing law at a private firm in Atlanta in the mid-1990s. Despite his football bloodlines -- he is the son of legendary Georgia head coach Vince Dooley -- Dooley believed his calling was the courtroom and not on the sidelines.

He was wrong.

"Football has been a part of my life, but I kind of grew up never really wanting to coach -- I am not sure why," Dooley told FanHouse.

"I did fairly well in school, I enjoyed the challenge of law school, and I went on to practice law. But I guess football was in my blood. It wasn't that I didn't like practicing law as much as was I just missed all the great things associated with athletics and football. I am really glad I made the switch when I did and it has worked out so far."

As the only FBS head football coach in the country who also serves as the university's athletics director, Dooley, in his third season at Louisiana Tech, is leading both the football program and the athletic department into a new era of unprecedented change.

Last season, Dooley led the Bulldogs to their first bowl victory in more than 30 years as Louisiana Tech defeated Northern Illinois in the 2008 Independence Bowl. Off the field, his work ethic and vision has helped ignite a complete overhaul in the infrastructure of the athletic department, from staffing to facilities to external operations.

"I love our coach," NFL Hall of Famer and Tech alum Terry Bradshaw said. "He is educating the community and the Tech family about thinking big. You have to create pride in your university. Derek does that. I like what I am seeing."

Of course, Tech fans may not necessarily like what they see on Saturday, when the Bulldogs open their season at Auburn. Tech and the Tigers last met Oct. 9, 2004, at Jordan-Hare Stadium with Auburn winning 52-7. But that's not to say the game is destined to be a total mismatch. Plenty of youth could be featured on both sides. Dooley said as many as eight freshmen will see the field for his squad, and first-year Auburn head coach Gene Chizik has 12 true freshmen listed on his latest depth chart.

"It certainly will get your juices going when you are going into an environment like Auburn and Jordan-hare Stadium," Dooley said.

"It's going to be an exciting day for our team. We don't play in that kind of environment very often and we are looking forward to playing it out. You know you are always going to face a good football team, a hard-nosed football team and they are tough to beat at home."

Dooley's family also has some strong Auburn ties. Vince Dooley spent his playing days at Auburn and graduated in 1954. In fact, both of Derek Dooley's parents and his wife's parents are Auburn alumni. Dooley's coaching staff also has an Auburn connection. Defensive line coach Jimmy Brumbaugh played defensive line for the Tigers from 1995-99.

Vince DooleyDooley was even rumored to be one of the top candidates to replace Tommy Tuberville as Auburn's head coach, though he never interviewed for the position. The job that eventually went to Chizik

Naturally, Dooley, one of the country's youngest head coaches at age 41, comes by his talent honestly. And he doesn't hesitate to telephone his father for advice. Vince Dooley also served in the dual role of athletics director and head football coach during his time in Athens, Ga.

"My father's always been an influence, just in the 18 years I lived with him," Dooley said.

"A lot of times I would call him up and I already know what the answer is. When you live with somebody for 18 years, he instills a lot of values in your work and how you do things. Certainly he has been a great sounding board when I got my head coaching job and my AD job. I would be crazy not to use him as a resource. Anybody who has been in the business for 40 years and been successful at it like he was, it's going to be a great resource."

Dooley arrived at Louisiana Tech in December of 2007 following a two-year stint as the tight ends coach for the Miami Dolphins. Prior to joining the Dolphins, Dooley spent the previous five years at LSU, including the 2003 season when the Tigers won the national championship. He also spent the 1997-99 seasons as wide receivers coach at SMU after a one-year stint as a graduate assistant at Georgia.

Dooley played football at the University of Virginia where he helped lead the Cavaliers to three bowl appearances and the 1989 ACC championship. He graduated from Virginia in 1990 with a bachelor's degree in government and foreign affairs, and went on to earn his law degree from Georgia in 1994. He practiced law for two years before he stepped back to evaluate his career choice.

Court was adjourned

"It was really a six-month process where I honestly I felt like I was missing something at work," Dooley said.

"I was practicing in Atlanta and I was attending the Georgia games on weekends. Over the course of a fall, I just realized that's what I missed. I missed working together with a big team, I missed the highs and the lows of competition and every year bringing in a renewed spirit in what you do. I just said, 'Why not?"

Louisiana Tech President Dr. Dan Reneau may have said the same thing when he named Dooley the program's athletics director in March, 2008. Dooley hasn't disappointed, either. A few of the many changes that have taken place include a new, 10-year multi-media contract with Learfield Sports; new facilities for tennis and bowling; new student housing; a new baseball scoreboard and press box; and new football locker rooms.

"It's certainly not a model that would fit at every institution but I think it's a model that works very well at our institution and I am really grateful for our president to show confidence in my ability to do that," Dooley said.

"It has worked out well. We've had a lot of progress in our football program and our athletics growth and I hope we can continue the pace we are on. We've done a lot in a short time and the key is doing it consistently over time. We just go at it day-to-day, roll up our sleeves each day, go to work, try to get a little bit better. I think when you do that and you look back five years from now, you are proud of the body of work that you did."

The same can be said on the field, where the Bulldogs have improved dramatically under Dooley, going from a 3-8 record prior to his arrival to an 8-5 season last year. Louisiana Tech enters the Auburn games as the only Western Athletic Conference (WAC) team to bring a winning streak into the new year. (The Bulldogs closed the 2008 season with two victories).

"I think this is the first time we have a little more stability across the board," Dooley said.

"We have a lot of guys returning, they understand our expectations as a staff. We do have a lot of new faces, but I think the challenge now is to learn to compete consistently and it's something that hasn't been done here in awhile. While it was a great season last year, one season doesn't make a program."

Well said counselor.

Err, coach.

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