Derek Dooley's Hair, His Mom and Belatedly Winning the Press Conference
"A good headline in February or March isn't going to win you any football games," Dooley said at the SEC spring meetings. Then later he expounded on that answer. "Everybody thinks I'm trying to do something totally different from what Lane did ... but our personalities are obviously very different. The worst thing we can do is look back and complain and gripe. We got a lot going for us at Tennessee and we just need to keep our focus on what lies ahead."
That quote was one of many that helped to define Derek Dooley's personality after six months of silence. Indeed, it's all together possible that, in less than an hour, Dooley displayed more personality than he'd previously shown in six months.
It's become readily apparent that while legendary Georgia coach Vince Dooley may be Derek's father, he's also the son of legendary raconteur Barbara Dooley. In fact, Dooley's amazingly entertaining mother has already been reveling in her son's new position. How so? She arrived at a Big Orange caravan event wearing an ostentatious orange feather boa draped over her shoulders.
"She actually thought that the event was planned for her, and so I had to remind her that this was a Tennessee athletic event, not a Barbara Dooley athletic event," said Dooley.
It's par for the course in a family where mocking one another is a way of life. "I don't ever walk around my family feeling good." One of the reasons why he doesn't? His brother forwards mocking commentary of Dooley's hire that he's culled from blogs around the internet. "There has been an occasion where my brother forwarded me a couple of the bloggers, nasty blogs, about me from the past. Just to remind me that maybe I'm not so great after all."
Dooley, whose mother revealed on our daily radio show in Nashville that she nicknamed him Precious as a child, has been more loquacious than her son. So much so that Derek instituted a media policy that was designed to keep his mother off airwaves in Tennessee and the Southeast. "She's violated the media policy and she doesn't give a damn what I say," said her son. That's fortunate, because how would we know that Barbara, who felt her son was under-utilized as a tight end at Virginia, once sent his roommate, the starting quarterback, a collection of bumper stickers emblazoned with this message: "Throw the ball to Precious."
While anyone who has a mother might cringe -- and laugh -- at that story, Precious has a tenacious side. How else to explain surviving seven years as Nick Saban's assistant? How else to explain graduating from law school, practicing for two years at a big Atlanta firm and then giving up that practice to pursue a passion? How else to explain his post-game speech in the wake of Louisiana Tech's loss at LSU in Dooley's first season as a head coach?
As the team filed back into the locker room, Dooley heard his assistant coaches complimenting the play of his team. He'd have none of it. "Bull---," he said, "put your head down. I was embarrassed." Dooley gathered his players and let them have it, "Next time we come here, I'm bringing a box of Sharpies so you can get their (LSU's) autograph. 'Cause that's how we played."
Dooley, with his immaculate and immobile hair -- already the most iconic football hair since Jimmy Johnson prowled sidelines in the South -- pressed khakis and tucked in t-shirt without wrinkles, gives every impression that he's a straight-laced football coach in the mold of Saban. But then I ask him about the iconic state of his hair and this glorious answer, soon to be legendary, unspools: "You know, it's amazing," Dooley said. "Some people are worried about what offense we're gonna run, other people's worrying about how multiple we are on defense. You guys are worried about my hair. I will say this: I've had the same haircut since I was 12 years old. OK, so do the math. That's 30 years of the exact same haircut. At some point your hair finally concedes and says, 'I'm gonna just do what the heck you want me to do, and I'm not gonna fight it anymore.' And so everybody has their hair fighting them all the time because they don't train it and do it consistently over time, all right? It's no different than training a team. You do it over, and you do it over, and you do it over, and you don't deviate from the plan, and you bring it across and you shape it down, and then eventually they do it how you want it. And then once my hair said, 'OK, I'll do it how you want it,' I haven't changed. Why change?"
My co-host on the radio show, Brent Dougherty, asked if that was the Barbara influence, his mother helping him get the haircut. "Yeah, but she changes her hair every day and can't understand why it doesn't cooperate. Well, if I changed offenses every day, we wouldn't be good at anything."
There you go, for the first time ever, a coach using his hair as a metaphor for his coaching philosophy.
But Dooley was just getting started. You can hear his entire 10 minute interview with us by clicking here.
If you click on the link you'll also get these memorable phrases when I fumbled on asking him a question. "He's got marbles in his mouth and it's 3rd and 4 and you can't make the call," Dooley taunted.
Derek Dooley has 94 days until he's got to make his first third-down call. For the first time since the departure of Lane Kiffin, Tennessee fans are finally starting to get a sense for the man who will be standing on the sideline in orange.
One man who has done pretty well on the sideline thinks highly of Tennessee's new coach. Saban, who said he'd eaten dinner with Derek's parents on the Sunday before the spring meetings, said, "I think he's going to do an outstanding job there."
Can he become the first son to follow his father as an SEC champion? Years will tell, and first he'll have to survive a daunting 2010 slate that could begin 2-6.
In the meantime, know this: Derek Dooley's hair is not moving.