ATHENS — Georgia-Missouri is going to be another family affair for the Dooleys.
You may recall those awkward years not so long ago when Vince and Dooley Barbara found themselves dressing in unfamiliar orange when their son Derek Dooley was head coach at Tennessee. The Dooleys never really got a chance to get used to it, however, as Derek Dooley was fired in 2012 and returned to his NFL work with the Dallas Cowboys.
Now, Derek Dooley resurfaced in the college ranks as offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Missouri. So he’ll be dialing up plays and trying to score points against the No. 2-ranked Georgia Bulldogs on Saturday at Faurot Field.
Meanwhile, Derek Dooley’s son — John Taylor “J.T.” Dooley — is a walkon and redshirt freshman receiver at Georgia. And Georgia coach Kirby Smart has long been a close friend and professional confidante.
But while there may be some confused allegiances in the Dooley family circle, there will be none for Derek Dooley.
“I have a lot of ties there, sure; my son plays on the team,” Derek told reporters Tuesday in Columbia. “I was a Kirby fan and a Georgia fan when I was with the Cowboys. But that’s not where I am now.”
To be sure, Derek Dooley is in a good place. Now 50 years old and 32 years removed from living in Athens, he accepted the coordinator job at Missouri in January after coaching receivers with the Cowboys the last five years. He’s earning $900,000 a year, making him the highest-paid assistant on coach Barry Odom’s staff.
“I’ve put a lot of hard work and sweat and tears into this coaching staff and this team,” Dooley said. “That’s where your heart is.”
Vince Dooley confirmed that he and Barbara were on their way to Columbia on Thursday. He said they’ll be wearing black at Saturday’s game and will be “pulling for Derek to do good as long as Georgia wins.”
But you sense Vince Dooley’s concern for the challenge ahead of his son. “It is a different league in terms of personnel and depth,” he said of the talent gap between Georgia and Missouri.
It remains to be seen whether J.T. will travel with the Bulldogs, but it’s doubtful. Georgia took 10 receivers to South Carolina and he wasn’t one of them.
Derek Dooley’s father worked at UGA for 41 years. While he grew up in the shadow of the university and attended dozens of his father’s games, he played college football at Virginia and only worked for a brief time for Georgia as a graduate assistant.
The strongest connection for Derek in this game is probably his relationship with Smart. They worked together under Nick Saban at LSU and with the Miami Dolphins and remain professional confidantes. Smart was also playing for the Bulldogs when Dooley was a G.A. in 1996.
Derek Dooley said it was apparent even when Smart was a sophomore safety that he was destined to be a coach.
“He was probably one of the best coaches on our staff at that time, and he was just a player,” Dooley quipped. “I always knew he’d have a great future in this profession. He’s a Georgia guy and hs’s obviously done a great job. … He believes in what he does and has a lot of passion for the game and the results have shown.”
The returns on Derek Dooley have been good so far. The Tigers are averaging 43.7 points per game and senior quarterback Drew Lock is considered one of the best quarterbacks in college football. Lock leads the SEC with 354 yards passing a game with 11 touchdowns and one interception.
“He’s obviously playing some good football, but we’ve played three games,” Derek Dooley said. W”e’ve played a quarter of the season. Now we’re heading into the second quarter and the next game and when you’re playing the No. 1 or 2 defense in the country, or whatever they are, that’s a big challenge.”
Lock likes what he’s seen from Dooley, too.
“He’s been great far,” Lock told reporters this week. “And he’s really excited for this game.”