Derek Dooley hasn’t quite slept the same since he was hired to be Missouri’s next offensive coordinator last Friday. His new role with the Tigers has invigorated him.
After spending five years coaching wide receivers in the NFL with the Dallas Cowboys, Dooley had gotten comfortable. He was happy where he was. But for as much as he liked his role in Dallas, his competitive side was not satisfied.
“I had a good job, and I’m really thankful for Jason Garrett, who hired me, and the Jones family — they were phenomenal for me,” Dooley said in an introductory press conference Friday at the Missouri Athletics Training Complex. “But (Missouri) Coach (Barry Odom) talked about the chip on my shoulder and all that. I didn’t really want to be in this comfortable place. It was a good job; I was in a routine. But getting back in the crosshairs is a little bit more my personality. It’s easy to kind of stay one removed from the firing line. ... There’s a lot of personalities that don’t like all that, but I guess that’s not mine. I’m a glutton for punishment.”
Half a decade removed from his last job on a college sideline as the head coach of Tennessee, Dooley is ready to be at the forefront again.
“Most people probably wouldn’t like that, but it stimulates me,” he said.
Addressing the media alongside Odom for the first time Friday, Dooley was prepared to face the fire. He answered questions on past coaching stops and his time at Tennessee skillfully and expressed his excitement to return to working with college athletes.
When the subject turned to his lack of experience running an offense, a concern voiced by many after his hiring, Dooley was confident.
“I appreciate the confidence that Coach Odom has shown in me; I don’t take that for granted. I know it’s a big responsibility,” he said. “I’ve never been one to just want to coach one position and do it for 30 years. So from the day I got into coaching, the more I could take in, the better. I think every job that you have when your in this profession, if you’re preparing the right way, it always prepares you for the next job.”
The other major question that dominated Friday’s press conference was the style of offense Dooley would run with the Tigers in 2018. After finishing eighth in the nation in total offense this past season, Missouri will return a majority of its offensive starters next season, including quarterback Drew Lock, leaving Dooley with plenty with which to work.
Knowing he still has loads of evaluating left to do, Dooley said his offense will likely feature a little bit of everything.
“I think there will be elements of the pro style and elements of the college tempo ... and some spread. What we’ve got to do is make sure that we have a good feeling for who our best players are, how we can put them in positions to succeed, and go from there. I can have a playbook that big, but if it doesn’t fit the personnel, it doesn’t do any good.”
While laying out his plan, Dooley was adamant that the offense ultimately belongs to Odom and that he would follow his head coach’s vision for what the attack should look like. Above all else, he’ll look to enter this coming season with a versatile offense that has several dimensions to it.
“I think what my background will tell you is that I believe in being multiple and being flexible in your offense,” he said. “Every game doesn’t go the way you think it might go. There’s some games where you think you can do certain things well, and you can’t, and you’ve got to have somewhere to go to try to win the game. At the end of the day, our job is to help our team win the football game, so we’re going to be multiple enough and flexible enough to where we can handle every situation and do what we think is best to help us win.”
In his search for a new offensive coordinator, Odom was looking for a coach with a leadership background and someone without “hidden agendas” who would remain on the same page with him.
Dooley’s time at Louisiana Tech, where he simultaneously served as the school's head football coach and athletic director, checked the first box for Odom. His personality and similar mindset checked the other.
“One of the many things that stood out talking to Derek over the course of the time that we did is that he’s got something to prove. And so do I,” Odom said. “I’m excited about that part of his competitive spirit, and it’s going to be fun working together.”
For Dooley, it was Odom himself that attracted him to the job.
While he was eager to return to the college sideline, he wanted to be sure he was making the jump to the right program. What he saw from Odom as a leader was enough to convince him that Missouri was that place.
“Really, when you ask what attracted me to this program, it was Coach Odom,” Dooley said. “I’ve watched him kind of as a bystander, how he led this team this year, and I have a lot of respect. You know, anybody can get out there when things are good ... and lead. But real leadership shows when their backs are to the wall a little bit. So that right there told me that this is the kind of program I want to be a part of.”
With Lock deciding to remain with Missouri for another season, Dooley enters the job possessing one of college football’s top offensive weapons.
With that, Dooley knows he’ll face the challenge of helping Lock balance performing in his senior season and the NFL prospects the QB's future holds. His goal will be to prepare Lock for the next level on the field as best he can while keeping him grounded mentally.
“What we’re going to do systematically is probably going to be a little bit more oriented to what he’ll get in the NFL,” Dooley said. “He plays with a lot of freedom out there, and we don’t want to take that away. But he’ll probably have a bit more on him, mentally, than what he’s used to. Hopefully, that will translate into more consistency and more versatility to help us win. I think over time that will end up helping him personally when he leaves Missouri.”
Settling into his new job, Dooley understands the weight of the role he’s undertaken. The faith Odom has placed on him, the gravity of his position and the pressure the job will hold come September are not lost on him. But with that, Dooley is certain that his 22 years in coaching have prepared him to execute a job he has never done before.
“It’s a huge job, it’s a giant responsibility, there’s a lot of people depending on me to do a good job, starting with Coach Odom,” he said. “I’m hoping that my experiences will help me develop these young guys into the best they can be a lot better than if I had taken this job 15 years ago.”
Supervising editor is Pete Bland.