Dooley, 77, took time earlier this month to sit down with FoxSportsSouth.com's Josh Kendall from his pool house (where he and wife Barbara are living while their home is remodeled) to discuss a wide range of topics.
Dooley talks about his son Derek, who is entering his first year as Tennessee's head coach, gives his assessment of the Vols' talent base, and explains why he won't be in Sanford Stadium when the Vols and Bulldogs play this year. He also talks about two men he hired, Georgia head football coach Mark Richt, who is entering his 10th year in Athens, and former UGA athletics director Damon Evans, who recently resigned. He talks about the time 18 years ago when the SEC almost landed Texas and Texas A&M and weighs in on the more recent conference expansion. There's even a mention of Kentucky basketball coach John Calipari.
Dooley currently heads an exploratory committee charged with advising the president of Kennesaw State University in nearby Marietta, Ga., on whether it should add a football team. Dooley already has made it clear, he said, that he will not be coaching the team if Kennesaw State moves in that direction. "I think my wife would kill me before she let me do that," he said.
Tell me what input you had when Derek decided, "Law is not for me. I'm going to be a coach."
Dooley: He had finished law school, and he went to Atlanta and he was there a year. He came and met with me and said, ‘Dad, I'm not happy. I want to coach.' I said I tried to argue with him, but they teach them to argue at law school, plus he was on the debate team so I lost that in a hurry. And I helped him to get a job. I went to (then Georgia head coach Jim) Donnan and asked if he would consider letting him be a graduate assistant. That's how he started. He was making as a first-year lawyer, something like $80,000 or whatever and then he comes down here and makes $10,000, but that's what he wanted to do. It shows that you have to follow your dream and follow your passion. So he was here a year and, as it turns out, Mike Cavan became a head coach at SMU. In the meantime, Derek marries a girl who is in medical school in Augusta while he is in law school. She went to Dallas to Parkland to do her residency as an OB-GYN. It worked out well for them. They were there three years until he interviewed for the job with Saban and got with Saban.
How often does he talk to you about coaching? How often does your phone ring and it's Derek saying, ‘What would you do here?'
Dooley: Not that much. From the time he was 5 or 6 or 7 years old, he was just around (Georgia's football program). He's probably the longest attending football camper there has ever been. Fourteen years maybe he was a camper. Just about every press conference from the time he was 6 years old, he sat in. He just listened and was just part of it, even on the sidelines all through the time. He had that that he absorbed while he was here, and then he was under Saban for seven years so he has a good grasp of the fundamental things. He certainly is always inquiring and we do talk some. It is not a great deal about Xs and Os. It is more about philosophy. He's got a base to work with so we don't really talk that much.
As you see what he is going through now (with the fallout from a fight involving several of his players) do you feel for him because you know what he's going through?
Dooley: Absolutely. It was different with me because it was me. I could do something about it, but it's him. I can't do anything about it. I know the difficulty he has had. I'm glad he's (coaching) in the conference. I wish he had gone further away, maybe in the West somewhere, because then he wouldn't be so close. But, as he would tell me, because he's a lawyer, he would come back with the remark that, ‘Dad, you came from Auburn.' We are proud of him. We will support him. It's got his challenge. For instance, the ball game coming up, Georgia is playing Tennessee here, and I know from experience that they have these high tech cameras and they will be on you and you will have no idea. They are not going to have them on me because I'm not going to the game. I'm going to be sitting in that living room right there watching it on television. I will be there pulling for my son, quietly because that's the way I pull, but at the same time, I won't be doing that in Sanford Stadium in front of a TV camera or even in front of any Georgia people that may be around. There are some that would obviously look to see my reaction on things. I don't think it would be fair to the Georgia people, it wouldn't be fair to Derek, it wouldn't be fair to anybody.
Is his mother showing similar restraint?
Dooley: That's another case. That's her baby. I can't speak for her. I am going to try to advise her, but she has never been able to take my advice.
As you see what Derek has done in Knoxville, coming in and saying he wants to change the culture and then having this incident, have you felt some pride in the way he has handled it?
Dooley: He handled it very well. I knew that was going to be a testy situation. This is the same kid (Darren Myles, who was kicked off the team following his arrest on charges stemming from the fight) that had a great spring game, had a great spring. This guy is good, and right after the spring game he gets in trouble so Derek went the extra mile, and you try to do that with players, try to find some kind of counseling. You try to do that to the point as you try to help an individual to the point that individual is not hurting your team, and that's what happened so there is no question he had to make that tough decision, and he did it, which I was pleased. It's not easy to let a good one go like that, but, in this case, he had no choice.
You understand the type of pressure situation he is in. Tennessee fans may give him a game's worth of a honeymoon, but they are going to expect him to win so to kick someone off the team, that's a tough call isn't it?
Dooley: Well, he's got to build a long range program. He can't think in terms of immediacy. He can't think in terms of this ballgame or this season and so forth. He's got to think in terms of a program over the long haul, and the decisions he makes should always be with that thought.
That's tougher now than when you were a coach, isn't it?
Dooley: Yeah, it's a little tougher, but it's still the same way. I think that people realize, and I think they do now, whether they will in the course of a game… During a game, you don't get very rational, you get passionate. But you think about it. They haven't recruited well in two years.
They had two bad recruiting years. He came in and did a good job of salvaging a respectable (recruiting) year, but still that is a couple years without a lot of football players. I went up there and watched them play in one of their (spring) scrimmages, and he needs some players. The cupboard is a little bare.
Now on to a guy who is a little further from your heart but closer to here and who you hired, Coach Mark Richt. You have heard some hot seat talk this off-season. Does that shock you? What is your opinion of the job Mark has done?
It happens. You become a victim of your own success and that is what he has become. He's had an incredible amount of success, winning 10 games a year. He has set the bar high. It's just the way people react. It's part of it.
What has your pride level been in seeing the job he has done?
Dooley: Very much so because that's one of the last hires that I had. I can't tell you how proud I have been of him, not only what he has done as far as football record wise but also representing Georgia and the way he conducts himself, the type person he is.
As you watched the conference expansion issues unfolding this summer, did you have an opinion on it?
Dooley: We had been through it when we added Arkansas and South Carolina. I saw the conference when it had 12 teams and then (Georgia) Tech and Tulane get out and we're down to 10. I saw it expand to 12 and possibly expanding to 14 with Texas and Texas A&M. They were on the radar screen then (in 1992). There were some discussions going on.
How close did adding Texas and Texas A&M to the SEC come in 1992?
Dooley: I think there was some real interest with A&M at the time and (maybe less) with Texas, and then you have the politics getting into it. But think of the SEC with Texas and Texas A&M. It'd be something wouldn't it? That was the idea because of television markets. Anyway, we settled in, and the conference run has just been tremendous. In this (recent expansion talk), the SEC didn't really think in terms of expansion except if it looked like it was going to happen. You had to be alert because the Big 12 as you know came very, very close (to disbanding). If that was the case, then the SEC, in my estimation, should have jumped in to get either Texas, Texas A&M or Oklahoma, two of those three, and it would be great. There were two things involved. Number one, the Big Ten has been looking for that Notre Dame pillar for a long time, and they are finally convinced it's not going to happen, and they went ahead. And the Pac-10 wanted to get to the point where they had 12 teams to at least have a championship game. It could have gone further, but the Big 12, now 10, salvaged all of that because of Texas and Texas got a (heck) of a deal, but there are some people out there that aren't happy with that. (Texas Tech head coach Tommy) Tuberville has already expressed that. He got reprimanded for it, but you can't blame him.
All is well right now, but who knows what the future will hold. I think with the Big 12, there are some question marks out there.
There was some worry in the public that the expansion would lead to four super conferences and that it would have been a bad thing for college football. Is that just people's reaction to change? Do you think 16-team super conferences are the death of college football or anything like that?
Dooley: I don't why it would be the death. People would just be more crazy, more passionate about it all.
What are your personal feelings about Damon Evans?
Dooley: I am just disappointed. It's a tragedy, just a tragedy really. Here's a guy with so much going for him. He's smart; a good-looking fellow; he's got charisma; he did a great job for me in finance. For that to happen, it's going to take him a while (to bounce back). I feel for him. I really do feel for him. I feel for his family, too. It'll take him a while, but he'll come back. He's got a lot going for him, but he's going through a tough time right now and rightfully so.
Have you spoken to him and how would you characterize that conversation?
Dooley: I have. I was just trying to let him know that I support him, and he's just going to have to grin and bear it for a while. He'll eventually come out of it, but it's going to take a while.
So you do think a guy like him, with his credentials, can come back?
Dooley: I don't know if anytime soon he'll come back in a position like he was. This is right at the top of the list for jobs in college. You know, coaches, you tend to gamble on them. I mean, (John) Calipari (at Kentucky). There is always this controversy, but he's a winner coach in what he can bring. Administrators, it's a little bit different. I mean Bobby Knight goes out to Texas Tech. Calipari gets somebody on probation and then he goes to Memphis and he gets them on probation, and he's still getting hired by the best. It's not quite the same in administration. You don't have that kind of impact.