Aware of perceived shortcomings, Derek Dooley out to stiff-arm doubters in new role
Missouri's new offensive coordinator, a 21-year coaching veteran, has never called an offense before
COLUMBIA, Mo. -- Derek Dooley plopped a 500-page ring-bound playbook on his desk for emphasis.
"You want to see the dumbest thing I can do?" Missouri's new offensive coordinator asked. "It's to say, 'Here's what we're running, boys.' "
The playbook contains the Dallas Cowboys' offensive install from one of the five years Dooley coached receivers in Big D (2013-17).
"I showed Drew [Lock]," Dooley said of the elite quarterback he has inherited at Mizzou. "He's looking like, 'Holy shit!"
Lock is coming off a record-setting season in which he threw the most touchdown passes (44) in SEC history. After deciding to bypass next month's draft, the soon-to-be senior is locked in as one of the top quarterback prospects in 2019.
He is also a piece of the fulcrum on which the careers of Dooley and coach Barry Odom may tilt.
Missouri's confident, gregarious, outgoing offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach is comfortable in his own skin. Still, he gets why folks are questioning his credentials for this job.
In his 21-year career, Dooley has never called an offensive play or coached quarterbacks.
Yet he was hired to do both by the Tigers following the departure of Josh Heupel to UCF.
"Sure, it should matter," Dooley said of questions about his experience. "It's fair. … You know you're going to make first-time mistakes, but you hope it's overcome by all this other experience that some coordinators don't have."
That experience has included climbing the coaching ladder with Nick Saban at both LSU and the Miami Dolphins (2000-06). It includes a starter head coaching job at Louisiana Tech (2007-09) before the harsh reality of Tennessee (2010-12).
"I can give you 800 excuses, but at the end of the day, I had three years and I didn't get it done," said Dooley, who was dismissed after a three-year record of 15-21 with the Vols.
"Prior to 2012, my whole career had been like this [gesturing upward]. Everything worked," he added. "Like any young person, you think you got it. That's what life does to you. It cuts your balls off."
There is something about a fired coach in the SEC these days. They become celebrity lightning rods. Sometimes they are mocked. It's not just a firing; it's a branding.
For various failings, these former SEC head coaches are off the field at the moment: Hugh Freeze, Butch Jones, Bret Bielema and Les Miles.
"The narrative of my tenure every time is [it's] the disaster of all-time," Dooley said. "I get all that. What they don't see is we lost four SEC games on the last drive that last year. We were an abomination on defense. It wasn't like we were getting run out of the stadium."
Then Dooley caught himself. He's going down a well-traveled road of excuses. He promised himself he wasn't going to do that when he got fired.
"I called some former head guys who had been in that situation," he said. "I was struggling. You hear them just venting, so angry, blaming. You know how coaches are, 'It ain't my fault.'"
Dooley and Cowboys tight end Jason Witten -- a former Tennessee star -- had a running joke whenever they heard the blame game.
"Hey, nobody really gives a shit," Dooley said.
It took Odom four days in early January to hire Dooley, who either left on his own or was fired from the Cowboys after those five seasons. It doesn't really matter now.
"It wasn't like he threw a dart," Dooley said. "The one thing that has come to light … everywhere you go, how you treat people, how you work, comes back."
The pair share the same representative in super-agent Jimmy Sexton. Odom says he heard good things about Dooley from former Mizzou assistant Matt Eberflus, who worked with him in Dallas.
"The amount of decisions he had to make as a head coach, he's going to be OK if he has to make a [short yardage] call," Odom said of Dooley. "He worked for Nick Saban for seven years.
"If you're not pretty good, you're not going to last in that system. He was also the [athletic director] and coach at Louisiana Tech at the same time. That's damn near impossible."
Odom has been quoted that both he and Dooley each have something to prove.
"I think it's pretty obvious what he wants to prove," Dooley said. "This is his first job."
Odom, 41, goes into his third season as a head coach with an 11-14 mark. A top defensive coach, Odom is on his second defensive coordinator (Ryan Walters) while still calling defensive plays himself.
Dooley's outlook: "I needed to get re-stimulated X and O-wise. … With Nick, I was like his right-hand guy. I used to be part of the decision making. You're impacting. You're not like just sewing a button."
The second half of this story involves a significant quarterback to coach up. Missouri won its last six regular-season games with Lock and Heupel taking off together.
In those six games, Lock threw for almost 2,000 yards and 26 touchdown passes with only five interceptions. That was in a pure zone-read spread. It could be that Lock's numbers decline with Dooley's offensive tweaks even as the quarterback gets better.
Dooley plans to install what he calls four offenses in one: some pro-style from the Cowboys, some Tennessee stuff, some zone-read stuff, and stuff Dooley says he has always wanted to do.
The point? Lock is getting his wish. Odom says his quarterback waited until Dooley's hiring to commit to another season. Lock reportedly made it be known he wanted to learn some NFL concepts to prepare him for the 2019 draft.
"The trick is, it's not this hodge-podge of shit," Dooley said.
Lock was honored recently as one of 35 players invited to the NCAA Elite Student-Athlete Symposium. In the second year of existence for football, it teaches life skills, agent selection and financial awareness.
"I'm trying to give him every tool imaginable," Odom said.
Something to prove? There is a lot of that at Missouri. Dooley has already thought ahead to how this latest job move might play out.
"Nobody is going to change their opinion on whether this was a dumb hire or a good hire," Dooley said. "If we go out there and stink next year, we stink. It's a dumb hire.
"If I go out there and do a good job for the program, then half of them will say, 'It's a good hire.' The other half will say, 'He's just lucky as shit and had a good quarterback.'"
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