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N. C. State—Tennessee Preview #22: The Head Ball Coaches

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TOB puts more America on hats. Dooley puts more Bhutan on pants. Will it matter on August 31st?  (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)
TOB puts more America on hats. Dooley puts more Bhutan on pants. Will it matter on August 31st? (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)
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I am not a big fan of Derek Dooley, but for a while I could not put my finger on exactly why. Then it hit me like a pair of giant orange push-up frozen treats. It's those god-awful pants. Out of context, you know, it's like whatever. Wear you some ugly-ass pants for the sake of media whoring if that's your thing. I ain't tryna hate. But, in the context of being a long-suffering State fan, it is impossible to see Dooley strutting around in those ridiculous orange pants and not think of Sidney Lowe's equally garish red blazer. So, I dislike Dooley because his pants conjure demons of the Lowe era I might otherwise successfully repress.

But, as I attempt to somehow segue this paragraph from Dooley's haute couture to a relatively serious discussion about the kickoff classic coaches, I must point out that clothes do not make the coach. Bill Belichick has proven that. So, if Tom O'Brien comes out with America hat a'blazin, and Dooley dons disco pants, it won't make one iota of difference in the final score.

A pertinent question would be: do either of these coaches offer a clear advantage to one team over the other? Well, let's see.

TOB, a 22-year assistant under George Welsh before embarking on a 15-year stint as a head coach, certainly has the edge in experience. TOB has posted a 108-75 (.590) career mark, including an impressive 8-2 record in bowls. After a sluggish start to his Wolfpack tenure, things have been trending up, with back-to-back seasons of 8+ wins and consecutive bowl victories. TOB has coached 33 NFL draftees (including 5 first-rounders), so he either recruits better than he is given credit for, or he and his staff can really coach guys up. And TOB may have 2 more first-round picks on his squad in David Amerson and Mike Glennon.

TOB has a high floor but a low ceiling. Though he is known for his ability to consistently produce 8 and 9-win seasons, he has never taken a team to 10 wins or challenged for a national championship. He will run a solid program, one that rarely embarrasses itself on or off the field, but, especially at the tail end of his career, a run at a national championship, or even a top-10 finish, seems unlikely.

Dooley, having just 5 years of head coaching experience, including just 2 years at a major school, is much more of an unknown commodity. He has had little success so far at stints at La. Tech and UT (28-34, .452), and things seem to be trending the wrong way in K-town, as the Vols are coming off a 5-7 season that included just one SEC win. Dooley has had just one player drafted since he arrived in Knoxville and 3 in his entire head-coaching career. These are not exactly selling points for recruits. But, as noted here, the Vols were unlucky last year in terms of YPP, and they also had major injury issues. Dooley's Vols could be poised for a breakout.

While Dooley has yet to enjoy sustained success as the head man, he did come to Tennessee with an impressive pedigree. His dad, of course, is the legendary Vince Dooley, who won over 70% of his games in 25 years at the helm of the Georgia Bulldogs. Dooley took the Dogs to 20 bowls and won a national championship in 1980, posting a 12-0 mark behind Herschel Walker. Dooley the younger served as a graduate assistant at UGA, a WR coach at SMU, and was the recruiting coordinator for Nick Saban at LSU before following Saban to the Dolphins. Obviously, if Derek ends up enjoying anything resembling pop or Saban's success, he can strut down the sidelines wearing nothing but orange body paint and no one in Knoxville will care. The hope that he could emulate his mentors was certainly the driving force behind his hire.

Dooley and TOB actually share a mentor in Welsh, who coached Dooley at UVA while TOB was an assistant coach for the Hoos. Dooley was a walk-on WR who earned a scholarship; he caught 41 balls for 604 yards (14.7 ypr) and 3 touchdowns in his career. Though TOB has coached the OL and TE positions and served as an offensive coordinator, he played collegiately on the other side of the ball as a 3-year starter at DE for the Naval Academy. In addition to his much greater longevity, TOB has played on one side of the ball and been a coach and coordinator on the other, adding to his experience advantage.

Dooley, unlike the consistent, measured, disciplined former marine, is likely a home run or a colossal swing and miss gamble of a hire by former UT AD Mike Hamilton. Dooley may be more likely than TOB to pilot his team to the new BCS playoff down the road, but if he does not make significant strides in that direction he will be out of a job and some lucky Vol fan will get a steal of a deal on some 34-32 orange slacks on eBay. Dooley's seat is certainly as hot as his hot orange pants, and new AD Dave Hart will not hesitate to put his stamp on the program by finding a replacement. That kind of pressure could be a motivator, but more than likely it will prove to be an albatross hanging over Dooley and his squad all season. TOB is certainly the more likely of the 2 to be roaming the sidelines next season.

I don't know if either coach will make an appreciable difference on the outcome on August 31st, but, especially given his record in bowl games, if I had to pick a coach to win one game, it would be TOB.