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The case for (or against) Derek Dooley

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Examining all the reasons Missouri fans are using to talk themselves into — or out of — enthusiasm for the Tigers’ new offensive coordinator

NFL: Dallas Cowboys at Denver Broncos
Derek Dooley is already a divisive topic for Missouri fans...and he’s not even on the job yet.
Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Usually in this space, to mark the hire of new offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Derek Dooley, I’d launch into a spreadsheet-laden statistical analysis of what his hire could mean for Missouri’s offense, based on the past performance of Dooley’s offenses at his previous coaching stops.

Here’s the thing, though: I can’t. Well, I could, but it would be disingenuous, as Dooley has never had primary responsibility for an offense.

So, bereft of any substantial quantitative means of evaluating Barry Odom’s new offense czar, I fall back on a far more treacherous realm in my computer brain: qualitative.

Namely, I’ve been looking at all the arguments I’ve seen for and against Dooley since his hire was announced Friday, and I’m here to weigh them on their merits.

Indulge me, won’t you?

Dooley Con: His head-coaching tenure at Tennessee was a disaster

Stop it. This does not matter when it comes to determining how good of an offensive coordinator he will be at Missouri. At all. Namely because the position he struggled at during his last SEC stop — head coach — is already being occupied by somebody at Missouri: Barry Odom.

I don’t really feel like this needs to be said, but the responsibilities and expectations of the two positions are so different that to try and derive some quality judgment of one based on his experience in the other is worthless.

Ask Lane Kiffin about it. After flaming out as a head coach at USC, he spent three years coordinating prolific offenses at Alabama before running afoul of the head honcho.

One has nothing to do with the other. Stop it.

Dooley Pro: Even if his Tennessee teams were a mess, those offenses were legit

Stop this, too. Just stop it. As I’ve mentioned earlier, they weren’t his offenses. They were Jim Chaney’s offenses. You know, the guy who got Georgia to the doorstep of a national championship calling plays this year?

(And, before you trot out the “well, at least he knows coaching talent when he sees it” argument ... Kiffin hired Chaney at Tennessee. Dooley just kept him on staff.)

Just because a head coach has experience as an offensive position coach at the college (and, in Dooley’s case, NFL) level, it doesn’t mean that he automatically gets guru credit when the offense of his team (important distinction...not his offense) does well.

But, if you insist on judging Dooley by the merits of the offenses his teams featured, then let’s do that. Yes, the 2012 Tennessee offense was very productive. It had six future NFL Draft picks — including two first-rounders — playing on it. That team put up 36 points and 476 yards a game.

But what about the other five “Dooley offenses” from his years as a college head coach?

Here they are, compared with Heupel’s Missouri offenses (I knew I could fit a spreadsheet in somewhere!):

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(A short legend of abbreviations: TOP = time of possession; PPM = plays per minute; SPP = seconds per play; DBP = dead-ball plays; LBPPM = live-ball plays per minute; LB Pct = % of total plays that are live-ball; PPT = plays per turnover; PPPS = pass play per sack; PPTFL = plays per tackle for loss. Oh, and sacks are counted against pass offense rather than run offense, like in the NFL.)

If we’re going to give Dooley credit for the one year of high-flying Tennessee offense with a stacked depth chart, should we also give him blame for the other five years, in which the offenses never eclipsed 400 yards or 30 points a game?

I say “no.” To both. Because they weren’t his offenses. So stop it.

Dooley Con: He hasn’t had to recruit in six years

This one is kind of valid. Recruiting is hard. And, if you’re out of the practice of traversing the country, stopping by high-school field houses, choking down home-cooked meals of varying quality and telling each and every player how special and one-of-a-kind he is, it can take you a little bit to get back into it.

That’s part of the reason why (to use an extreme example) pretty much everyone thinks this whole Herm Edwards/Arizona State chief football operations officer/whatever that press release called him instead of “head coach” experiment is going to be so...interesting. You think Herm Edwards is going to like going to Chloride, Arizona, after all these years as an NFL head coach/ESPN hotshot?

Nah.

That being said, though, Dooley hasn’t been out of the game as long as Edwards and never reached the peaks Edwards did in the NFL. He’s stayed more grounded. And Jim Harbaugh is a pretty effective counterexample to this. Go the NFL, go back down to college and still dominate on the recruiting trail.

Plus, Dooley does have a bit of NFL cachet attached to his name when he does make house calls. It’s already helped him land one very important recruit, at least.

Dooley Pro: He and his Tennessee staff did well recruiting in the SEC

Did they, though?

Rivals.com ranked the three classes Dooley was head coach for (2010-12) ninth, 13th and 17th nationally, and fifth, sixth and sixth in the SEC. That’s an average of 13th overall, sixth in the league.

The three years before Dooley (2007-09), the Vols ranked third, 35th and 10th, and second, eighth and fourth in the SEC. That’s an average (skewed heavily by one year) of 16th nationally, sixth in the league.

The three years after Dooley (2013-15), the Vols ranked 21st, fifth and fifth nationally, and 10th, third and second in the SEC. So that’s an average of 10th nationally, fifth in the league.

And factor in that that 2013 number (21st) was a class with most of the groundwork laid by Dooley and the 2010 number (ninth) was one where most of the groundwork belonged to Kiffin.

So maybe, all things considered, Dooley and his staff were just average SEC recruiters. And, in the case of that 2012 class, famously offensive line-averse.

Maybe the freedom of recruiting not as the head coach, though, will accentuate Dooley’s strengths. We know he’s smart and personable. And his personality is...ah...unique.

Could play well with recruits when he isn’t really the face of the program.

Dooley Con: He’s never been an offensive coordinator (or QB coach) before

Yeah...don’t really know what to say about that one.

He hasn’t. And that’s normally a pretty big deal, especially when you’re hiring him to keep momentum going on a 500-yard-a-game offense with a quarterback who would like a coach to help take him to the next level.

If you look back to 2013, though, Missouri put a record-setting offense on the field with an offensive coordinator who had never called plays before (Josh Henson) and a quarterbacks coach (Andy Hill) who had never been one before either.

The shine went off that apple pretty quick. But...if you’re looking for reasons for optimism...2013 was a good year.

Dooley Pro: He’s been around NFL teams and will run a Pro-Style offense

The first part is undeniably true. Dooley was the Miami Dolphins’ tight ends coach (2005-06) and the Dallas Cowboys’ wide receivers coach (2013-17). Usually guys don’t just luck into seven years of NFL coaching experience, so that shows some coaching acumen on his part.

The second part? I don’t know. He’s never run an offense before.

He’s been around pro offenses. He’s been around Pro-Style offenses in college. But he’s never been in charge of any of them.

Lock is obviously convinced Dooley represents something new and more translatable to the next level, or else he wouldn’t be coming back for his senior year. What that will ultimately look like remains a mystery.

Dooley Con: Having Lock back is all well and good, but what about 2019 and beyond?

Is Dooley the type of quarterback whisperer that can take someone who isn’t already a record-setting quarterback — say, a Micah Wilson, Taylor Powell or Jack Lowary — and mold him into a solid FBS starter?

Again, we don’t know. He’s never been contracted to whisper to a quarterback in a professional setting before.

If you want to go back to that Hill example, though, Maty Mauk didn’t progress much in 1 1/2 years as a starter after James Franklin moved on (now, where the fault lies there is a debate for another day...), and Lock really didn’t start taking off until Odom brought in a quarterbacks coach by trade: Heupel.

So is luring an NFL name to appease Lock going to hinder the development Missouri’s non-Lock quarterbacks would have received from someone who eats, lives and breathes quarterback play? I guess we’ll never know.

Dooley Pro: He’s a Nick Saban guy

Yes, Dooley worked for Saban for seven years at LSU and with the Dolphins. But, really, if you’re a position coach on the offensive side of the ball working for a defensive coach, does that make you a “XXXX” guy? Is Glen Elarbee a “Barry Odom guy?”

Some would argue “yes.” I say “no.”

I think Dooley being a “Nick Saban guy” is more applicable when it comes to big picture, running a program matters. Like, say, if he were a head coach...which he was...and he didn’t do too well at that.

Really, if we’re going this route, I’d say Dooley is more of a “Jimbo Fisher guy.” Which, you know, isn’t that bad of a thing after all, if we’re talking offensive chops.

Dooley (well, more Mizzou, actually) Con: He was the best option, given the compensation and terms the Tigers were offering

Judging by the USA Today assistant coaches’ database for 2017, $900,000 would have put Dooley fourth among SEC offensive coordinators last year.

That’s the top third of the league. Even with coordinator pricetags rising, $900,000 a year isn’t exactly cheaping out.

You can’t tell me that Missouri couldn’t have gotten someone just as (or more) qualified than Dooley at $900,000 a year. The aforementioned Chaney made $850,000 last year. He’s probably due for a bump, but still.

Maybe the buyout scared people away. But you’ve got to think some up-and-coming, innovative offensive minds could have been had for $900,000 a year, who would’ve had no problem staking their names to an SEC program for three years under penalty of buyout.

But maybe hiring an up-and-comer would’ve risked losing Lock. That’s an important consideration as well, and one I’m not sure we’ll ever get the full accounting for.

Dooley (well, more Mizzou, actually) Pro: The Tigers are loaded next year

Lock, Damarea Crockett, Larry Rountree, Emanuel Hall, Johnathon Johnson, Albert Okwuegbunam, Yasir Durant, Kevin Pendleton, Trystan Castillo, Tre’Vour Simms, Paul Adams, the entirety of a starting offensive line that was among the most protective in the nation this year.

This is an offense built for video-game numbers.

So if you’ve got this many horses in the stable, why do you even need a high-profile offensive coordinator?

I know Joe Jon Finley got dragged for the Texas Bowl, but he didn’t fumble the ball twice and throw an interception. He didn’t punt and down his own offense inside the 20 time after time after time, leading to a truncated playbook.

With all these pieces back, I’d bet he could get a whole offseason under his belt and lord over a 475-yard, 33-point-a-game offense next season.

But then you run into the same problem we talked about earlier: what about 2019? When the talent pool is drier, would a newbie like Finley have enough in his repertoire to keep the offense from falling off a cliff?

And, if the choice was Finley, would Lock have stayed? He seems to feel he’d gone as far as he could in Heupel’s framework.

With a name like Dooley, Missouri gets the security blanket of one more year with Lock, one year to put up big numbers, run an exciting brand of offense and, possibly, entice some big-time playmakers on the recruiting trail to come and see what all the fun’s about.

Maybe that’s been Dooley’s greatest asset all along: keep Lock, let the good times roll, put Missouri in a better position to handle the regression when it comes.

Then, we get to see what kind of offensive coordinator Derek Dooley truly is.