ATHENS, Ga. (AP) — Derek Dooley says it’s no big deal. His father knows better.
So Vince Dooley is sitting this one out.
The retired Georgia coach will naturally be cheering for his son when Tennessee faces the Bulldogs at Sanford Stadium on Saturday. But the thought of a Dooley pulling for the visiting team between the hedges — well, that was just a little too awkward even for a proud dad whose son followed in his footsteps.
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For the first time, Vince Dooley will take in a Georgia home game from his couch, just a few miles away, rooting for the Vols where no one can see.
“I’m going to sit down and just watch the game on television,” he said in a telephone interview Thursday. “It’s really a lot easier in a lot of ways.”
Dooley coached the Bulldogs for 25 years, leading them to six Southeastern Conference titles and the national championship in 1980. After retiring as a coach, he continued to serve as athletic director until being forced into retirement by university president Michael Adams in 2004.
Now 78, Dooley is still a popular figure at Georgia and that’s where his loyalties remain. But his son Derek was hired this year to coach at SEC East rival Tennessee, making it inevitable that one day out of every year Vince would be favoring orange over red and black.
“I pull for my family. If I don’t pull for my family, I won’t be married very long,” he joked.
Georgia coach Mark Richt said he understands why the man who hired him nearly a decade ago and usually attends every home game wouldn’t want to be around for this one.
“I think that was a smart move,” Richt said. “He doesn’t want to go into Sanford Stadium and root against Georgia. And he doesn’t want to ever root against his son. So he can’t win.”
Derek Dooley said the whole thing is overblown.
“A lot of people are trying to make something out of this,” the 42-year-old coach said. “I left Athens when I was 18. I know I’m not old, but that was a long time ago. I’ve worn a lot of colors since that time.”
For instance, he coached on Nick Saban’s staff at LSU, which gave him three chances to go against his father’s old team. The Tigers won twice, including a blowout win in the 2003 conference championship game. The Bulldogs won in a rout when the teams played in 2004 at Sanford Stadium.
Derek figures it was more emotional returning to Tiger Stadium last week to face LSU than anything he’ll feel this Saturday. He spent five very important years of his life in Baton Rouge, learning the ropes under one of college football’s best coaches.
Heck, Derek already has gone against his father’s team as a player. In 1987, Derek was a freshman receiver at Virginia when the Cavaliers defeated a Dooley-coached Georgia squad 30-22.
“I’ve coached there already as an opponent,” Dooley said from Knoxville. “I’ve played there as an opponent. There won’t be any nostalgia. Probably more at LSU than there would be at Georgia. It’s a very different place than when I grew up.”
That won’t make it any easier for his father.
“In a perfect world, I’d rather him be farther away and not in the same conference. I wish he had been in the far West and not so close,” Vince said. “But it is what it is. We’ll make the make the best of it. I am very proud of him.”
Both teams are desperate for a win.
The Bulldogs (1-4, 0-3 SEC) are mired in a four-game losing streak, their longest since 1990. Tennessee (2-3, 0-2) is coming off a bitter loss to LSU, giving up the winning touchdown with no time on the clock after giving the Tigers an extra play by having too many defenders on the field.
Vince Dooley knows his son has a difficult rebuilding job after taking over a once-powerhouse program that is on its third coach in three years.
“He’s got a tough road, a real tough road,” the father said. “They had a great opportunity to win last week. I doubt they’ll have too many of those opportunities. They’re down in quality and quantity.”
Derek grew up at his father’s side, often sitting in on the post-game news conferences. Vince would have preferred that his son go into another line of work, and that seemed likely when he graduated from Virginia with a degree in government and foreign affairs, then earned a law degree from Georgia.
The younger Dooley practiced law in Atlanta for nearly two years before the family business called.
“I tried to steer him in another direction,” Vince said. “He went to law school and did a good job. I thought he might go into public service. I thought he would be very good at it. But you’ve got to follow your own passions, and that’s what he ended up doing.”
Derek looks at his childhood in Athens from an entirely different perspective. It was a great experience, but he’s all grown up now.
“The Athens that I knew and the Georgia that I knew was my dad coaching as a kid. And that’s it,” he said. “When he stopped coaching and when I went to college, that ended.”
Of course, going into coaching is putting a strain on his mother — especially the last two games. The galling loss to LSU was preceded by a double-overtime win over UAB.
But, unlike her husband, Barbara Dooley intends to be at Sanford Stadium with the rest of the family, putting away her Georgia colors for one week to cheer on her youngest son.
“She keeps asking me, ‘Why an I putting myself through this again? I went through this for 25 years here with you, and now I’m going through it again,'” Vince said with a chuckle. “You can imagine being a wife for all those games. Now your baby son is involved in the same thing.”