IRVING, Texas – It took some work on Jason Garrett’s part to bring one of his good friends back to a city he hadn’t coached in since 1999.
Jerry Jones described the respect Garrett had for Derek Dooley and the tremendous input Dooley will have in the passing game this season, and Garrett expounded Jones’ comments.
“He’s coached receivers, he’s coached tight ends, he’s coached running backs, he’s coached special teams,” Garrett explained, “and the depth of his knowledge about football is really significant. Also having been a head coach at the college level a couple of different places, the perspective that he brings I think is a really helpful one to me.”
Dooley served as the head coach at Louisiana Tech and at the University of Tennessee, where he replaced Monte Kiffin’s son, Lane. Prior to that, Dooley was an offensive position coach for two years with the Dolphins, alongside Garrett.
But Garrett and Dooley had been friends long before meeting in Miami. Their relationship blossomed in the late ‘90s, when Garrett did a football camp for children at Coppell High School. At the time, Dooley coached receivers at SMU.
“We had a lot of the SMU coaches come over and help us with our camp, so I’ve known him close to 20 years now,” Garrett said. “He’s a good friend. We had an opportunity to work together with Nick Saban in Miami. I was coaching the quarterbacks and he was coaching the tight ends. We maintained that friendship.
“One of the things that is really interesting about Derek is that he grew up in a football family. He grew up on the sidelines of University of Georgia football. He just has a lot of knowledge and wisdom about the game. He’s coached a lot of positions.”
Jones liked that Dooley could come in immediately and incorporate some of his ideas from the college game.
Dooley’s hiring marked the first position coach brought on this season with a direct coaching history with Garrett, who understood that Dooley holds a broad and deep spectrum of football knowledge.
“He understands, as Nick Saban used to say, you guys are looking at this thing through a straw, meaning everybody views the entire game through what their responsibility is,” Garrett said. “As a head coach, you have to step back and see the whole landscape and see what is best for your football team. Derrick, having been in that situation for six years, understands that perspective.”
Garrett said a lot of college ideas are being incorporated into the professional game. In his own division alone, the Eagles hired Oregon coach Chip Kelly to lead the group. Last year, the Redskins developed their whole offense to fit the versatile style of rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III.
It was possible the Cowboys would never get to hear the college ideas brought forth by Dooley, though, because he wasn’t looking for work immediately after his time at Tennessee was through.
Teams inquired about the former Vols coach and tried to entice him, but Dooley still needed time to get himself right in December and January after his time in Tennessee ended abruptly. Dooley said he wouldn’t be in Dallas if it wasn’t a tremendous opportunity and he didn’t feel like he could help.
It also took some inquiring on Garrett’s part.
“I’ve bounced ideas off of him through the years,” Garrett said. “We talked after the season. Essentially I was asking him, ‘What are your plans? What are you thinking about doing? He signed on to do some TV stuff. I think he was interested in continuing to be a college head coach and wondering if that opportunity was going to happen. That was it.”
The two talked a few more times, but it wasn’t until the Senior Bowl that discussions really turned to potential employment offers with the Cowboys.
“We got into a conversation,” Garrett said. “We had a couple of spots open on offense and we brought him in. I know him really well, but I think it’s really important when you know someone if you’re the head coach to collectively interview someone we bring in.
“He really makes a great impression on people. I was like hey, Dools, what do you think about this? His wife is from Fort Worth. He’s married to Patrick Jeffers’ sister. The area is very familiar to them, and he coached at SMU before. We started putting it all together and it seemed like a good opportunity from him, and it was certainly good for us.”