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Dooley Says Time with Vols “Made Me a Better Coach”

(Photo via Missouri Athletics)

Derek Dooley didn’t have any restaurant suggestions for the Missouri media contingency on Tuesday, as he didn’t get out much during his time in Knoxville.

But one place in Knoxville that Dooley is very familiar with is Neyland Stadium – the home of a historic football program that he led from 2010-12. In Dooley’s three seasons as the Vols’ head coach, Tennessee was 15-21 and 4-9 in conference play. Dooley’s teams never defeated a ranked opponent in his three seasons at the helm.

“We didn’t get the results we wanted when I was there,” Dooley said to the Missouri media. “But that experience there, 32 months, made me a better coach and made me a better man. In some ways you’re always grateful for every experience.

“It’s been six years. Two coaches, couple ADs, a president, there’s been a lot of change, nobody on the roster.”

Dooley may be downplaying his return to Knoxville, but one thing is for sure: There’s still that awkward feeling between the fan base and their former head coach, even if much of the scrutiny for Tennessee’s downfall has shifted to Butch Jones. After all, the Vols’ 51-48 multi-overtime loss to the Tigers in 2012 was one of the final straws for Dooley.

“I think about it objectively without emotion,” Dooley responded when asked if he still thinks about that game. “That first year after it, I thought about it a lot emotionally. Over time, you think about it more objectively and what you learn from it.

“That was a real key game early but didn’t play great at the end on offense, and we kind of fell apart on the other side. Wild, wild finish.”

Barry Odom’s tenure hasn’t gone according to plans at times at Missouri, but this season Dooley has been able to share some of his head coaching experiences with him. Dooley’s experience has contributed to a 6-4 start, and if a couple of plays go the Tigers’ way, they could very well be sitting at 8-2 with their only losses being to Georgia and Alabama.

“Every place you go, you learn, and you grow from it,” Dooley said. “That’s what experience is. I feel like I’m a lot better than I am today than I was six years ago and that’s because of the experience I had in Knoxville.”

Dooley’s offense arrives in Knoxville as the 17th-best offense in the country in large part because of how balanced they are. Led by Drew Lock at quarterback, the Tigers have thrown 21 touchdowns on the season and rushed for 21 touchdowns as well. Lock – the SEC’s second-leading passer – has thrown for 2,647 yards on the season and is completing 62.5 percent of his passes.

On the ground, Mizzou possess two running backs who have rushed for at least 699 yards. Larry Roundtree sits ninth in the SEC in rushing yards with 758 yards. Damarea Crockett is one spot behind him with 699 rushing yards. Roundtree has rushed for nine touchdowns on the season while Crockett has rushed for seven.

“I think Derek’s done a fantastic job with what they’re doing offensively,” Tennessee coach Jeremy Pruitt said of Missouri’s offense on Monday. “They’ve been able to run the ball. They’ve been committed to it. Done a really nice job protecting the quarterback, and they have lots of experience up front. They have big men, have a good scheme, so we’re going to have to play well to have a chance.”

While Missouri may be potent on offense, the Vols are coming off a dominating defensive performance against then-ranked No. 11 Kentucky. Pruitt’s defense held the Cats’ star running back, Benny Snell, under 80 yards for just the second time this season and held quarterback Terry Wilson to under 200 passing yards.

“Jeremy has done a great job out there,” Dooley said of Pruitt. “They’re playing awesome defense, they’re really getting after the quarterback, stopping the run, playing physical. They have a really good scheme, we all know that.

“It’s going to be a big challenge.”

The Nick Saban coaching tree extends far and wide. On Saturday, two branches will meet as Pruitt and Dooley square off. Pruitt coached at Alabama for nine seasons in various roles while Dooley coached under Saban at LSU for multiple seasons.

“We both worked for Coach Saban at different times,” Pruitt said of his relationship with Dooley. “I know that some of the guys I’ve worked with have a whole lot of respect for him, what kind of coach that he’s been when they worked with him on staff.

“It’ll be a tremendous challenge for us.”

Both coach’s latest challenge will kick-off at 3:30 p.m. on Saturday.

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