BenFred: Mizzou offense in good hands — if Dooley’s walk matches his talk

February 24, 2018 GMT

If Derek Dooley works his new offense as well as he worked the room Thursday night, I will spend fall Saturdays eating crow from the Mizzou football media buffet.

I was critical of Barry Odom’s offensive coordinator hire. My reasons can be read here. Those concerns remain.

But I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t impressed by the former Dallas Cowboys receivers coach when he grabbed the microphone toward the end of the local Mizzou Tiger Club’s recruiting night with the coaches in Maryland Heights.

Pretty much every significant team participates in these events. Head coaches and their assistants hit the road to brag about the incoming freshmen they signed. On this side of the state, Mizzou coaches once again addressed concerns about local stars who will be incoming freshmen elsewhere.

“I know there were a lot of people who were a little upset about us not getting kids out of St. Louis,” defensive line coach Brick Haley told the crowd at Orlando’s. “But that’s not because of effort, because I’ve been with (lead St. Louis recruiter) Coach (Cornell) Ford on many occasions, and I’m going to tell you, he works his ass off to get these kids ... I can tell you this, between Coach Ford and Coach Odom, and the little part that I played in it, hell, we signed the best tackle in St. Louis. That was to get get Terry Beckner to come back. Terry went out and got his evaluation from the NFL. The grade he got back said go to the NFL. But he came back for another year. He will help us more than any freshman we will have that will come in and play for us in August. Our best recruiting job was to get him back here.”

That would have gone down as the most colorful quote of the evening — until Dooley happened.

The Tigers’ new offensive coordinator played the role of closer, and he might still be talking if there wasn’t a team workout scheduled for 5:30 a.m. on Friday in Columbia.

“I’m excited to be here,” Dooley told the fans.

He pulled the microphone from the podium.

He started to pace.

“I was at the Dallas Cowboys the last five years,” Dooley said. “One of the reasons I was there was because of Missouri.”

Dooley paused, allowing time to connect the dots. His second-to-last loss as University of Tennessee head coach in 2012 came at the hands of a Gary-Pinkel-coached Tigers team. The Volunteers squandered a 21-7 halftime lead and lost in the fourth overtime.

“Yeah, you all know what I’m talking about,” Dooley said as he began to hear chuckles. “We’re sitting there, kind of cruising in the game, and next time I look up, we are in a four-overtime game. And we lose. For some reason, the fans weren’t real happy about that. They kicked my ass out of town, and I went on with the Cowboys.”

Laughter roared.

Dooley was rolling.

Here some highlights:

Dooley on Missouri winters ...

“This is the furthest West and North I’ve ever been. I’ve been a Gulf, you know, Sunbelt guy. I coached at Texas, LSU, Louisana Tech, Miami with the Dolphins, Georgia, of course Tennessee. So, when I got here, my first experience. I’m driving this nice, new truck. I look down and I saw something I’ve never seen. It (the dashboard) said negative four. I was like, holy smokes, this is going to be a little different. So, I’m waiting for the sun to come out.”

Dooley on what his offense will look like ...

“I’m not telling Ryan. (Tigers defensive coordinator Ryan Walters happened to be standing next to him.) I was sitting around with our coaching staff like, we need to invent some word (for the offense), for recruiting. They’ve got all these names (for offenses). Air Raid, and all this new stuff. Here’s what I’ll tell you. It’s not my offense. It’s going to be our offense. Because Missouri did some really good things last year on offense. And I would be a fool to come in and throw out everything they did. A lot of the things they did, to be frank with you, I haven’t been exposed to a lot. It’s been really stimulating to me to sort of watch and learn and talk to coaches, to Drew (Lock), and learn a little bit about what they did. We are incorporating some of the things they did really well. We are incorporating a lot of the things we (the Cowboys) did that I learned over the past five years that can hopefully add to and make us a little more flexible and multiple in how we attack defenses. And then we are going to incorporate some things we did at Tennessee. It’s a little bit of a merger of a lot of offenses.”

Dooley on the timetable for players learning this merged system ...

“We can’t come in and say, well, it’s taking a long time to learn the system. I see that all the time. I’ll tell you right now: I’m not going to be one of those guys that says, well, it takes a while to learn the system, so stick with me for four or five years, OK? I get it. We’ve got a quarterback who has one year left. And he’s a good player. So, it’s my goal that he goes out there and he’s able to perform as well as he did last year, even better, and he’s not sitting there thinking, being slow in his decision making. That’s the goal ... It’s going to be a little work in progress this spring. Because you don’t really know what you’re going to look like until you get out there with the players. And then, after spring, we will sit down, reconvene, and sort of shape how we are going to look in the summer and during training camp. Then, hopefully, the product will look like what you want in the fall.”

Dooley on his role in steering star quarterback Drew Lock back for his senior season ...

“Well, Drew is a Missouri guy. Let’s start with that. In Drew’s heart, Drew didn’t want to go to the NFL. I believe that. It wasn’t anything magical that I did. I think, certainly, he had a full comfort level with Coach Odom, with how he’s running the program, with the guys on the team. He had no issues with any of that. I’m just sure he wanted to have some sense of what is this offense going to look like? I think Drew felt like he needed a little more development, and a little taste of a different kind of system that might not just help him win more games here, but also help him in the future.”

(For the record, Dooley is being modest here. Lock had expressed an interest in playing in a system better suited for his development as an NFL quarterback. He is excited about working with Dooley.)

Dooley on if he plans to increase the use of tight ends moving forward ...

“Yes. Yes. Yes. And yes. One of the great benefits of being with the Cowboys is, I’ve probably watched one of the most complete tight ends in the history of the NFL, Jason Witten. Man, when you see a guy work like that and perform like that, it really changes your standard of what good is. We will see if our guys can do some of the things he did. We are certainly going to give them an opportunity.”

Dooley on adapting the offense to the strengths of his players, such as incoming freshman running back Tyler Badie ...

“Tyler is a smaller guy. He’s got different traits. He’s a space player. One of our goals this year on offense is to be able to utilize some of these different body types, who have some traits to do things a little differently than the conventional way. A lot of you guys watched (New Orleans Saints running back) Alvin Kamara. Now I’m not saying Tyler is Alvin Kamara, so don’t jump to conclusions, but he (Kamara) was a back that couldn’t get on the field at Bama. He goes to Tennessee, and he wasn’t really the star he is now. But he goes to New Orleans. They use him in a little different way. They put him in on some match-ups against these linebackers in space, and all of a sudden, he’s rookie of the year.”

Dooley on if the improvement of the men’s basketball team helps football recruiting ...

“It’s always good to get exposure. But, you know, I mean, there’s a lot of good basketball programs out there whose football team stinks. So, let’s be honest. You know what I mean?”

(This was when one fan yelled: “Kansas!”)

“I wasn’t going to say it,” Dooley answered.

Time will tell how the Dooley OC era plays out.

The man had some legendary press conferences at Tennessee. His 15-21 record wasn’t so fun.

But this much is certain. Dooley will never, ever be dull. And I appreciate that.