“I asked that very question, ‘Derek, have you lost your mind? You’re brilliant. You’ve got a great legal career,’” Curry recalled. “He smiled, laughed and said, ‘I guess so, but I’ve got to do this coaching stuff.’”
Sixteen years after Dooley began his coaching career, their paths are crossing again. Dooley will lead Tennessee into its home opener Saturday against Georgia State, as Curry continues his final season before retirement.
Of course, this isn’t the first time Curry has squared off with a Dooley.
Curry coached Georgia Tech from 1980-86, when Dooley’s father, Vince, was in the midst of his illustrious career at Georgia. Curry will become the first coach ever to face both Vince and Derek Dooley.
Georgia Tech lost to Georgia by an average margin of 19.5 points in each of Curry’s first four seasons there, but quarterback John Dewberry led the Yellow Jackets to back-to-back victories over their in-state rival in 1984 and ’85 after transferring from Georgia to Georgia Tech.
“I remember a couple of years where Tech beat Georgia and Dewberry was ripping off the hedges,” said Dooley, who was in high school at the time. “(Those are) not fond memories of my childhood.”
The connection actually runs deeper than that.
Curry was a Georgia Tech team captain in 1964, which marked Vince Dooley’s first season as Georgia’s coach. Derek Dooley and Curry’s son, Bill Curry Jr., were teammates at Virginia in 1989 and 1990. Dooley was a senior receiver and Curry Jr. a redshirt freshman long snapper on the 1990 Virginia team was ranked first in the nation at one point. Both enrolled as walk-ons and eventually earned scholarships.
Although Curry Jr. said he had never met Dooley before entering college, he cited Dooley’s success as one of his reasons for picking Virginia.
“The fact he’d gone there as a walk-on and had earned a scholarship was very attractive to me,” Curry Jr. said. “He was a role model, for lack of a better term. I wanted to be like Derek in a very real sense.”
The elder Curry said this week that his family is “eternally indebted” to Dooley for mentoring his son during their time as Virginia teammates. After serving as a graduate assistant on his father’s staff at Kentucky in the mid-1990s, Curry Jr. now works as a medical device sales manager and lives in Waxhaw, N.C., about 20 miles south of Charlotte.
“Derek, with his sense of humor and his attitude, was a tremendous leader,” Curry Jr. said. “He just was the kind of upperclassman who was very respectful and was a guy I felt comfortable reaching out to, if for nothing else than just to feel better about how the day was going.”
Vince Dooley and Curry always had mutual respect even as they tried to beat each other during the 1980s. Having their sons play together added a new dynamic to their relationship.
“It gave us something in common to pull for,” Vince Dooley said.
They now have something else in common. Kennesaw State selected Vince Dooley in December 2009 to chair a committee exploring the feasibility of whether the school should add football. Georgia State launched its football program in 2010 with Curry as its inaugural coach.
“One of the first persons I went to talk to was Bill because of his experience starting football at Georgia State,” Vince Dooley said.
Vince Dooley will head to Knoxville this week to attend the game that will pit his son against his former rival. The reunion won’t be complete, as Curry Jr. plans to spend Saturday coaching his son’s middle-school team in North Carolina.
Curry looks forward to facing a familiar name from his past. Curry admired the kindness Derek Dooley demonstrated as a college student. Now he appreciates the abilities Dooley has shown as a coach.
“I have tremendous respect for Derek,” Curry said. “I know he’ll do an outstanding job at Tennessee.”