UT coaches' families endure football ups and downs

7:18 PM, Nov 12, 2012   |    comments
  • Former UT Head Coach Johnny Majors
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At his Monday press conference, Tennessee head football coach Dooley said Athletic Director Dave Hart told him no decision has been made yet on whether the coach will be fired or retained.  Dooley also spoke candidly about family members being bombarded with phone calls about rumors regarding his job status.

"My kids are getting banged up on their phone, the way my wife is getting banged up, everybody said I was fired," said Dooley.

Family Business

If anyone knows what it is like to be the family member of a head coach in the Southeastern Conference, it is UT head football coach Derek Dooley.  Derek grew up while his father, Vince Dooley, served as head coach of the Georgia Bulldogs.  Dooley and other coaches may know what they are getting into when they take over marquee football programs, but that knowledge does not necessarily make it any easier on family members.

Family members are front-and-center when head coaches are introduced at the University of Tennessee. Lane Kiffin stood with his then-pregnant wife when they were formally introduced as members of the UT family of coaches.  Messages about Kiffin's wife, complimentary and not, were spray painted on the campus rock during his tenure and early departure from the University of Tennessee.

The night Kiffin resigned to take the head job at Southern Cal, WBIR aired a series of comments from fans.  That included one that questioned why Kiffin would leave so soon after naming his "first-born son Knox."

When coach Derek Dooley signed on as Kiffin's replacement in January 2010, Dooley's wife, Allison Jeffers Dooley, and their children also stood at the podium.  Allison gave interviews to local media while she held their then six-year-old daughter Juliana.  Juliana proudly said "Go Big Orange" into the WBIR microphone.

The family business of coaching can be a blessing and a curse.

"Well the hardest thing is your family," said Dooley on Monday.  "The hardest thing is when they're seeing things that are contrary to what their dad tells them. That's where it gets a little tough, but that's part of the profession. We have to deal with it."

Former UT head football coach Johnny Majors echoed Dooley's sentiments during an interview Monday.  

"When I was here at Tennessee, my kids were in grade school and high school," said Majors.  "When you don't have a good season and your team is struggling, it's tough on the head coach and also on your family, your wife, and your kids."

Majors said he told his family to prepare for criticism while remaining polite and optimistic.  Majors recalled a situation where his son was shopping and overheard employees at the store bad-mouthing the performance of UT's head football coach.

"My son said, would you charge that please? My dad has an account. He [the employee] said, 'Well who is your dad?' He [my son] said, 'Coach John Majors.' That cut them off at that point," laughed Majors.  "But he [my son] knew how to handle it and my wife did a great job of handling it."

University of Tennessee student journalist Lauren Kittrell serves as sports editor for The Daily Beacon campus newspaper.  Kittrell recently observed the toll fan criticism and abuse can take on family members of coaches. 

"I was covering the game against South Carolina and after the game the Gamecock fans were badgering the UT players and also yelled some things at Dooley's family.  I saw how it affected his [Dooley's] wife and son," said Kittrell.  "After the press conference I saw him [Dooley] come out and just sit on the ground with his wife and son and just kind of put his arm around his son.  It just touched me."

The experience compelled Kittrell to write an op-ed piece titled "Dooley rumor in perspective" that received tremendous reader response.

"It kind of went viral.  I could not believe how many times it was shared or tweeted about," said Kittrell.  "I think it got such a big response because it struck a chord with people. In Tennessee, in this area, people do value family. They were able to relate with that situation in a way they are not normally able to relate to being the head coach at the University of Tennessee."

Majors said although being the relative of a highly-scrutinized head coach can be arduous, the bad times can also provide a valuable learning experience for children.

"They learned some good lessons about real life. When you hold a position of importance to people, you are going to be criticized a lot in any position that holds the public's interests.  That is the case whether you are the head coach, the governor, or any other position the public cares about."

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