Bill Dooley, who coached football at the college level for 36 years and made head-coaching stops at North Carolina, Virginia Tech and Wake Forest, passed away Tuesday morning at the age of 82. We look back to his final season in Winston-Salem, when he guided the Demon Deacons to an 8-4 finish just a year after they posted a 3-8 record.
From Vol. XVI, Issue 3 of The PooP Sheet, September 25 – October 8, 1992
Dooley’s ACC Impact Has Been Profound
Few men have had as forcible an impact on Atlantic Coast Conference football as Bill Dooley, who presumably will bid farewell to the conference at the end of the 1992 season.
Everyone was surprised and no one was surprised Aug. 25 when Dooley announced that his sixth season at Wake Forest would be his last, even though his contract was not due to expire until the end of the 1993 season.
If he had fulfilled his contract, Dooley probably would have become the winningest head coach in ACC history. He needs seven victories, however, and at the current pace that’s no foregone conclusion.
Dooley entered the season with a 21-32-1 record at Wake, but the Deacs are 5-24-1 over the past three seasons and lost 17 consecutive conference games – one short of the ACC record – before a late-season victory over Duke in 1991.
Dooley would have set all sorts of ACC coaching records if not for a fateful decision that caused him to leave North Carolina after a successful 11-year run (1967-77) to become the head football coach and athletic director at Virginia Tech.
Neither the schools nor the man have ever been the same.
After going 2-8 and 3-7 in his first two seasons at North Carolina, Dooley directed the Tar Heels to three ACC championships. Carolina won 15 straight conference games between 1970-72, including back-toback undefeated seasons in the ACC.
Although Maryland was the ACC’s dominant program during the mid-1970s, Carolina went 5-0-1 and won the championship in Dooley’s last season, 1977. Carolina’s only title since then was in 1980, when a few of Dooley’s recruiting classes were still on campus.
Some would say Dooley felt unappreciated in Chapel Hill, but compared to successor Dick Crum, he was revered. Carolina eventually bought out Crum ‘s contract after a 10-year term that included one winning season in his last four.
There is reason to believe, if Dooley had stayed at North Carolina, that the wins would have been harder to come by. Clemson had six straight losing seasons between 1968-73, and Dooley’s only consistent opposition came from Jerry Claiborne at Maryland.
By the early 1980s, Charley Pell and Danny Ford had rebuilt the Clemson program, George Welsh had arrived on the scene at Virginia and Georgia Tech was admitted to the conference. There was no dropoff in the Maryland program under Claiborne’s successor, Bobby Ross.
Philosophically, there has been little to separate Dooley and Crum. To this day, Carolina remains tailback-oriented, without a single quarterback who has passed for 2,000 yards in a season. Even under current coach Mack Brown, who arrived as something of a guru of the passing game, Carolina’s passing game has been a joke.
Dooley was an outstanding coach when he had outstanding talent, which was Crum’s problem. He never had outstanding talent. Crum allowed Carolina’s talent base to erode, failing to place the needed recruiting emphasis on North Carolina and Virginia, and the Dooley years began to look better and better.
Dooley was considered a good recruiter, although recruiting for Carolina wasn’t like selling Pintos. He may still be a good recruiter, but who would ever know? Wake’s football tradition isn’t glossy enough to lure players away from the perennial powers.
As a result, the Deacons have been near the bottom of the ACC in talent and not uniquely suited to Dooley’s ball-control scheme. True, Wake has been among the ACC leaders in passes attempted over the course of Dooley’s tenure, but it’s a short-passing game not designed to stretch defenses.
What Wake needs — in fact, what most downtrodden programs need — is a Steve Spurrier, an offensive genius waiting to implement his system. Wake had a Steve Spurrier for a couple of years in youthful alumnus John Mackovic, but Mackovic stayed at Wake for only three years (1978-80), the same duration as Spurrier’s tenure at Duke.
Understand, Dooley did not come to Wake Forest because it was a perfect situation. After eight years at Virginia Tech, where he was 64-37-1, Dooley ran afoul of the NCAA and the administration and was offered a highly lucrative million dollar settlement.
Dooley, in his twin jobs as AD and coach, was able to pad his record against an easy schedule that included as many as five games against teams now classified Division I-AA. Yet, there can be little question that Tech’s program, just like North Carolina’s, was better under Dooley than it was after he left.
Of the schools where he has coached, Dooley has had the least impact at Wake Forest. Dooley left the impression that predecessor Al Groh left little talent in his last couple of classes, but how much talent will there be for the man who succeeds Dooley?
There was reason to believe Wake might surprise people this year with 15 returning starters, including 11 seniors, but the Deacons needed to convert a fourth-and-one with 1:11 left for their winning (and only) touchdown in a 10-7 victory over Appalachian State.
It was Wake’s second win in five years over the Mountaineers, which couldn’t come as any surprise. When the Deacons sign players, frequently the competition is from Division I-AA schools. Wake does not consistently outrecruit any other ACC programs.
Much is made of Wake’s high academic standards, but one of Dooley’s chief problems has been holding onto players he does sign. The Deacs lost 35 of 77 players to academics over a four-year period, primarily because the school does not have a curriculum that eases the transition for athletes.
It’s small wonder that Dooley became frustrated and either proposed or eagerly accepted Wake’s offer to pay him for the final year of his contract. He continues to receive money from his settlement at Virginia Tech, which means Dooley will get two checks next year, even though he won’t be coaching.
At the time of his announcement, Dooley took pains to explain that he had not been forced to resign. Later, Wake President Thomas Hearn wrote a letter to Deacon Club members stressing his support for football and, in a meeting with North Carolina reporters Bill Brill and Chip Alexander, denied that he had fired Dooley.
Dooley said he may enter business, but hasn’t ruled out a return to coaching. It seems unlikely that Dooley at his age – 58 – would be the man to breathe fresh life into a program, but stranger things have happened.
Dooley’s alma mater, Mississippi State, could be in the market for a head coach if Jackie Sherrill bolts for the NFL or a more prestigious college job (or gets fired for castrating bulls) after this year.
More than one coach has credited Dooley for raising the level of ACC football during his Carolina years, yet the Wake Forest experience has turned Dooley into something of a forgotten figure. However, nobody can say Dooley wasn’t responsible for his own fate.
As for Wake, the Deacons appear to be no worse for their Dooley experience. It was a mediocre program before Dooley got there; it’s a mediocre program — maybe that’s charitable — now. But one can only imagine how ACC football history might have been different if Dooley had stayed at Carolina.