The University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff took another step in their head football coaching search on Tuesday morning as Grambling State University offensive coordinator and wide receivers coach Eric Dooley addressed a crowd of Golden Lions faithful during his meet and greet session.
Dooley followed Henderson State University head coach Scott Maxfield and Alcorn State University defensive coordinator Cedric Thomas, both of whom spoke at UAPB last week. Maxfield has since bowed out of consideration after HSU offered him a contract extension to stay in Arkadelphia. UAPB began its coaching search a few weeks ago after firing Monte Coleman following a string of losing seasons.
As a native of New Orleans, Louisiana, Dooley is highly familiar with the Southwestern Athletic Conference due to the fact that he's been coaching in the league since 1997.
Dooley earned his bachelor's degree from Southern University, and he later earned a master’s degree from Grambling.
Dooley said that football has always been a part of his life, and he has had a long-time passion for the game. Getting to play on the highest level of football was Dooley's goal as young high school, college, and professional wide-receiver. After his high school playing career, Dooley went on to play at Grambling.
Dooley didn't initially graduate; he landed a job with Arizona Rattlers in the Arena Football League instead. After a stint in the AFL, Dooley was invited to attended pre-season camp for the Calgary Stampedes in the Canadian Football League, and with the Worlds League Taipae Dragons. Unfortunately, Dooley's playing career was cut short due to injuries, and from there he had to find what was next.
"What really drew me into coaching was I got injured and released," Dooley said. "I didn't know where to go from there, then the Lord brought it to my attention where if you can not make it, you can help someone else make it. Through my time spent at Southern, I was able to gather some things that I wanted to accomplish in my life. The passion I had for the game of football became the game of life as well. At that time, I start preparing myself for when that does happen. I didn't expect it to be coaching 21 years of collegiate football, but if the Lord has something for you then no one can take it away from you."
Dooley's first coaching experience came on the high school level as the wide receiver's coach at Alcee Fortier Senior High and at McMain High School as the offensive coordinator. Former Southern Coach Pete Richardson gave Dooley his first shot at coaching on the collegiate level, and now he has 20 years of experience behind him.
"I started my college coaching career there in 1997, and I didn't know it would last this long," Dooley said. "I was just doing something to occupy my time because I had just got cut from another league, and I still wanted to be involved in football. I met a young man by the name of Pete Richardson that instilled in me a lot of things that I carry around today as we speak. I coached there (Southern University) for 14 years and was fortunate enough to win four SWAC championships and three national championships.
"I had the opportunity to come to the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, which was a pleasant stay for me. It didn't last long, three years, but I got the opportunity to win another SWAC championship and a national championship. I had a great time here and my family enjoyed it as well. I then moved on to my alma mater Grambling State University, and I won back-to-back SWAC championships. I'm still upset about Saturday, but I'm not worried because of regardless of where I'm at I'll be back there next year."
What upset Dooley was Grambling's loss in the Celebration Bowl. Dooley made it known that if he was named the next head coach at UAPB he has an idea of personnel as far as players, and he's confident that they can get there.
"I do make a bold statement," Dooley said. "When we've had to play against you guys the past couple of years that I've been away I've had to look at the defense and what they're doing and the talent level. I'm not just looking at what schemes they're running, to me that's not really hard to figure out. I'm trying to look at the integral parts and the unknowns. I'm accessing what did they do, what their capabilities are, and what did they not do. That's the reason that I'm here interviewing at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, I feel like they have all the pieces I need."
In Dooley's eyes, if he doesn't expect the best then how can he instill that confidence in his program? He specifically noted that he didn't want anyone to misjudge his confidence as arrogance.
"My answers are very confident answers, but there's nothing about being arrogant," Dooley said. "I'm positive, and If I look at the negative I'm never going to move forward. Everything that I answer will be in a positive way because If I don't believe it, why should they?"
In 2011, Dooley was hired on the UAPB staff as the offensive coordinator, a position he held for three years. During his previous time at UAPB, Dooley helped lead the Golden Lions to a SWAC championship. Former SWAC MVP Ben Anderson was fortunate to be under the tutelage of Dooley, and he was able to hold the starting quarterback position for four years.
"At the time when I came to the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, I had never been an offensive coordinator, but that never bothered me because I've been around the game of football all my life," Dooley said. "As I moved on closer and got to certain statures, that's when my mind-set was to become a head coach. I've always submitted to authority, I did my job, and what they wanted me to do there and the rest has taken care of itself."
In 2016 at Grambling, Dooley was named the American Football Coaches Association Division I FCS Assistant Coach of the Year. Dooley was humbled by the award, and he credited the help he had during the process.
"It really was an honor, and I didn't expect it," Dooley said. "It goes back to hard work, passion, and love for the individuals that you're coaching. I think more than that, the guys that surrounded me, and that helped me in preparing that offense gave me that opportunity. I had guys that did some tireless acts that help me get some things going to have such a successful offense. As I state that, it's an individual that's in this room today that actually was on that staff at that time that afforded me that opportunity. He came in, did work, and never asked questions, and that's Robert Bailey.
Robert Bailey Jr. is currently the wide receivers coach at UAPB, and with changes coming in the near future many coaches from the former regime aren't quite sure what's next for him. However, for Dooley, if he was named head coach he states that he has a staff formed, and they're ready to hit the ground rolling.
"I have no process, If I'm named the head coach at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff my staff is ready and we're going out to recruit tomorrow," Dooley said. "I never said who would stay on it, but my staff is ready."
Along with Anderson at UAPB, Dooley has had the privilege to coach two other SWAC MVP quarterbacks recently at Grambling. First it was J. Williams who led the SWAC in passing in 2014, and came back the next year and earn the Offensive Player of the Year Award, and lead the SWAC in passing touchdowns. Things only got better for Dooley as Ole Miss transfer Devante Kincade took over for Williams at quarterback. Grambling won their second straight SWAC West championship, and the 2016 Celebration Bowl. That team included several all-Americans including Arizona Cardinals wide-out Chad Williams.
Williams was one of many all-Americans that put up outstanding numbers at Grambling, but the offensive player that Dooley is in-tune with the most is the starting quarterback.
"Ben Anderson was the freshman of the year, in the second year he won the MVP, J. Williams won MVP, and Kincande two times," Dooley said. "They have to be the coach on the field, and they have to know the ends and outs. They have to study just as we study, it's not hard because in our system it's simple for us to pick up but hard for the defense to stop."
When asked how instrumental he was in Grambling's recent success, Dooley pointed straight to the fact that they've led the SWAC in offense since 2015.
"We only led the SWAC in offense the last three years," Dooley said. "I'm glad the offense put up enough points to win some games, and to be apart of back-to-back SWAC championships. It wasn't just me, it was the guys who worked along with me, we worked as a team. I never just put anything on myself, yes I do make the play calling, but it's called preparation. I think it was a team that I built and we came together and worked as one, and we had success."
To Dooley, the word rebuild means progressing over a certain amount of years. His philosophy is totally different, and he'll come in looking to win right away.
"I don't believe in rebuilding, I'm coming to take a team to win a championship," Dooley said.
"I prepare the team to win, so every game that we play we prepare to win. I'm not rebuilding I'm carrying on and leading to another level. Here's my philosophy if chosen as the Head Coach of the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, I'm not coming in here to build a team, I'm coming to build a program. My mindset is I'm coming to win right now, tomorrow is not promised to me. Yes we did lose the Celebration Bowl, but we'll be their next year, so if I'm the Head Coach at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff then that's where Pine Bluff will be at."
UAPB might not have the best facilities in the country, and some may say that they aren't even Division I caliber. However, that doesn't factor in at all with Dooley as he was once here with the same facilities and won a championship.
"Maybe in some eyes they're not maybe there's some things that need to be done," Dooley said. "But I saw them for three years and we won a SWAC championship and a National championship. Whatever hand I'm dealt I'll deal with it and take it from there."
Dooley served as a recruiting analyst for four seasons during his coaching tenure at Southern, and he believes he thrives in that category. Along with being able to recruit a quality high school athlete, Dooley has a system that he implies to snag Division I transfers.
"It plays a huge role," Dooley said of recruiting Division I transfers. "But I like to build the foundation from the ground up. I have a philosophy of getting Division I transfers, it's a certain way I go about doing it. I had an opportunity to speak with the chancellor and he knows my philosophy. It's worked everywhere that I've been."
"I'm an aggressive recruiter," Dooley said. "Of course I'm going to protect the back-yard, and that's Arkansas. The years that I've left here I signed a guy from Arkansas every year, and all of those guys are currently starters for that football team right now. Of course I'm going to protect the Southeast part of Arkansas as well as the Central part of Arkansas. I will build a foundation around this area, and I think it helps fill the seats in the stands as well knowing that you have a lot of local guys on the team that can play."
Although Dooley is all about football and winning games, he made it clear that his players will put academics first. Football will only last for so long, and he wants his guys to have a degree to fall back on.
"It'll be academics first," Dooley said. "I know you can play football, that's why I'm talking to you. My biggest thing is I want you to be able to work the next 40-50 years of life, and that requires getting a degree."
Getting back to the gridiron, Dooley was posed with the question of how he would handle the pressure of the Golden Lions fans being so hungry for a winner.
"There's no pressure. I expect my self to win, the expectation is there," Dooley said. "I see nothing less, you should want to win, and that's why I would be hired, to win. There's no pressure."
Overall, Dooley plans to implement a brand new mind-set throughout and around the program. Dooley uses an acronym of 'WIN', and he and his staff will be sure to instill that into their guys.
"We have certain drills, and workshops that we'll do with my staff that I'm bringing along with me," Dooley said. "They understand the process, and what needs to be done. We're going to instill into them repetition, because if it can change overnight it would've already changed. Everything that we do, we have an acronym of 'WIN'; what's important now. How you get out the bed, how do you start your day, how do you sit in your classroom, it's everything and I want to win in everything, it'll change."
Play-calling has been a huge part of Dooley's coaching make-up over the years, so handing those duties off is something that we'll have to wait to see happen, if it happens at all. As far as his offensive coordinator and his defensive coordinator, they'll already be in-tune with what they want accomplished.
"If I name an offensive coordinator, I have complete trust in him that he can do that job," Dooley said. "The playbook that I designed is going to be the playbook that I want to use. No two guys are the same but I expect the same results."
"It's going to be a 4-2-5 defense," Dooley said. "I try to stop myself, and that's the type of defense I'm looking for. On offense it'll be no-huddle, fast pace, ball snapped quick, sideline to sideline, and we'll be multiple."
Getting the football in touch with the community will be one of the top priorities on the list according to Dooley. He believes if you're there for them, they'll be there for you.
"First of all you have to be approachable," Dooley said. "When you're approachable there's no fear to come and talk to you. You have to have to get into the communities. You have to do the certain things such as the golf tournaments, the kids camp, the women's clinic, the coaches clinics, car washes, softball tournaments that involve different members of the community against the staff on campus. You have to be there for them."
One audience member asked a question that many may have been contemplating, and that is if Dooley is hired, will he stay? It's well noted that Dooley has heavy Louisiana ties, and there have even been rumors of Prairie View A&M pushing for his services.
"At this present time there's not an opening at Southern, and there's not an opening at Grambling," Dooley said. "I'm into what's important to me right now. I've always said that the Lord orders my steps so he won't have me do something in that magnitude. Once I say I'm committed I'm committed. I'm committed cause I drove eight hours from Atlanta to drop my family off in Ruston, took a two-hour nap and drove to Pine Bluff, Arkansas."
After being so successful for a sustainable amount of time, some questioned why Dooley isn't already an established head coach.
"Maybe 15 years ago I thought I was ready to be a head coach," Dooley said. "But the person that leads and guides me which is God knew that I wasn't prepared at that time so the opportunity never presented itself. Now I feel that I've been prepared to be a head coach, for a lack of better words some may say he's done his time, but I'm prepared to be the head coach at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff because I'm ready for it."
Dooley also said that if you stay ready you don't have to get ready. He realizes that in today's society people look for instant success, and he believes he has what it takes to provide just that.
"I just want to end by saying, I know some things may have been said where everyone will form their own opinion," Dooley said. "I'm not arrogant at all, but very very confident in what I do and who I surround myself with and that's the nature of the whole thing. With that being said I know everyone is looking for a winner, and I believe that's what I possess and bring to the table. I guess I'm now apart of this new age where it's like a microwave and everybody wants things done instantly so I do understand the process. I'm honored that you guys gave me the opportunity to come interview for this position."