Dooley wants to keep Eagles flying
For Joe Dooley, life as the head basketball coach at Florida Gulf Coast includes a routine he wasn't accustomed to during his 10 years as an assistant at Kansas.
Each morning before work, Dooley jogs nearly seven miles on and around the beaches of the Gulf of Mexico, just a short drive from the FGCU campus.
"If you're there early enough in the morning," Dooley said, "the tide has gone out and the sand is hard enough to run on. If you go in the afternoon, you've got no chance."
Dooley knows to expect a ribbing -- particularly from KU coach Bill Self -- about his dark tan when he returns to Lawrence to pack up his belongings later this summer.
"Your wife looks like she could be a beach person, and your son already looks like a beach person," Self jokingly told Dooley last month. "It's you I'm worried about."
No need to fret about Dooley.
Less than two months after being hired to replace Andy Enfield, the New Jersey native with the slicked-back hair is fitting in quite nicely in Fort Myers, where the only thing he loves more than the beautiful surroundings is his new job.
Dooley couldn't have inherited a better scenario.
Florida Gulf Coast returns four starters from a squad that reached the Sweet 16 last season as a 15-seed, a first in NCAA tournament history. Fort Myers became known as "Dunk City" because of the Eagles' propensity for unleashing high-flying, acrobatic slams that captivated basketball fans across the country in upset wins over Georgetown and San Diego State.
FGCU fans were understandably hurt when Enfield bolted for USC, but the disappointment didn't last long, thanks to the hiring of Dooley, the top assistant for a Kansas program that has won more games than any team in the country over the past eight seasons.
"We've got good kids here," Dooley said. "They experienced some success last year, and now they want to keep this thing going. They're working hard, and they're listening. It's definitely a good situation."
It had to have been, or else Dooley probably wouldn't have accepted the position.
He said he felt as if he had "the best assistant-coaching job in the country" at Kansas, where the Jayhawks have won nine straight Big 12 titles under Self. KU averaged a mind-boggling 30 wins per seasons during Dooley's 10-year stint, winning the NCAA title in 2008 and finishing second in 2012.
Dooley's name surfaced as a potential candidate at other schools nearly every offseason. But each time he chose to remain in Lawrence.
"After our fourth year at Kansas, I had a couple of opportunities," Dooley said. "My wife said, 'You've talked all this time about wanting to coach in the Final Four and winning a national championship. You're so close.' She made a great point.
"Then all of a sudden we won it all in Year 5 and had to retool it in Year 6 after losing eight guys. I just got immersed in it. I just put my head down and kept working until the right opportunity came along."
Because of its location, facilities and fan support, Dooley said Florida Gulf Coast is a "top-three job in the Atlantic Sun." He points to the school's success in other sports, including baseball, in which Chris Sale was named NCAA National Pitcher of the Year in 2010. And he views the Eagles' recent transition to being a full-fledged Division I member as a positive.
FGCU started its basketball program as a Division II squad in 2002-03. It applied for Division I status in 2006 and became a transitory member in 2007-08. The Eagles became a full Division I member in August 2011.
"It's not a situation where you're trying to overcome a negative tradition or image," Dooley said. "I wanted to go somewhere where you can compete for a league title. I wanted to be at a place where you can win right away."
This isn't Dooley's first stint as a head coach.
He was only 29 when he was hired at East Carolina in 1995. Dooley went 57-52 in four seasons but was fired in the spring of 1999 by new athletic director Mike Hamrick. He spent the next three seasons working under Fran Fraschilla at New Mexico then a year as an assistant at Wyoming before joining Self's inaugural staff at Kansas in 2003.
Now 47, Dooley said his experiences in Lawrence prepared him for what's ahead at FGCU.
"[Self] reinforced a lot of things I believed in," Dooley said. "What he does the best job of … he gets on guys, and gets on them hard, but then he can bring them right back [mentally].
"He wouldn't settle, and he wouldn't let players settle. He wouldn't give an inch about things that mattered. It made those guys want to get tougher and more competitive. He brought a confidence to those players without being arrogant."
Dooley hopes he can do the same thing at Florida Gulf Coast, where he said he'll be careful not to disrupt the strong chemistry that already exists.
Fort Myers may have lost its "Dunk City" tag when Enfield departed for California, but it'd be a mistake to assume the Eagles will play a completely different style under Dooley, who retained two of Enfield's assistants (Marty Richter and Michael Fly).
"A lot of the actions that they ran offensively were similar to what we did at Kansas," Dooley said. "Seriously, who threw the ball at the rim [for a lob] more than we did at KU?
"Their stats got better as their defense improved during the latter part of the season. A lot of their lobs were in transition. A lot of their highlights came because of steals and broken plays on the other end. They were very good off of ball screens. I think the style is very similar. We'll tweak some things, but there is no reason to make a major overhaul, either."
FGCU returns four of its top five scorers: Bernard Thompson, Chase Fieler, Brett Comer and Eric McKnight. And the Eagles add a pair of transfers in Jamail Jones (Marquette) and Nate Hicks (Georgia Tech).
Dooley said he might add another transfer or two in the coming weeks who would help the 2014-15 team.
"We want to make sure we have some young kids and some transfers sitting out so we can keep this thing going," Dooley said. "My main emphasis right now is on recruiting."
Well, that and purchasing a home. Dooley, who has been living in an apartment since his hiring last month, has narrowed his choices between two houses, including one that backs up to the water.
"Hey," he chuckled, "surf's up!"
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