University of Georgia baseball coach David Perno was 8 years old when he met new Tennessee football coach Derek Dooley.
Sharing a passion for all sorts of sports, they quickly formed a friendship.
"He was Vince Dooley's son, so you wanted to hang out with him," Perno said Friday night. "You knew that was going to create some good times for you, but Derek has always been about making his own way. He never was going to rely on feeding off his dad's name. It didn't hurt, but he wasn't going to rely on that."
Perno was kept abreast of Dooley's involvement in the Tennessee coaching search by Dooley himself, who was sending him text messages. By Friday night, Perno was eager to see Dooley's announcement on television.
Though he admits he is biased, Perno believes Tennessee got the right guy and that Dooley's 17-20 record in three years at Louisiana Tech and his 4-8 mark this past season should not be viewed as negatives. Seven of the eight teams to defeat Tech played in bowl games, and the out-of-conference schedule included trips to Auburn and LSU.
"Those schools are a lot tougher to turn around than Tennessee," Perno said. "Their travel is a bear in that conference. Boise State is there to stay, so you're always playing for second place. If you look at coaches prior to the last 20 years there, no one has even made it out of there.
"I saw them beat Mississippi State in 2008. I saw them have the lead over LSU at halftime this past year, and I'm telling you, he had no players."
Dooley led Louisiana Tech to an 8-5 season in '08, which opened with a win over MSU and closed with a win over Northern Illinois in the Independence Bowl. Earlier that year, Perno guided Georgia to the College World Series, where they lost in the final to Fresno State.
Perno is one of 12 coaches in NCAA history to take three teams to the College World Series in his first seven seasons, and he believes having a childhood friend like Dooley helped develop a competitive edge. The two were in the same grade at St. Joseph Catholic School in Athens before going on to Clarke Central High School, where they remained close.
Clarke Central was the state runner-up when the two were juniors in 1984 and won the state championship in '85.
"He was the tight end, and I was the fullback, so we were right next to each other in the huddle for probably five or six years," Perno said. "He always loved to compete, and that was probably the best thing about him. We could come up with a game to compete anywhere at any time, whether it was running to a car from a restaurant or whatever.
"That's why even when he went to law school, I always thought he would end up coaching. It was just in his blood, and he couldn't get enough of it."
Perno said he believes Dooley will have the Volunteers back fighting for championships in two or three years. He admitted coaching at UT will be a big change for Dooley, as will him having to support the Vols.
"Being a Georgia guy, there are three schools who are extremely hard to cheer for -- Georgia Tech, Florida and Tennessee," Perno said. "Those are so tough, but I just go so far back with him that I'm all for him and will be rooting for him 99 percent of the time.
"As hard as this is to say, I'm looking forward to going to watch the Vols play."
David Paschall is a sports writer for the Times Free Press. He started at the Chattanooga Free Press in 1990 and was part of the Times Free Press when the paper started in 1999. David covers University of Georgia football, as well as SEC football recruiting, SEC basketball, Chattanooga Lookouts baseball and other sports stories. He is a Chattanooga native and graduate of the Baylor School and Auburn University. David has received numerous honors for ...