Dooley Jr. recalls his father's memorable run as Bears coach

                                                                                                                                                                                                   
  • Associated PressGeorge Halas, right, owner and former coach of the Chicago Bears, drapes an arm over the shoulders of Jim Dooley, 38, whom Halas named coach in Chicago on May 28, 1968. Dooley had been an assistant coach for the Bears for the last five years. He graduated into the coaching ranks in 1962 after nine seasons as a star pass catcher and the club's all-time best receiver. Halas, who retired as coach, had a career in football that spans 39 years.

    Associated PressGeorge Halas, right, owner and former coach of the Chicago Bears, drapes an arm over the shoulders of Jim Dooley, 38, whom Halas named coach in Chicago on May 28, 1968. Dooley had been an assistant coach for the Bears for the last five years. He graduated into the coaching ranks in 1962 after nine seasons as a star pass catcher and the club's all-time best receiver. Halas, who retired as coach, had a career in football that spans 39 years.

  • Former Chicago Bears head coach Jim Dooley is seen in a 1969 file photo. Dooley, who succeeded George Halas as head coach of the Chicago Bears, died in 2008. He was 77.

    Former Chicago Bears head coach Jim Dooley is seen in a 1969 file photo. Dooley, who succeeded George Halas as head coach of the Chicago Bears, died in 2008. He was 77. Associated Press

  • Former Bears coach Jim Dooley and his family in 1968, shortly after he was named Bears head coach. Clockwise from far left are brother Tim, sister Lisa, dad Jim, mother Elaine, brother Pat and Jim Dooley Jr.

    Former Bears coach Jim Dooley and his family in 1968, shortly after he was named Bears head coach. Clockwise from far left are brother Tim, sister Lisa, dad Jim, mother Elaine, brother Pat and Jim Dooley Jr. Daily Herald File Photo

  • Jim Dooley Jr.

    Jim Dooley Jr. Courtesy of Jim Dooley Jr.

 
 
Updated 4/7/2020 10:31 PM

While Dick Butkus and Gale Sayers defined the Bears of the late '60s, one of the most important figures in Bears history was Jim Dooley.

A first-round draft pick of the Bears in 1952, Dooley joined the coaching staff immediately after retiring as a player in '62, then succeeded George Halas as head coach in '68. Dooley returned to the team in the '80s, working as a quality control coach for Mike Ditka.

 

In 1965, Dooley was offensive coordinator during Sayers' electrifying rookie season, and the Bears scored the most points per game (29.2) in franchise history. The 1985 Super Bowl team ranks second at 28.5 points per game.

When George Allen left the Bears in 1966 to become head coach of the Los Angeles Rams, Halas moved Dooley to defensive coordinator. He helped popularize the nickel defense, then known as the "Dooley Shift," which often had Butkus coming off the field in passing situations. The '67 Bears defense ranked second in the league yards allowed.

Dooley died in 2008 at 77 after suffering from ALS for a number of years.

Jim Dooley Jr. -- a Daily Herald all-area football player in 1969 at Prospect High School -- shared some of his memories from that era, when the Bears played at Wrigley Field, spent half the summer at training camp in Rensselaer, Indiana, and produced some of the most interesting stories in NFL history.

"For the most part, it was us going down to Rensselaer, Indiana, and getting out of the hair of our mother and spending time with dad," Jim Dooley Jr. said. "It was a nice time growing up."

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His favorite story from those days involved a threat of punishment from the legendary Papa Bear.

"I was down there with my brothers and some of the McCaskey boys," Dooley said. "We'd get in a little mischief and things like that. I remember one time, we'd had a pillow fight or something like that and I guess we messed up one of the dorms. The trainer said George Halas wanted to talk to us and we were, like, hiding from him.

"Then he came around on his golf cart and he saw us and waved us over. We kind of walked over there slowly and he goes, 'Are you boys behaving yourself?' And we go, 'Yeah, coach, yeah.' And he goes, 'All right, well here's $5, go over to the bowling alley and use some of the pinball machines and maybe do some bowling.'"

NFL teams played 14 regular-season games back then and up to six preseason contests. The real games didn't start until mid-September.

"Every now and then, Abe Gibron would have us take the ball and run around in the backfield and have the defensive linemen chase us, kind of implementing something like Fran Tarkenton scrambling," Dooley said. "We'd be on the sideline (during games), just watching basically and if they wanted us to go grab some balls or towels, we'd do that."

The elder Dooley thought about going to dental school before deciding to play football in his hometown for the University of Miami. Those early career aspirations seemed evident in his coaching, since Dooley was considered a cerebral tactician.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"He had a photographic-type memory where he could just see something and then automatically correlate it toward what he was doing," Dooley Jr. said. "I remember as a kid going with him to the office, he'd have the toggle switch and the reel-to-reel film projector and he would go back and forth to analyze formations and movements of the players.

"There were no computers, so he would do everything from his memory and statistics that he would write down and tendencies and everything like that. He spent a lot of time in the film room."

Dooley spent four seasons as head coach from 1968-71, posting a 20-36 record. The Bears missed the playoffs by one game in '68 and started 6-3 in '71. But they also struggled to a 1-13 record in '69.

Looking back at Dooley's career with the Bears, it's easy to wonder if he was a brilliant assistant who didn't have the right personality to be a head coach or if he was handicapped by a lack of talent and the Bears' horrible drafts of the late '60s and early '70s.

"He never really complained," Dooley said of his dad. "He was always thankful to be a part of the sport and he spent 28 years with the Bears, between playing and coaching. He'd grumble every now and then, 'If I would have had that player or that player,' that type of thing.

"He always tried to be very optimistic and positive. He was emotional too. He had been a player, so he had that toughness too."

After graduating from Prospect, Jim Dooley Jr. played college football at the University of Tampa. Some of his teammates were No. 1 overall draft pick John Matuszak, future Bears guard Noah Jackson, receiver Freddie Solomon and pro wrestler Paul "Mr. Wonderful" Orndorff.

Dooley worked as a Midwest representative for Lykes Brothers, a maker of frozen concentrated orange juice, for more than 20 years. He lives in Lake Forest.

"My brother Bill, who's in insurance, was at a convention and the guest speaker was Vince Lombardi Jr.," Dooley said. "My brother went up to him and he had his name tag. (Lombardi) looked at him and said, 'Is your dad Jim Dooley?' And he goes, 'Yeah.' He goes, 'You know, your dad drove my dad crazy.'

"We asked my dad that and he said, 'Darn right we drove them crazy. In '67 we played the Packers and threw in the nickel defense and had 5 interceptions and 3 fumble recoveries and we still lost 13-10.'"

What better game to represent Dooley's coaching career. The Bears forced Bart Starr to throw 5 interceptions and still didn't have enough talent to beat the Packers.

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