UGA legend Vince Dooley speaks after field dedication in Athens
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Sanford Stadium field dedication a ‘Georgia family’ affair for Vince Dooley
Vince Dooley had no idea what was going on.
He and Barbara Dooley, his wife of nearly 60 years, stood in the kitchen of their Athens home with University of Georgia athletic director Greg McGarity and president Jere Morehead. Dooley thought only McGarity was stopping by on his way out of town, but when he saw Morehead as well he knew something was up.
“My first thought was, ‘Oh goodness, something good or bad’s going to happen,’” Dooley said.
McGarity and Morehead proceeded to tell Dooley they were going to recommend to the Board of Regents that the field at Sanford Stadium be named in his honor.
True to his personality, Dooley was fairly stoic, expressing his gratitude while shaking hands. After all, he didn’t really think this was going to happen, at least not while he was around to see it.
Barbara, however, was a little more emotional, screaming and crying while hugging McGarity and Morehead.
“She didn’t hug me at all, she hugged them,” Dooley said.
That was months ago. Now, the field is set to officially be dedicated in Dooley’s name on Saturday prior to Georgia’s game against Murray State. When that moment comes, it will certainly be a family affair for the winningest coach in Georgia football history.
Festivities actually get underway Friday night with an event at the Tate Student Center on Georgia’s campus. Many former letterwinners who played for Dooley will be in attendance, and 1980 national championship team captain Frank Ros will be one of the speakers.
But much had to be done to get here from that day in the Dooleys’ kitchen. The resolution had to be passed by both the university cabinet (who passed it unanimously, Dooley believes) and the Board of Regents. Georgia announced the proposal for the recognition on May 2.
“I can think of no better way to open the 2019 home football schedule than dedicating Dooley Field at Sanford Stadium,” McGarity said in a statement that day. “The event will be a moment for the entire Bulldog Nation to collectively say ‘thank you’ to a man who has devoted much of his life to making the Georgia athletics program one of the strongest in the nation.”
In addition to McGarity and Morehead, Dooley said he has been told that Georgia governor Brian Kemp, who will be in attendance Friday night, was a strong supporter as well.
As for Saturday, Dooley doesn’t know exactly what’s in store. He said he was just told to report to the field at 3:15. He did say, however, that the captains from his 25 Georgia teams will be down on the field with him, bringing with them memories of his time as coach between the hedges.
Under his direction, the Bulldogs won six SEC championships and one national title. His 201 wins stand as the most for a Georgia coach, and former Heisman Trophy winner Herschel Walker was just one of the 40 First Team All-Americans coached by Dooley.
But while his football family will be on the field with him, Dooley is most excited to share the moment with his biological family — four children, 11 grandchildren and a pair of great-grandchildren.
After all, he credits his wife Barbara for keeping the family close while he devoted his time to coaching the Bulldogs. He also praised former Clarke Central High School football coaches Billy Henderson and Steve Brooks for occasionally helping Barbara with things when he wasn’t available.
There’s even a Dooley currently on the Georgia coaching staff. Grandson J.T. is a student assistant after having his playing career cut short with a back injury. Dooley said J.T. loves football, adding “There’s no question he’s going to be a coach.”
Now, 55 years after the family came to Athens, it’s time for the entire Dooley clan to be recognized.
“It’ll be something that the family will be proud of,” Dooley said. “It will be a legacy for years to come. I hope it’ll be there for a long time.”
J.T. Dooley’s boss, Georgia head coach Kirby Smart, has memories of Dooley dating back to his days as a Georgia player in the late 1990s. He recalls Dooley coming to speak to the team occasionally, and also running into him when he and Dooley’s son Derek were on the LSU coaching staff together.
“That is a tremendous honor for him, one that he deserves and one that so many Bulldog fans can associate with the history that he has done,” Smart said of the field dedication on Sept. 2.
Dooley insists he’s ready for the moment to be over so the focus can return to the 2019 team and its play on the field. But before that happens, there’s a big family reunion to take place on the grass of the newly-christened Dooley Field on Saturday afternoon.
“The Dooley family, the Georgia family is more what I feel than just a personal thing because I know that so many of these people were responsible for making it happen,” Dooley said.