Vince and Barbara Dooley were strolling on the Auburn campus, revisiting their college memories and pondering their future. Hours before, the Dooleys had been on a private jet with Don and Betsy Leebern, their closest friends and Georgia supporters, saying their personal goodbyes. Dooley had just accepted an offer to return to Auburn, his alma mater, as head football coach.
After 16 years in Athens, they were going home.
Or so they thought.
It was somewhere along that campus stroll that Vince and Barbara looked at each other with a mutual revelation that surprised them both.
Despite Vince having played and coached at Auburn, where he met Barbara, they were just visitors on a rival campus.
Their home was Georgia.
Thankfully for both schools — remember, Auburn would turn to Pat Dye — the contract contained a right of rescission clause. Dooley opted out of the contract and coached the Bulldogs for another eight seasons and remained as athletics director for 16 years after that.
The decision to name the Sanford Stadium field after Dooley, which was announced earlier this week, is long overdue and completely appropriate.
It would have come earlier if not for the inexcusable exile of Dooley by former university president Michael Adams, yielding to petty politics and the money attached thereto. Fortunately, Georgia’s new regime of President Jere Morehead and AD Greg McGarity agree and have helped mend those fences.
Vince Dooley is Georgia, every bit as much as Bear Bryant is Alabama and Bobby Dodd is Georgia Tech.
Dooley’s accomplishments include six SEC championships — all during Bryant’s tenure at Alabama — one national championship and 201 victories. No doubt these would be impressive bullet points for anyone’s career achievements.
But they don’t even begin to tell the complete story of what Dooley meant to the University of Georgia and all of college football.
He’s the only person to serve as president of both the American Football Coaches Association and the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics.
His vision turned Sanford Stadium into one of the top venues in all of college football. He pushed for broadening television coverage of college football. While that probably was inevitable, Dooley was at the forefront of making it happen.
As for offensive innovation, not so much. He was out of the old school thinking that a forward pass can have only three outcomes and two of them are bad — an incompletion or an interception.
In his later years, he began to lag behind in recruiting. No longer was it sufficient to scour the state for the best athletes and coach them up. The Jan Kemp scandal that followed the Herschel Walker glory days took an emotional toll on Dooley. The heart scare — when he started having chest pains during the first half of a game at Vanderbilt — drained him physically.
Then there were growing challenges in his other full-time job as athletic director.
All of that contributed to Dooley’s successor, Ray Goff, inheriting a roster that was shockingly thin.
Integrity mattered to Dooley. So did accountability and loyalty.
While others lauded his achievements, Dooley focused on something else.
“In 25 years,” he said, “I never had to fire a coach.”
Not that job performance was ever secondary. You can be certain that at least a time or two, Dooley might have suggested that one of his assistants move on. But whenever that was the case, Dooley kept it quiet.
As athletics director, Dooley essentially fired himself. it wasn’t that he didn’t want to coach any longer. He just felt like the program needed a restart under someone else, someone younger.
I covered Georgia in 1987. Practice then was open to the media. The Bulldogs were working on special teams under the direction of a graduate assistant who looked so much like John Madden that we referred to him as Madden. Dooley watched with a quiet stare, as he always did, absorbing every detail but letting his coaches coach.
Suddenly, Dooley blurted out, “Don’t. Touch. The kicker. Do you know what that means?”
“Yessir,” mustered Madden, obviously rattled. “Don’t rough the kicker.”
“THAT MEANS DON’T TOUCH HIS ASS!”
That one moment at practice was an example of Dooley’s philosophy and MO. Hire good coaches and hold them accountable. Recruit good athletes and demand discipline.
Dooley’s teams were among the most disciplined and hard-nosed as any in college football. Not spectacular, just determined and quietly relentless. Just like their coach.