Athens gears up for the first home game of the new college football season: the Georgia Bulldogs kick off against the Murray State Racers, 4 o’clock Saturday in Sanford Stadium in a game that will be televised on ESPN2. Before the game: the dedication of the Dogs football field, which will be renamed in honor of former coach and athletic director Vince Dooley.
From Chip Towers, AJC…
Understandably, considering the passage of time between then and now, current Georgia football players can’t tell you much about Vince Dooley. They all know who he is and certainly are aware that the field they play on at Sanford Stadium will be named after him Saturday. But they’re unable to cite much that Dooley did or how he went about his business.
Running back D’Andre Swift, said he’d never heard of Dooley until well after he arrived from his hometown of Philadelphia.
“I don’t know that much about him,” the junior said. “I just know it’s a great honor for them to name the field for him. I’ve talked to him multiple times. I’m happy for him this week.”
Said sophomore defensive lineman Jordan Davis: “I met him a couple times just passing through. He walks the halls of ‘the Butts’ all the time. It’s an honor for me just to play on that field.”
Players that did play for Dooley are more than happy to fill in those that didn’t.
“His personality was more of firm disciplinarian, no non-sense, with his Paris Island/Marine background,” said Frank Ros, a linebacker and the team captain for the 1980 national championship team. “You didn’t speak unless you were spoken to. You sure didn’t talk back. We all had his respect for him, and a healthy fear of him, I’d say.”
That was on day-to-day basis. Then there was the coach Dooley on the sideline on game day.
UGA has archived many hours of game footage. His countenance was steely and stoic, at least between plays. But especially in games of any magnitude, he twisted and turned, kicked and sometimes ran and few yards at the snap of the ball. Then he’d go back to being steely and stoic.
“He was animated, but not nearly as animated as a lot of coaches are today,” said Scott Woerner, a cornerback and kick returner from 1977-80. “I always admired him for the way he was on the sideline. It’s been my experience, somebody on the sideline needs to remain calm and keep their wits about them and be able to make a decision. When you start jumping up and down and screaming and hollering, you have a tendency to lose perspective a little bit. Yes, he got excited and, yes, you could see the emotion. But when it was time to make a decision, he was fully into the ball game.”
Of course, Dooley will tell you that his coaching style changed very much over the years.
When he first arrived on the scene as Georgia’s newly appointed head coach in December 1963, the Bulldogs were coming off three very disappointing seasons in a row. Georgia failed to log a winning season under Johnny Griffith, Dooley’s predecessor, winning three games each in 1961 and ’62, and going 4-5-1 in 1963.
Dooley knew upon his arrival that the first thing that needed rebuilding was player morale.
“The whole focus early on was ‘we got to get this team to maximize their ability,” Dooley recalled this past week. “And we had some pretty good football players on our team. They just hadn’t had any success. So, you had a bunch of hungry seniors and juniors that have been around and really wanted to win. They just needed to be organized better.”
At that point, Dooley said he was very hands-on, taking particular interest in the offense, which he’d brought in his younger brother Bill to coach. Erk Russell took charge of the defense, and vast improvement was immediately evident.
After a humbling 31-3 loss on the road to Alabama, the Bulldogs would rally to win six games and tie another to earn the school’s first bowl bid since the 1959 season. They finished 7-3-1 after a 7-0 win over Texas Tech in the El Paso Bowl.
“Fortunately we got off to a good start,” Dooley said.
The 1965 season began with a historic wins over Alabama and Bear Bryant in Athens and Michigan in Ann Arbor. By 1966, the Bulldogs won their first of six SEC championships under Dooley. Not coincidentally, UGA double-decked Sanford Stadium, and the football program was off and running.
By the time Dooley hung up his whistle at the relatively young age of 56 in 1988, he had won more games than any other Georgia coach, with a career record of 201-77-10. The Bulldogs won the 1980 national championship and six SEC championships and took 20 of his 25 teams to bowl game. He also turned around the rivalry with Georgia Tech, winning the first five in a row and 19 overall. He also went 17-7-1 against Florida.
Dooley’s strategic approach to football was simple: run the football, win the special-teams and and turnover battles, play solid defense and keep the games close.
“He was more of a CEO-type coach,” said Ros, who also worked for Dooley three years as a graduate assistant coach. “He was probably one of the first football coaches of that era who really approached it like that. He would hire good assistant coaches, give them responsibilities, directives and expectations and then step back and let them coach. Now he’d step in if he saw something not going like it was supposed to, but mainly he’d let his assistants handle it.”
That became more and more necessary as Dooley become more involved in the administration of the football program. One of his first acts was to get UGA on board with an athletic dormitory, and McWhorter Hall was erected soon after his arrival. He also sought numerous other facility improvements, not unlike the Bulldogs’ current head.
“He’s always been tremendous to me,” Kirby Smart said this week. “My first real meaningful interactions were probably at LSU when Derek (Dooley) was coaching, and he would come over and be around the staff and come up to the lake where my parents live. They had a home up there, so coach Dooley has been unbelievable to my family, my parents and also to me. So, I am just honored that we could do this and we could get the field named for him.”
So are his former players. Ros, Woerner and Billy Payne, who played on the SEC championship teams of 1966 and ’68, were among the football lettermen who lobbied hard for having Dooley’s name perpetually associated with the stadium.
“As good of a head coach as he was, I’m not sure he wasn’t a better athletic director,” Ros said. “Look at the record of his teams as athletic director, with all the national championships and SEC championships and the Directors Cup top-10 finishes. I’m not sure he wasn’t a better AD.”
“It didn’t happen soon enough, as far as I was concerned,” said Woerner, an All-American cornerback and punt returner under Dooley’s tutelage. “If you consider the what he has done and the foundation that he laid for Georgia athletics, I mean, seriously, I don’t know what you were waiting for.”
There will be no more wait. The state Board of Regents unanimously approved the motion to name the field at Sanford Stadium after Dooley this past spring. The official dedication ceremony will take place before Saturday’s game against Murray State. But the night before, more than 800 people -- most of them football lettermen and their wives – will honor Dooley at a banquet in the Grand Ballroom of the Tate Student Center.
“We’ve been waiting for this for years,” Ros said. “We’ve been trying to make it happen, some people working above the radar, some below the radar. So now it’s finally happening, and we couldn’t be more excited about it.”