Vince Dooley’s Contributions Continue 50 Years Later

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A half century ago, the University of Georgia hired Vince Dooley as the school’s head football coach. It was December 3, 1963, and the course of the Bulldogs football and athletic fortunes were steered for greatness.

 

At the time, no one could have imagined what would transpire.

 

Dooley, age 31 at the time, was not exactly a high profile hire. In fact, University President Dr. O.C. Aderhold forgot his name at the introductory press conference, and referred to Dooley as “that bright young coach.”

 

Nick Saban from the Miami Dolphins to Alabama this was not.

 

But Georgia’s new athletics director saw something special in his protégé. Joel Eaves, a successful basketball coach and administrator at Auburn, had just been hired to take over the Bulldogs athletic department, on November 22, 1963 – not exactly an insignificant date to those who know their American history. His first order of business was to get the Georgia football program back on track, and Eaves turned to that bright young coach who had headed up Auburn’s freshman team.

 

When Dooley came to Athens for the interview and subsequently to take the job, the Georgia’s legendary sports information director, tennis coach, Bulldog Club chief and promotional and marketing pioneer and master Dan Magill picked him up and gave strict instructions to stay in his hotel room so no one in Athens would spot him walking around town.

 

This was the forerunner to fans who now track tail numbers on private planes to see just who may be visiting where.

 

As Dooley has often recounted, “I followed coach Magill’s instructions, but I could have walked over Athens with a nametag on and nobody would have known who the hell I was.”

 

Georgia’s football program had fallen on hard times. The glorious days of the 1940’s, when coach Wally Butts and a bevy of legendary players like Frank Sinkwich, Charley Trippi, Johnny Rauch and Lamar “Racehorse” Davis led the Bulldogs three Southeastern Conference champions, No. 1 national rankings in both 1942 (consensus national champions) and 1946 (Williamson Poll), and victories in the Orange, Rose, Oil and Sugar Bowls, were but precious memories.

 

In the 1950s, Butts program slumped greatly, finishing with a winning record just twice between 1951 and 1958. There was the infamous eight game drought against Tech and four consecutive losing seasons from ’55 to ’58.

 

Georgia would pull things together and win the SEC crown in 1959, going 10-1 and finishing No. 5 in the land. But that would be an outlier season. In Butts’ final season of 1960, Georgia went 64. There was much infighting over who the successor would be, and the Bulldogs hired former standout player Johnny Griffith, who never had a chance. There were too many factors working against him. In his three years, the Bulldogs suffered three losing records, a 1-8 mark against Tech, Florida and Auburn and the controversy of the Butts-“Bear” Bryant Saturday Evening Post story.

 

When Dooley took over, Georgia had just two winning seasons in its last nine campaigns.

 

But with the support of Magill, fellow Bulldogs legend Bill Hartman, Eaves, and a stellar staff that featured the iconic Erk Russell and brother Bill Dooley, Georgia quickly turned things around under the watch of the bright young coach.

 

In his first season of 1964, which began with a 31-3 loss to Bryant, Joe Namath and Alabama in Tuscaloosa, would climax with a 7-3-1 record, wins over Florida, Tech and Texas Tech in the Sun Bowl, just Georgia’s second postseason trip in the last 14 years.

 

The next year, the Bulldogs beat defending and eventual national champion Alabama on the famous flea-flicker play and then won at Michigan.

 

In 1966, the Bulldogs went 10-1, finished No. 4 nationally and captured the first of Dooley’s six SEC championships. Two years later, the Bulldogs, featuring college football hall of famers Bill Stanfill and Jake Scott, won another. In his first five seasons, Dooley was 5-0 vs. Tech and had established himself, in a league with legendary coaches like Bryant, his mentor Ralph “Shug” Jordan at Auburn, and Ole Miss’s Johnny Vaught, as one of the SEC’s best chieftains.

 

There were up’s and down’s in the 1970’s, a decade highlighted by an 11-1 mark in 1971 and the 1976 SEC championship.

 

But as the decade drew to a close, Dooley’s career took an enormous leap.

 

Georgia went just 6-5 in 1979 and Eaves retired as athletic director. Dooley was hired to share the A.D.’s job for two years with Dr. Reid Parker.

 

Then on Easter Sunday 1980, Herschel Walker signed with Georgia.

 

Headlining an amazing freshman class, that merged with a magnificent senior class and numerous other front-line players, the Bulldogs won the 1980 national and SEC championships with a perfect 12-0 record, featuring a half-dozen unforgettable victories – highlighted by Buck Belue’s 93yard touchdown pass to Lindsay Scott to beat Florida and the 17-10 Sugar Bowl victory over Notre Dame.

 

The Dogs would win the next two SEC titles and come oh-so-close to national championships in 1981, 1982 and 1983. Over that four year stretch, the Bulldogs were a remarkable 43-4-1, with each loss coming to a team that would finish in the nation’s top four. From 1980-83, Georgia’s football program, with Dooley and fellow future college football hall of famers Walker, Terry Hoage and Kevin Butler headlining incredibly talented and sound squads, was America’s best.

 

Dooley, who flirted with returning to his alma mater prior to the triumph over Notre Dame, chose to stay at Georgia and was named sole athletic director.

 

This is what makes Dooley’s legacy truly shine.

 

Though Georgia came up agonizingly short of another SEC title during his final six years as the Bulldogs football coach, the overall athletic program quickly took shape as one of America’s best. With the rise of women’s athletics and the increasing popularity of college sports, Georgia jumped to the forefront.

 

A man of true vision, Dooley was instrumental in the television boom of college football, spearheading the push of conferences to get control of their own deals.

 

Meanwhile, in house, he began to bring in the next generation of legends. His first three hires: Hall of Fame Women’s Basketball coach Andy Landers, still going strong with five Final Four’s and seven SEC championships, Hall of Fame Olympic swimming coach Jack Bauerle, still going strong with five national championships and 10 SEC crowns, and Hall of Fame Sports Information Director Claude Felton, protégé of Magill and simply the best there’s been for a very long time.

 

For nearly a decade, Dooley was simultaneously one of America’s premier football coaches and athletic directors.

 

Upon retiring from the gridiron, he would have another 16 years as Georgia’s athletics director. The Bulldogs enjoyed tremendous success in a variety of sports. He hired hall of fame baseball coach Ron Polk, who led the Bulldogs to the 2001 College World Series and the program’s first SEC title since 1954. He then hired his son Derek’s best friend David Perno, whom he thought too young until reminded that he was older when Eaves hired Dooley. Perno led Georgia to three College World Series and two SEC titles.

 

Magill’s other great successor Manuel Diaz, who took over in 1989, has led Georgia to four national titles, and the program has 36 SEC crowns dating to 1971.

Dooley hired Jeff Wallace, who has coached the women’s tennis team to two national championships.

 

He brought in Suzanne Youculan, who won an incredible 10 national championships in gymnastics.

 

He hired his longtime cohort Dick Copus’s, great golf coach, counselor and even athletic trainer during a tremendous career, successor Chris Haack, who has guided the Bulldogs to two national championships and seven SEC crowns.

 

Several of these standout coaches are still leading Georgia to glory – Dooley’s stamp undeniable and inescapable.

 

Few football coaches enjoyed the kind of incredible 25 year career that Dooley did. The Bulldogs suffered just one losing season and went to 20 bowls.

 

Few athletic directors enjoyed the kind of incredible 25 year career that Dooley did – with nine simultaneous. Georgia’s overall athletic program was consistently amongst the top ten in America, including a No. 2 finish in 1998-99 when Bulldog teams won four national championships.

 

The fact that he did both is quite remarkable.

 

Handling it with foresight and a classic southern charm that still resonates today is equally incredible. How many people hired in 1963 still get overflow crowds and lines to autograph books at a school’s bookstore? How many people hired in 1963 hired people who continue to do incredible things at a very special place?

 

Eaves stuck his neck out.

And that bright young coach’s impact will never be forgotten and shall continue to shine for year’s to come in America’s greatest college town, Athens, GA.

1 comments
GirdersRBending
GirdersRBending

Vince is classic.  So glad Derek is not at UT any longer.  Vince should never have to wear orange!  That's a pretty awesome photo of Vince with Coach Richt and Aaron Murray.