I go back a long way with Vincent J. Dooley.
I recall the first time I saw Coach Dooley. It was just after his hiring by then Georgia Athletic Director Joel Eaves to take over the head coaching reins of the Bulldogs. The date was Dec. 4, 1963 and the place was the old UGA basketball facility, Woodruff Hall.
I was then a student at Georgia in the Henry Grady Journalism School and as the Bulldogs were about to take the court that night, in walked Coach Eaves and Vince Dooley. Since, as I remember, there was only about one entrance to the ancient Woodruff Hall, you couldn’t miss who was entering the building. Eaves was showing his new football coach around the campus and what better place to start than the venue where the only athletic event was being held that evening.
All us students were glad to get a look at Dooley in person because when the news came out that he was Eaves’ choice to succeed the beleaguered Johnny Griffith at the Georgia helm, no one knew who Vince Dooley was. That’s because former Auburn basketball coach Eaves picked him off the Auburn campus where Dooley was serving as the Tigers’ freshman football coach.
Even the newspaper headlines in the last month of 1963 blared out “Vince Who?” And I know my colleagues in Joe Brown Hall on Lumpkin Street, which was a popular men’s dormitory for many, many years were, to a student, saying “here we go again.” Vince Dooley had never been a major college head coach before and following three tough seasons under Griffith from 1961-63 (after Wally Butts had halted years of football famine in the 1950s by winning the 1959 SEC championship), it seemed everyone had their doubts of this newly-hired rookie coach being able to recapture the school’s former fame on the football field.
But, as we all know now, it took Coach Dooley and his newly-hired staff — featuring one of the all-time defensive coaches in Erk Russell — hardly any time to convince Bulldawg Nation there was going to be a new awakening in Athens, Ga.
That inaugural fall of 1964, the Bulldogs, sporting the new red helmets with the Green Bay “G” that Dooley brought in, clicked to a 7-3-1 record including a win over Texas Tech in the Sun Bowl. The opening of 1965 Dooley steered the Dawgs to stunning wins over defending national champion Alabama and Bear Bryant and also over the Michigan Wolverines up in Ann Arbor.
Then, in ’66, came the first of Vince Dooley’s six SEC championships and again, as we all know, came the glorious autumn of 1980, when a freshman tailback named Herschel led Dooley’s Dogs to a perfect 12-0 season and the national championship, capping the climb to the top by beating Notre Dame in the Sugar Bowl. I don’t have to remind you, Georgia hasn’t won a national title since. Coach Dooley, over his 25 years as the Bulldogs’ coach, finished with a career record of 201-77-10, becoming only the ninth coach in NCAA Division I history to win over 200 games.
Now, on Friday afternoon, the UGA athletic board put its official stamp on the field at Sanford Stadium being named after Vince Dooley, in an unanimous vote by the board members via conference call. To President Jere Morehead’s recommendation to name the field after Dooley, board member Bill Young made the motion to do so and it was seconded by Dr. Paige Carmichael.
The proposal will now be sent on to the University System of Georgia Board of Regents for approval. The UGA Cabinet will first hold its vote before the Board of Regents votes at its next meeting in Atlanta on Tuesday, May 14. Assuming those votes are also positive, as is expected, now and forever the most picturesque stadium in all of college football will be known as Dooley Field at Sanford Stadium.
And like almost all of Dawg Nation has expressed, I say “about time!”
There simply hasn’t been a finer coach, or person, to represent the University of Georgia down through the years, as Coach Dooley also did when serving as UGA’s athletic director from 1979-2004.
Most all the years I covered Coach Dooley and his football team, he would always greet me with “Poole Shots,” that being the title of my column with The Brunswick News for more than 40 years. In the last 15 years or so, it’s been simply “Hey, Murray” whenever Coach sees me.
For me, the beginning of a storied coaching career with the Georgia Bulldogs always goes back to the remembrances of that night over 55 years ago in the old UGA basketball gym when an unknown 31-year-old coach walked in the door with Joel Eaves.