Longtime legendary head coach Vincent Joseph Dooley meant the world to a lot of people, and being tasked with describing what he meant to me is quite the responsibility. I’m younger and never saw Coach Dooley in action on the sidelines but his impact on this city and this University didn’t end when he stepped off the field that is now named for him.
My first interaction with Coach Dooley came when I was barely old enough to hold a football, but I went to my grandmother’s store, Appointments at 5, with a football in hand as Coach Dooley signed books for all the customers. He signed my football and it still sits in my bedroom with the words “To Hamilton, Go Dawgs! Vince Dooley” written on it. He regularly held book signings at the store, and that gesture in itself always made my grandmother Kitty Culpepper and her partner Jenny Sligh the happiest ladies in the Classic City.
I didn’t realize it then, but that signature on that football is priceless in Dawg country, and that experience will stick with my grandmother and me forever.
My next interaction with Coach Dooley came in 2015. Prior to the Alabama game, I did a piece on the history of the Georgia/Alabama rivalry. BI owner/editor Vance (Leavy) got me in touch with Coach who then gave me a call to give me a few quotes on the series and his experiences playing the Tide. He had matchups with the other college football legend Bear Bryant, and the stories were incredible. Coach Dooley, who had plenty of other things to do, gave his time for a phone call to an eighth grader with minimal journalistic experience, but it made that kid’s year despite getting throttled by Alabama that weekend.
I read that article the other day after Coach Dooley’s passing. He reflected on the 1965 win over Alabama, the Tide’s lone loss in their national title year. The details of the story recalled by Coach Dooley signified, at that point in his career, it was one of his greatest wins. It was a flea flicker that Dooley called and the two-point conversion to seal the 18-17 win.
The simple story and five minute phone call, once again, made an all-time memory in my young journalism career.
The third and most important memory I recall with Coach Dooley was a few years later. Cheri and Vance asked me to tag along at the Athens Touchdown Club on an average Monday in the fall; little did I know, Coach Dooley delivered just like he did in 1980 and made yet another memory for a young Bulldog.
The featured speaker Aaron Murray was giving his remarks. He began to talk about his new endeavors as a TV analyst for CBS. Coach Dooley, from his regular spot at the featured table in the front of the room, spotted me across the Athens Country Club ballroom while Aaron was talking, waved, gave me a wink and pointed at me.
That moment asserted a dream for me.
After the speakers finished, Coach Dooley came to speak to Vance, Cheri and, to my surprise, me. Vance began to introduce me, and Coach Dooley interrupted Vance and said, “I know who this is. The great Bulldog journalist prodigy.”
When Coach Dooley originally found me in the crowd while Aaron spoke, I did not know if it was intentional. He could have been waving at the countless Bulldogs in the room who he had probably met hundreds of times more than me, but after he spoke to me, I knew he was intentionally waving at me. He told me that when Aaron began talking about journalism he pointed at me inferring that I would be in that position one day.
As I said, that moment made my goal of being a successful journalist that much clearer. I mean, if Coach Dooley refers to you as a prodigy, it’s gotta mean something. He had seen a lot of talent in his day, but to pick my talent out and recognize it, meant to me that I have to make this dream a reality.
I know Coach Dooley has had an impact on many other people just like he has on me; I am just lucky enough to get to publicly tell my story.
I’ve interviewed multiple student-athletes who played under Coach Dooley and even more people who have had interactions with him. It didn’t matter if you were a player or a bypasser on the streets of Athens, seeing Coach Dooley always made the Georgia people happy. I think I speak for everyone when I say Coach Dooley is a kind, a real deal, down-to-earth, humble, DAMN GOOD DAWG!
Heroes are remembered. Legends never die. The Bulldog Spirit is eternal. Rest in Peace, Coach!! And as always, Go Dawgs!!