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Louie Favorite / AJC staff, 1987
Former Georgia football All-American Pat Dye lifted the Tigers to great heights, such as this 1987 win over Alabama. Dye helped lead Georgia to the 1959 SEC Championship.

Remembering Pat Dye: Comparison to Kirby Smart, push for Auburn in East Division

ATHENS —  The Georgia-Auburn football rivalry runs deeper than any other, dating back 129 years with turnabout relationships that served to enhance the success of each program.

A moment of silence will fall before the national anthem on Saturday night to honor former Auburn coaching legend and Georgia All-American Pat Dye, who passed away on June 1 at the age of 80.

RELATED: AJC columnist Mark Bradley remembers Pat Dye

A battle of Top 10-ranked Bulldogs (No. 4) and Tigers (No. 7) will commence soon after (TV: 7:30 p.m., ESPN).

The players will take to a field named after Vince Dooley, a former Auburn quarterback who coached Georgia to a national championship.

Smart Comparison

A “PD” helmet sticker adorns each Auburn helmet, the words “sixty minutes” within the sphere to reference one of many great Dye quotes.

At his opening press conference, Dye was asked how long it would take to beat Alabama, and replied “sixty minutes,” per the Auburn-Opelika News. 

Tigers coach Gus Malzahn, a man known more for Xs and Os than personality, donned a ball cap and striped tie last week to honor the trademark look Dye was once known for on the sideline from 1981-92.

Georgia coach Kirby Smart honored Dye after his passing, one of several football dignitaries along with Nick Saban, Archie Manning, Bill Parcells, Chuck Pagano and Archie Manning to reach out to the family.

“It was thousands of texts and calls, a who’s who of football,” Pat Dye Jr. told DawgNation. “Players from LSU, Alabama, Georgia, adversaries and opponents, along with allies, the man was beloved.”

Smart revealed one of his family’s prized possessions this week, a framed hunting picture of Dye along with Paul “Bear” Bryant signed by Dye when Smart was just 8 years old at his father’s Bainbridge High School Awards Banquet.

Georgia football
Photo courtesy Kirby Smart Family

The respect from the Dye family is mutual.

Pat Jr. said the week after his father’s death that Smart’s style of play often reminded him of his father’s Georgia football legacy.

“They’re separated by a generation, but you see Kirby, a sawed-off dude playing in space,” Dye Jr., a professional football representative, told DawgNation. “Kirby may not have been the most athletic safety out there, but he knew where the ball was going.

“Then you’ve got Dad, a two-time All-American offensive guard who never weighed more than 193 pounds. They both have the same stuff in them; smart, tough, play hard and give it all you got.”

Another similarity that’s downright eerie: Dye and Smart, both former All-SEC players at Georgia, would serve nine-year apprenticeships at Alabama; Dye under Bryant (1965-1973), and Smart beside Saban (2007-2015).

Dye’s East Division Dream

If there was one thing about Coach Pat Dye, it was that he could always be counted on to provide an opinion and most often with no holds barred.

Such was the case when DawgNation reached him for a recorded phone interview prior to the 2019 season on a friendly warm, summer day.

Of the many topics covered — some that will be shared later this season — Dye revealed that if he had his way, this Bulldogs-Tigers’ rivalry would be a key divisional battle.

“We don’t belong in the West, we need to be in the East,” Dye said. “Whoever heard of (Columbia), Missouri, going to Columbia, S.C.,  on a home-and-home basis? I wonder what the mommas and daddies think when they have to travel that far? They stay home and watch it on television, they don’t travel.”

To Dye’s point, some 870 miles and more than 13 hours of driving separate SEC East Division schools Missouri and South Carolina.

“How many students from South Carolina do you think go to Missouri?” Dye said. “It’s the same thing right here at Auburn. We don’t have any students to speak of that come from Arkansas, Texas, and not many from Louisiana.

“It’s a natural move for us to go across the river and join the East … our student body comes from Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee, and Florida. That’s where our student body comes from.”

As for the scheduling, Dye suggested a nine-game slate or Auburn and Tennessee rotating Alabama as the teams’ annual opponent every other year.

Pat Dye won four SEC titles after taking over an Auburn program that had only won one in its history before he took over. Photo courtesy Auburn Athletics.

“Well shoot, Tennessee can’t beat nobody, (so) what the hell? They used to be a factor,” Dye said. “First of all … they fired Phillip Fulmer, and they hired poor coaches to take his place. Whether this guy they have up there now (Pruitt) can put Tennessee back to where it was remains to be seen.”

Fact is, the Tigers and Vols had quite a contested rivalry in the 1980s when the tenures of Dye and the late Johnny Majors — who died two days after Dye last summer — overlapped.

RELATED: SEC legend Gene Stallings reflects on Dye, Majors

Dye won the series 5-4-2, but of the final three battles, Majors and the Vols won twice and tied on the other occasion.

A Georgia Man

Auburn historian David Housel, who famously served as the school’s sports information and athletic director, chuckled when asked about Dye’s colorful and oftentimes blunt takes.

“That was Coach Dye’s personality and his nature, and he probably honed that nature in his time with Coach Bryant,” Housel said. “That was one of the things that was beautiful about him; even when he was head coach and AD, he would have conversations with me, and he would say, ‘I can see why the other side sees it that way or feels that way, but I got to look at it from this side.’ He had a broad perspective even when he was having to promote one side.”

Dye was in favor of Auburn playing in the East from the time the SEC split into divisions in 1992 after the additions of South Carolina and Arkansas, Housel indicated.

“At that time, there were only 12 teams, and Coach Dye wanted to keep Auburn’s traditional rivalries with Tennessee and Florida,” Housel said. “But if you look at that time, the geographical area and the competitiveness of league, it made sense for Auburn to be in the West.”

Dye was also a believer that whoever lines up in the East Division would have to recruit the state of Georgia effectively.

Pat Dye stayed involved in the Auburn football program even after retiring from coaching after the 1992 season. Photo courtesy Auburn Athletics.

Dye, himself, was a prep star in the Peach State, earning the Atlanta Journal Constitution’s Class 3-A Offensive Lineman of the Year Award after leading Augusta’s Richmond Academy to the state championship his senior year (1956).

“South Carolina is recruiting Georgia hard, Auburn, we are recruiting Georgia hard, Florida recruits Georgia, (and) Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama recruit Georgia,” Dye said. “You know why they have great high school football in Georgia? Because they hire good coaches and pay them lots of money.

“Some other states, they hire teachers that coach — they don’t hire coaches that teach. And some of them (Georgia) coaches, they don’t even have to teach.”

Full Circle

Dye bypassed the high school coaching ranks and went straight to Alabama, working for Bryant those nine years before his first head coaching job at East Carolina (1974-1979) and Wyoming (1980).

Auburn was coming off an 0-6 season and was in its second year of probation following the 1980 season when it looked to the East and reached out to Dooley. Would Dooley, the former Auburn quarterback, be interested in returning to his home state to coach the Tigers?

Dooley, having just won the 1980 national championship with Herschel Walker, declined, opening the door for Dye.

Dye had won an SEC championship as a player in 1959, playing on the offensive line and at linebacker on a team quarterbacked by College and NFL Hall of Famer Frank Tarkenton.

“I never played with a greater football player than Pat Dye,” said Tarkenton, who stood beside his friend when Dye was welcomed into UGA’s ‘Circle of Honor’ in 2013. 

“He was the ultimate teammate, and I loved the guy. He had so many assets as a player: quick, creative, as great of a competitor as I ever played with.  He was instinctive as all great players are. He just simply would not be denied.”

Former Georgia All-American and Auburn coach Pat Dye will be honored by Georgia with a moment of silence before Saturday night’s game at Sanford Stadium. Photo courtesy Auburn Athletics.

That was the approach Dye brought to Auburn, too, when taking over a program that had won just one SEC championship in its previous 48 years in the league.

The Tigers roared behind Dye in the 1980s, winning four SEC titles his first nine years on the job and flipping the Alabama rivalry in the process.

Bryant had won eight straight over Auburn when Dye was hired. Dye lost his first meeting to the Tide and his former mentor in 1981, but he scored a 23-22 win over Alabama in 1982 in what proved to be Bryant’s final season coaching.

Before he was finished on The Plains, Dye had won as many games against Alabama in his 12 seasons (6) as Auburn had in the 23 years before he was hired. Dye left the Tigers with talent and momentum, the Tigers going undefeated in 1993 under first-year head coach Terry Bowden.

Dye proudly noted another current Auburn-Georgia crossover connection: Bulldogs’ assistant Dell McGee.

“That kid that coaches the running backs there played for me,” Dye said in reference to the now 47-year-old McGee, who was a cornerback at Auburn.

“He’s a helluva football coach. They’ve gone around the country and have got the best running backs.”

The Georgia-Auburn ties seem to go on and on, as Georgia athletic director Greg McGarity pointed out.

“Coach Dye still has family here in Athens, the Slaughter Family.” McGarity said. “Dan Lanning is the Fain and Billy Slaughter Defensive Coordinator.

“It’s a deep history going all the way back to Coach (Joel) Eaves, who was an assistant football coach and head basketball coach at Auburn before he came here in 1963 as AD and hired Coach Dooley in 1964.

Dooley, Georgia’s all-time winningest coach with 201 victories, had been an assistant football coach at Auburn from 1956-1963 under the Tigers’ all-time winningest coach Ralph “Shug” Jordan.

“Oh yes,” McGarity said, “It goes on and on.”

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