ATHENS — Vince Dooley still keeps up with the football team and with pretty much everything going on in UGA Athletics. Maybe not to the intensive degree he did in more than 40 years as the school’s head football coach and athletic director, but certainly more than the average fan.
The Collegiate Football Hall of Famer, 86, still lives in the house the school bought him on Milledge Circle. It happens to be just around the corner from the home of head coach Kirby Smart and a short ride down the hill from athletic complex that bears his name. So he remains very well-sourced on all things Bulldog and has some pretty sharp insights to that end.
It was in his capacity of keen and interested observer of Georgia athletics that I reached out to Dooley this past week. I simply wanted to get his thoughts on a few of the athletic department’s latest developments.
As always, Dooley was willing to share some of those insights with me. Today, I’ll share them with you:
About that Auburn football series
Dooley is, of course, an Auburn alumnus. So he has more than a passing interest in what goes on with his alma mater, especially when it involves Georgia. He was especially interested in the recent development that will move the football series against his alma mater that has been played in November since the 1930s to an early October/late-September rotation.
This left a lot of Georgia fans hopping mad, not just because the game would no longer be played the second weekend of November as had been the long tradition, but because the two games the Bulldogs had to play back-to-back at Auburn in 2012 and 2013 to accommodate SEC expansion apparently will not be repaid in kind in Athens.
It bears mentioning here that all 25 of Dooley’s teams had to play Auburn in consecutive weeks right after they had played Florida. In fact, every season from 1964-1988 ended with the Bulldogs playing their three biggest rivals — Florida, Auburn and Tech — all in a row.
“You either had to be really good or they either had to be not quite so good in order to beat both of them two weeks in a row,” Dooley said. “So I vowed at the first opportunity I could get it worked out I would split that up.”
That didn’t come soon. Dooley had to wait until he was full-time AD to get it changed, which he finally did when the SEC expanded to 12 teams by adding Arkansas and South Carolina in 1991. After months of planning and one intense weekend of negotiations between all the SEC teams in Birmingham, Dooley was able to finally place a bye between Florida and Auburn. Eventually, Ole Miss would fill the space, then other teams. But never again has Georgia had to play Florida and Auburn in back-to-back weeks.
“I was able to finally get that done and I think it has been good for Georgia,” Dooley said. “So I understand what Auburn is thinking about when they play Georgia and Alabama at the end of the year. The difference is there’s usually an open week between those two. I don’t think it’s been quite as challenging from that standpoint.”
Dooley said not getting Auburn in Athens back-to-back is an unfortunate development, but clearly a dilemma of logistics. But any concession such as that usually comes with some sort of a make-good from the conference.
He said he encountered the same sort of complaints and criticisms that Georgia’s Greg McGarity has when he let the league move the Bulldogs’ annual game with Kentucky during the 1990 expansion talks. But he had to give that up in order to get what he wanted with the Florida-Auburn split.
“You have to mix-and-mingle when you get together as a conference. When we admitted Arkansas and South Carolina, all the ADs were over there for the entire weekend meeting and working the schedule out and everybody had an issue about something,” Dooley said. “One of them we had was the Kentucky game. All the Georgia fans loved to go to Kentucky at that time of the year when the horses were running at Keeneland. They’d go to the track in the afternoon, then go to the football game at night. There were a lot of Georgia people that were unhappy about that. I was unhappy myself. But it was a sacrifice I had to make in order to get what I really wanted, which was to separate Florida-Auburn. So you have to give a little to take a little sometimes. You’re always going to get some criticism.”
Giving Kirby what he wants
To that end, Dooley said the criticism that McGarity has received for allowing the Auburn game to be moved is unwarranted. Georgia’s athletic director of the last 10 years has been accused of not advocating hard enough for his school’s interests. Dooley scoffed at that.
“It starts with the football coach,” Dooley said. “So as long as Kirby as OK with it, everybody should be OK with it. That’s my overall feeling. I can understand that some people just don’t like to break with tradition, there’s no question about that. The Auburn game has been played in November for a long, long time and so I can understand what they’re thinking.
“But here’s the thing: He has to clear something like that with Kirby. And if Kirby is fine with it, we all should be. I’m sure Greg negotiated with the conference behind closed doors, and probably tried to keep it. But if the coach and the AD and the president are happy with it, then, again, it should be fine with everybody.”
McGarity ‘has done a fine job’
The conversation then turned to the job McGarity has done as Georgia’s athletic director. Now, Dooley could be somewhat biased. McGarity broke into athletic administration while Dooley was Georgia’s AD. But McGarity also bolted for Florida in the early 1990s, and he’d work there for 18 years at the right hand of Jeremy Foley, the Bulldogs’ ultimate adversary.
So Dooley insists he is totally unbiased when it comes to evaluating McGarity. He concludes that McGarity has “done a fine job.”
“He’s certainly gotten into the building of facilities,” Dooley said, alluding to more than $115 worth of projects that have been completed as of this past year. “He made a good hire in Kirby and has gone the extra mile to provide Kirby with what he felt like he needed. So from that standpoint, I think he’s done a fine job.”
Dooley thinks it’s important that fans and donors realize how deep McGarity’s roots go with Georgia athletics. A native Athenian and UGA letterman and coach in tennis, McGarity is always going to have the school’s best interests in mind.
“He has been around a long time,” said Dooley, who then chuckled about a memory. “I remember Greg wearing those big ol’ thick glasses and rolling the tennis courts for Dan Magill. Dan would turn to him and say, ‘alright Greg, roll the courts!’ Back then you had to sweep them and roll them. Greg did that for him before he even was in college.
“So he has a long record of service to Georgia. He also had some good service down at Florida and he’s had great service to us, both when I was AD and after he came back. I think he’s done a very good job.”
As for the Athletic Board’s recent decision to extend McGarity’s contract only one more year, Dooley said there’s no sense in trying to read too much into that.
“I take Greg for his word that’s the way he wants it,” Dooley said. “And after serving as long as he has, I can understand it.”
Should ‘Dooley’ be added to Sanford Stadium?
There is a group of Georgia people out there who believe some recent political manueverings could result in Dooley’s name finally being added to Sanford Stadium. Personally, I have long been a proponent for such an action to come to pass.
When Dooley came to Athens from Auburn in December of 1963, Sanford Stadium seated just over 35,000 spectators. When he left 40 years later, it sat 93,000. That had as much to do with what Dooley did as the head coach — winning six SEC championships and a national championship — as what he did as athletic director, which was grow the Georgia brand into one of the best-recognized in the nation.
Those facts resulted in a campaign organized by Atlanta’s Bob Hope and other Dooley supporters in the years after Dooley’s retirement to have Dooley’s name included either on the stadium or the field. But that initiative met resistance from the University System’s Board of Regents, former UGA President Michael Adams and, indirectly, from the Sanford family.
Recently, Georgia’s newly-elected governor, Brian Kemp, effectively ousted three longtime members of the Board of Regents — Don Leebern Jr., Dean Alford and Richard Tucker — after their abrupt re-appointments were determined to be illegally executed by outgoing Gov. Nathan Deal. The legality of both administrations’ maneuverings continue to be debated in the halls of state government, and it’s not immediately clear when their terms will end.
Nevertheless, while the political motivations of those actions remain murky, there is a faction of people who believe that it could result in a future vote to finally have Dooley’s name included somewhere on Georgia’s football venue. It just so happens that the Dooleys were huge supporters of Kemp in his run for governor. Kemp is a close friend of the family. He grew up as a close friend of Daniel Dooley, and Kemp’s mother, Ann Cabaniss is one of Barbara Dooley’s closest friends.
Dooley thinks way too much is being read into their relationship and their support of Kemp.
“I think he’s got more to do than to be worried about that,” Dooley said with a laugh. “Being the governor of the state, he’s got his plate full. He’s got a program that he’s trying to get in right now.”
Dooley admitted to being “very much supporters” of Kemp, but not in order to gain any political influence.
“We did support him,” Dooley said. “We also supported the lieutenant governor and a couple of other legislators. As a matter of norm, I never did that while I was employed by the university; I was always apolitical then. But I think I’ve earned a right to express myself and I felt like it was time to do so.”
As for his feelings about having his name on the stadium, Dooley demurred.
“I don’t have any thoughts on that,” said Georgia’s winningest coach of all time. “I have more to do than worry about that myself. I’ve always totally stayed away from it and intend to now as well.”