ATHENS — Vince Dooley was where he almost always is on weekday mornings Thursday when he received the phone call from Greg McGarity. He was working in his expansive garden behind his house.
It’s not unusual for Dooley to hear from Georgia’s current athletic director. Dooley served the Bulldogs in that capacity for 25 years from 1979 to 2004 and employed McGarity as an assistant athletic for a number of those years. So Dooley told McGarity to “come on by” and he thought nothing of it.
But when McGarity showed up with UGA President Jere Morehead a short time later as Dooley waited for him at the bottom of his driveway, Dooley said he “knew something was up.”
“I just didn’t know if it was going to be positive thing or negative,” Dooley told DawgNation late Thursday morning.
Oh, no, this was very good thing.
Standing in the kitchen of the Milledge Circle the Dooleys have lived in since the 1960s, Morehead informed Dooley and his wife Barbara that UGA was going to name after him the football field the Bulldogs play on at Sanford Stadium. Pending approval of the state’s Board of Regents, the dedication of Vincent J. Dooley Field at Sanford Stadium will take place on Sept. 7 before the home opener against Murray State.
“It was a complete surprise,” Dooley said. “I was pleased, happy. But as you can imagine from Barbara, who has a different level of emotions than me, she started crying. But it’s a great tribute to all of the players that I’ve had the privilege of coaching through the years, and I’m very happy for my family as well.”
McGarity confirmed Dooley’s account, and the ruse that was created to make sure Dooley was surprised
“I told him I needed some advice,” McGarity said. “I didn’t tell him about who was coming with me. So he was in his gardening clothes. But the times I’ve gone over to see Coach, he’s always been in his gardening attire.”
The honor comes to Dooley 15 years after he retired as Georgia’s athletic director. He was also head football coach for 25 years and, all told, served UGA in one or both capacities for a total of 40 years.
As the Bulldogs’ football coach from 1964-1988, Georgia won a national championship in 1980 and six SEC championships. He remains the Bulldogs’ winningest football coach of all time with a career record of 201-77-10. Georgia also won numerous national championships in other sports during his tenure as athletic director from 1979-2004. He oversaw every expansion of the stadium that took place over his 40 years of service to the university which took it from 39,000 seats before he arrived to 92,746, which Sanford Stadium sits today.
Since his retirement, there has been a strong movement to honor Dooley by having his name placed on the stadium. That was at first met with political opposition, then grew stronger and stronger over time. The extensive athletic complex that encompasses South Campus next Lumpkin Street to was named after him several years after Dooley in 2008, at which time a statue by local artist Stan Mullins was erected at the corner of Lumpkin and Pinecrest Avenue.
“I’m just taking the position of, to those who were expressive about it, I appreciate it very much,” Dooley said. “I’m never going to comment other than to let those know who wanted this to happen that I appreciate their feelings. Beyond that it’s not appropriate to comment.”
Dooley said he did not know what his contribution to naming rights now will be other than he is supposed to be at the official ceremony dedicating the field on Sept. 7 when the Bulldogs play their home opener against Murray State. Georgia opens the season on the road against Vanderbilt on August 31.
“It will be nice to start the season off this way and, hopefully, it will be the kick off of something great for this team that I think has incredible potential,” Dooley said.
Dooley was reached by phone at his home late Thursday morning, where he remained in his gardening clothes and his plans for the day had suddenly been altered.
So what happens now?
“Well, I need to go take a shower first,” Dooley said. “Then I guess I need to go to my office and return a lot of calls.”