Hiring Mark Richt remains Vince Dooley’s proudest achievement

Vince Dooley smiles as Mark Richt is introduced as Georgia's new head coach in December of 2000.

ATHENS — Vince Dooley hired a lot of coaches during his 25 years as Georgia’s athletic director. But his decision to tab a 40-year-old offensive coordinator from Florida State in December of 2000 remains one of his proudest achievements.

“I’m proud as I can be,” Dooley said from his Athens home Sunday evening. “I’ve always said that since the time that I hired him. He’s had an incredible, remarkable career. About 10 wins a year, a winner on the field and a winner off the field character-wise and the influence he’s had, I’m real proud of that.”

Dooley did not find out that Richt, Georgia’s head coach for the last 15 years, had been fired until the news had been public for a couple of hours. Dooley was on a flight back to Atlanta from Dallas on Sunday and it wasn’t until his flight landed that he got wind of it.

“I looked at my phone and saw the press release,” Dooley said. “That’s the first I knew of it.”

Well, it’s the first he knew that a final decision had been made. Dooley had been made aware in recent weeks that Richt’s future was being contemplated by UGA’s leadership. But he thought the man he’d taken a chance on might have coached his way out of it. The Bulldogs won four straight games to end the season, including a 13-7 win over Georgia Tech this past Saturday.

Richt’s win over the Yellow Jackets gave him a 13-2 record against what most of the old guard believe to be the most important of Georgia’s many rivals. Richt also won two SEC championships after a 20-year drought and took the Bulldogs to five SEC title games after the program had failed to participate since the SEC’s divisional expansion in 1992.

As for his personal feelings about the decision, Dooley sounded like a “company man,” despite being more than a decade removed from an official post. But he could not disguise some disappointment in his voice.

“I understand it to be kind of a mutual agreement,” he said. “If that was the case, I’m happy for both (parties) if that’s what they both want. I certainly have to support what the university has decided to do. I don’t think I could do otherwise. And if Mark feels good about it, I feel good, too.”

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