ATHENS – Vince Dooley is still a hard-nosed old football coach. He’s a lot of other things, too, and we’ll get into that. But at the heart of it all, he’s a coach and teacher.
Take our encounter on Tuesday at his home on Milledge Circle. The plan had been to take a stroll through his famous garden, as he so likes to do with visitors. But it was raining, fairly hard at times, so we made the decision to scrap that for the day.
At some point, however, the conversation turned to dogwoods. Dooley loves his dogwoods, and he explained that he has three varieties in his garden and that each one blooms at a different time of the year. Hence, he has one or another flowering pretty much year-round.
“And you ought to see my ‘Empress of China’ right now,” he exclaimed
Dooley explained that the ‘Empress,’ or Cornus Augustata by its botanical name, is an evergreen dogwood from China.
Damn the rain, he said. “You’ve got see this.”
So sans umbrellas or anything for cover, we filed out into the elements and back to the pool area behind that famous columned house that longtime Georgia fans know so well. Sure enough, his Empress was stunningly beautiful in its full-flowered glory.
Once Dooley got going about that tree, there was no stopping him. There were the Japanese maples to discuss, weeping willows, hydrangeas and camellias, a couple of which actually bear his name. There were all other sorts of flora and each plant came with its own anecdote, it seemed, and needed to be explained. Dooley soon was oblivious to the soft, steady shower that dampened us. Just like his former players on a rainy-day practice, he had to coach up his guests on what he had going on out there in his yard, which was a lot.
And that was just Dooley’s tangent about gardening. In a free-ranging interview with DawgNation for the first installment of our upcoming “Living Legends Series,” Dooley also talked about politics, history, books and, of course, football. The full story will run this coming Monday, with video and pictures from our own Nathan Gettleman.
In the meantime, I thought I’d share today some of Dooley’s thoughts on the current state of affairs of UGA athletics. Specifically, I asked him about current athletic director Greg McGarity, who has come under a lot of fire lately for the general under-performance of several marquis sports and the perception that he’s more concerned about the athletic department’s bottom line than doing whatever it takes for Georgia to compete for championships.
Dooley served as Georgia’s AD for 25 years, 10 of which McGarity was a member of his administrative staff. McGarity then went to Florida for 18 years before coming home to UGA as athletic director in 2010.
“Well, I was very much in favor when the decision was made and when the search was going on as to who was going to be the AD,” Dooley said of McGarity. “He had great experience at Florida and was very successful there and he was a Georgia boy and he lived here and knew everything there was to know about us. So I was in favor of him getting the job and was very happy for him. And I think he’s done a lot of good things.”
Dooley said he thought McGarity found himself at odds with a faction of the fan base when he fired Mark Richt at the end of 2015 football season.
“He had to make to real tough decision in changing coaches,” Dooley said. “Mark Richt, I hired him and, well, you have this loyalty when you hire someone that you’re going to go the extra mile. If I’d have been the athletic director, I probably would have sat down with Mark and said ‘next year is very important,’ and I probably would’ve gone another year with him.”
That doesn’t mean Dooley necessarily believes firing Richt was a bad move. It’s not that simple, he said.
“If you didn’t hire somebody, then you don’t have that background with them or the patience. There was pretty well a split (among fans) on things. … In any event, it was a tough call for Greg.”
That said, Dooley very much likes what happened after that. He’s a big fan of Kirby Smart and believes “he’s going to be a very successful coach.”
“He’s got a great background,” Dooley said. “He knows what it takes in this league. He’s a Georgia man. He played here but then he had his training under a guy who is a proven success in Nick Saban. He’s got a good staff and the recruiting has been great. So I really think that the future is really bright.”
It is for Dooley, too. While he’ll turn 85 in September, yet he doesn’t appear to have slowed down a tick. He just finished writing yet another book, at least the 10th that he has either authored or co-authored, give or take a couple of children and coffee-table tomes. This latest one is on a Civil War hero who graduated and taught at the University of Georgia, William Gaston Deloney. The book is titled “The Legion’s Fighting Bulldog,” and it was released just a few weeks ago.
We’ll get into that and Dooley’s many other interests — and opinions — in the full story, which is slated to run this coming Monday. In the meantime, Dooley vows to stay busy, and dry.