ATHENS — Vince Dooley and the University of Georgia are forever intertwined, his class and dignity embodied in the school’s image these past six decades.
News of Dooley’s passing spread quickly Friday afternoon, many aware the 90-year-old Bulldogs’ coaching icon was in declining health in recent weeks.
Dooley took the opportunity to thank the DawgNation earlier this month after a brief hospitalization.
“I’m grateful for all the cards, text messages, emails, and calls as well as the prayers and concerns,” Dooley had said, “but I’m ready to go Saturday with my regular book signing session at the UGA Bookstore and certainly the homecoming game.”
Those who knew Dooley best always marveled at his organizational skills and drive, and the mission-oriented nature of how he carried out his business as a head coach (1964-88) and athletic director (1979-2004).
The University of Georgia currently has one outdoor sports statue on its campus, that of Dooley riding the shoulders of his 1980 national championship players.
“I’m glad I came along when they lifted the coach up instead of pouring Gatorade over them because that might have been difficult to sculpture,” Dooley joked at the dedication ceremony in 2008.
“I really do like it. I like it because it involves the players and not just me.”
Dooley was honored again in 2019 when the Sanford Stadium field was named in his honor prior to Coach Kirby Smart’s Bulldogs playing host to Murray State.
Dooley was brought to the broadcast booth to discuss the honor but couldn’t resist turning his attention to the game, noting a well-thrown pass by the opponents.
Dooley politely excused himself from the broadcast booth shortly after Murray State scored, explaining he didn’t want to be a distraction to the job the commentators had to give the players proper credit.
It was just the sort of gesture that represented Dooley’s honor for the players, the game and the supportive fans.
“Coach Dooley is truly one of the seminal figures in the history of the Southeastern Conference,” SEC Network host and historian Paul Finebaum said Friday night, shortly after learning of the passing of Georgia’s all-time winningest coach.
“By far, Vince Dooley was the classiest and smartest coach I’ve ever met.”
No doubt, Dooley had the trust and respect of all of his players, through his days as head coach, to his time overseeing all of the sports programs as athletic director and into his glorious golden years as a trusted advisor and mentor to the leadership that succeeded him.
Many have taken the time to recall their lessons and perspective of Coach Dooley with DawgNation, honoring him with memories of words and works that will forever influence them and the direction of Georgia athletics:
Current Georgia head coach
“Coach Dooley was tremendous, represented UGA for so long with such class (and) was integral to my success, from the time I was here as a player to my times growing in the coaching profession. We crossed paths when he would come and speak when I was at LSU and Derek (Dooley) was there, and so we kept in touch for a long time.
There’s a lot of connected tissue there between his experience at Georgia, and my wife when she played basketball here and he watched her play. He’s meant a lot to a lot of people. I’d see him at practice from time to time, and then randomly in press conferences. We know he cared so much about the program.”
Georgia head coach (2001-15)
“I’ve loved Coach and Barbara Dooley, that’s the first thing that comes to mind. When I first took the job at Georgia, some people warned me against taking it saying that Coach would be in my business. My answer to that was I’d like him to be in my business, he’s one of the greatest coaches of all time.
Truth be told, the only time he got in my business is when I asked him for advice on many occasions. Instead of telling me what to do, he would always encourage me to trust what I believe was in the best interest of the program.
The mark he left on the program is obvious: you don’t get a stadium football field named after you unless you made a significant contribution as coach and athletic director, beyond being a great person.”
Georgia head coach (1996-2000)
“Coach Dooley always did everything he could to support me. If you’re gonna have an athletic director, it’s always good to have a guy who has been a head coach. Coach Dooley recognized what Florida and Tennessee were doing to dominate the league and did all he could to help the program. Of course, he personifies the University of Georgia, as he did so much for the university with is class and dignity.
I had early insight on him coaching with his brother, Bill, who was the head coach at North Carolina. I’d met Coach Dooley through his sons coming over to Bill’s football camps. I’d also once interviewed for a job at Georgia that Bill Pace eventually got.
“I remember recruiting Tim Worley when I was still coaching at Oklahoma, and it was down to us and Clemson. Tim had wanted to come to Oklahoma, but his mother didn’t want that distance. Georgia had gotten out of the race two weeks before, but he didn’t want to go to Clemson. So, I called the Georgia football office and told them I needed to talk to Coach Dooley about a recruit …. that was actually my first recruit for Georgia and then 11 years later I was the head coach here!”
Georgia assistant (1981-88) and head coach (1989-95)
“I played for Coach and of course followed him as head coach, and he was always a very good person to me. Coach Dooley meant a lot to me as a player and a coach — you just don’t find people like that very often. I think his legacy is one of a kind at Georgia.
I remember we were sure to do things his way, because we were confident if we believed in what he told us, we would win a lot of football games — and we did. I never, ever challenged coach as a player, and I don’t think any of our players did, we all respected Coach, and we always will.”
Captain of 1980 champions
“Coach Dooley’s record speaks for itself, but one thing unique about him he was one of the first college coaches to run a program like a CEO. He would hire great coaches and set the expectations and trajectory, and then let them execute. Back then, a lot of the head coaches were working in each position. He was more of a CEO, he has always been a forward thinker, and it showed early on he was working ahead.
I had the privilege of not just playing for him but being a graduate assistant under him and seeing the “whys” behind what we did. It was really interesting, and I learned a lot of lessons. One I noted, in particular, was that when he had major decisions to make, he would always sleep on them. I asked him about that one day, and he said “you don’t want to make rash decisions, and sleeping on it allows you to make decisions based on facts.” We all can get upset and make rash decisions, because of our emotions. I’ve often thought back on that and applied it.”
1980 Championship RB
“Julie and I are praying for Barbara Dooley and the entire Dooley family during this difficult time. Coach Dooley was tough but fair and instilled discipline in his players. He pushed me to be the best I could be on and off the field. I owe a lot to him.
Coach Dooley laid the foundation for what Georgia football is today. I am going to miss him.”
1980 Championship QB
“Coach Dooley was a tough guy to please, and I liked that. Coming from Valdosta High, that’s the way it was there, you had to earn it.
Our relationship started on the recruiting trail, and I recall at the time, there were so many coaches blowing smoke. Coach Dooley was the only one I trusted. My first impression was that this was a man with integrity. He was forthright and trustworthy, which stood out. Coach Dooley wasn’t taking a back seat to any of the big-time coaches, not even Paul “Bear” Bryant.
“I really appreciated seeing him bring his family into the dining hall on Sundays for lunch; I realized that he was a family man, and it meant something to him. That really endeared him to me.
Coach could be intimidating when we were his players, but that all went away when he retired from coaching, and it became so easy to give him that hug each time we would see him.
One of my favorite stories is how Kirby met with him in the hallway before the national championship game, and the two had those five minutes together right there. I love that he stayed so close to the program and he cared so much about the program. It wasn’t about attention, it was how he truly cared.”
Former SEC commissioner
“We’ve lost a great one. Vince was a one-of-a-kind individual. He was a private person to a great degree, He was extremely bright, he knew everything going in every sport at Georgia. He was a complete athletic director and he was a highly successful and accomplished football coach as you well know. He’s the icon of the University of Georgia, he did it all as a football coach, he brought them into national prominence and he continued that commitment as an athletic director.
He was extremely supportive of me as a commissioner. I often called him, and he had a great insight into intercollegiate athletics in general.
He loved the Southeastern Conference, a part of it for so many years, he made significant contributions in our AD meetings and he was always the voice of reason. He was a great listener and then he would come forth with a very strong opinion. If he lost a battle, he was still very supportive of the conference.
He was a strong individual, but he didn’t have to come across that way. When you got to the significant issues, it was clear he was in charge,
Vince was a great friend and a very loyal individual to me as a commissioner. It’s a great loss to intercollegiate athletics and a tremendous loss to the University of Georgia, as was its front door and front porch for so many years.
He had a great supporter in Barbara, she was very different from Vince, and yet Vince was her life. She was a great asset to him. I extend my deepest sympathy to her and the entire Dooley Family.”
Current Georgia AD
“Coach Dooley was a legend as a coach and an administrator who carried a powerful presence. He had great success with everything, but I think about his great legacy of hiring outstanding coaches, many of whom I inherited.
One of my earlier roles here was to assist in travel plans to take care of the Dooleys, and they were a joy to work with. I learned then Coach Dooley was also an American history expert and horticulturist, in addition to all he had accomplished in athletics.
Sitting in the chair Coach Dooley inhabited is surreal to me, I just pinch myself. He embodied what Georgia athletics is all about and motivates me to be the best I can be. You hear the stories of his time as AD, and knowing he went through them all, it’s inspiring. I feel like he was my Coach, too. When he would tell me he was proud of me or that I had done a good job, it was the greatest compliment I could get.”
Georgia Athletic Director (2010-20)
“Coach Dooley was a part of my life since I was a young boy when I was playing tennis under Dan Magill in 1964, the same year Coach Dooley came to Georgia. Even at that young age and as I moved into my teen years I was around Coach Dooley and we developed a relationship that went on through my college years and professional career. I used to drive him to recruiting meetings and other things because I wanted to be in his presence and learn. Coach promoted me at UGA when he was the AD and allowed me to grow in the profession. We remained close during all of those times.
Coach Dooley always knew what was going on in his program, extremely engaged, and always insisted everything be done in a first-class manner with no corners cut. That was the Georgia way — to treat people in a first-class manner. People associated Vince Dooley with class, and that was his trademark and how the University of Georgia carried itself. For 25 years, that was the tone that ran through the department. Nobody ever wanted to disappoint Coach Dooley.”
Tennessee player, HOF Coach
“Coach Dooley was a true gentleman and fantastic person who I enjoyed visiting with at all of the clinics we attended. Vince was one of those guys that you really looked up to as a football coach, because he did it the right way. The Tennessee-Georgia games I remember playing and coaching in were always legendary. I have so much respect for that Georgia program.”
Texas A&M player, Alabama HOF Coach
“Vince was a quality coach as well as an individual. He was a joy to be around and what a tremendous job he did with those Georgia football teams as well as an athletic director. His wife Barbara was just as involved as he was, and it was always wonderful to be around both of them.
Vince meant as much to the Southeastern Conference as anyone I know throughout all of those years he was involved at Georgia, and back to when he was a player at Auburn. Just a tremendous person and contributor to college football.”
Florida HOF Coach and Player
“Coach Dooley was well-respect across the nation and was always such a first-class guy. We grew closer after I finished up coaching at Florida. His Georgia teams were always tough and played hard, and they had an effort and attitude every time they took the field that was a reflection of him. Of course, Coach Dooley had Erk Russell as a great defensive coordinator, and that was a part of that Georgia football program.”
Florida and Tennessee HOF Coach, Vols AD
“Vince Dooley was one of the highest quality people that I crossed paths with in the profession over the years. I always had the greatest respect for his integrity and the way he quietly managed what was going on. Coach Dooley surrounded himself with great people, and we had a great relationship when he was the AD at Georgia and I was the AD at Tennessee, often sharing a lot of good thoughts.
You could always count on Vince for making quality decisions for what was going on in his program and around the league. I respected him for the role he played at the University of Georgia, and also the Southeastern Conference. The University of Georgia has always been a major player in the SEC in all of its sports programs — football in particular — and Vince provided leadership.
We played against each other on the field a lot over the years at Tennessee and Florida, and he always had excellent football teams and his Bulldogs were always a tough team to beat.”
Seven-time UGA national championship swim coach
“We chose Barbera and Vince as godparents to my youngest son, and so my boys have known them well. When I came here in 1970, I always revered coaches, and he was one of them. Then he hired me in 1979, so the relationship changed again, and then yet again when he retired from coaching after the Gator Bowl in 1988.
Coach Dooley was like a second father to me. Our first national championship, in 1999, Coach Dooley was sitting up there with Coach Magill and my mother, and I thought that might be the best night of my life.
He was the consummate boss; he hired you, trusted you and helped you. To make Coach Dooley proud was a goal. I would call Coach Dooley and my mother from each of those Olympic Opening ceremonies we took part in. I always revered him because he had a never-ending quest to learn different things. When do you find a Hall of Fame football coach talking to a garden club? It’s one of the most special relationships I’ve had in my life and it will always be that way.
One of the greatest things about being here at Georgia with Coach Dooley was when we went into homes as coaches we had instantaneous credibility. Coach Dooley was revered by everyone across the nation. The athletes were aware of him, and the moms and dads respect him 100 percent. That meant a lot as we were opening doors and recruiting student-athletes to the University of Georgia.”