Vince Dooley’s impact celebrated, warm memories stirred at UGA memorial service

Kirby Smart speaks as family, friends and fans gather at Stegeman Coliseum for a public celebration of former University of Georgia Coach and athletic director Vince Dooley on Friday, November 25, 2022. (Natrice Miller/natrice.miller@ajc.com)

ATHENS — Kirby Smart helped kick off the Vince Dooley “Celebration of Life Service” on Friday night, one of several to pay tribute to the University of Georgia legend who passed away on Oct. 28 at the age of 90.

“Coach Dooley put Georgia on the map, he paved the way,” Smart said, speaking before several hundred in attendance on Friday night in Stegeman Coliseum.

“His teams were physical,” Smart said, “they could tun the ball, and his teams did not beat themselves.”

MORE: What Vince Dooley Celebration of Life means, memories shared

Smart could have just as easily been talking about his own program, the reigning national champions and current No. 1-ranked Bulldogs who play rival Georgia Tech at noon on Saturday.

Friday night, however, was about Dooley, the school’s all-time winningest football coach, and cherished athletic director.

Several dignitaries were on hand to share memories of the University of Georgia icon, including Gov. Brian Kemp, SEC commissioner Greg Sankey and Augusta National Golf Club chairman Billy Payne.

Payne was one of three former Dooley players who spoke, along with 1978 SEC Player of the Year Willie McClendon and Frank Ros, the captain of the 1980 national championship team.

Georgia had just defeated Alabama in the CFP Championship Game, 33-18, winning its first national title since Dooley directed the 1980 Bulldogs to glory.

“Kirby was chest bumping everyone he could find, and I said, ‘Kirby, I’m .500 on the evening, and one of us will be injured from the chest bump,” Sankey said.

“I saw Coach Dooley standing next to Billy Payne,” Sankey said. “He was quiet, with a smile on his face, and a tear in his eye, happiness and joy.”

Seven-time Georgia national championship swim coach and U.S. Olympic coach Jack Bauerle was the final speaker, describing it as a “dream come true” to know and work for Dooley, who he referred to as a second father.

The University of Georgia Redcoat Band played the song “My Way” as those in attendance rose to their feet at the end of the 90-minute ceremony, exiting soon after Georgia broadcaster and event emcee Jeff Dantzler wished everyone a good night.

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