What a nice way to celebrate my 1,000th syndicated newspaper column. University of Georgia President Dr. Jere Morehead and Athletic Director Greg McGarity have proposed that the field at Sanford Stadium be named for Hall of Fame football coach Vince Dooley. It’s about time. In fact, it is long overdue. I have known Vince Dooley for more than 50 years. I can say without equivocation he is finally getting what he deserves.The proposal must be approved by the Board of Regents, but since Gov. Brian Kemp — a UGA grad and local Athens boy — says he is looking forward to seeing the Dawgs playing on Dooley Field this season, I think we can pretty much put this one in the bag. Applause for Gov. Kemp. If it were not for him, we still might be waiting for the Board of Regents to do the right thing.
How does this all apply to my grinding out columns for the past two decades? Among a bucketful of crusades I have undertaken over the years, none have meant more than seeing Vince Dooley honored for his contributions to the University of Georgia. I have long advocated that either Sanford Stadium be hyphenated to include Dooley’s name as has been done at Alabama with Bear Bryant and at Auburn with Shug Jordan or that the field be named for him. I have said so repeatedly — starting back in 2003 and as recently as this past week. And now it has happened.
For me, this one has been up-close and personal. As a member of the UGA Foundation, I got caught in the middle of a controversy between then-president Michael Adams and Vince Dooley over Adams’ refusal to extend Dooley’s contract to continue to serve as athletic director. Adams was aided and abetted by a powerful member of the Board of Regents, Donald Leebern, who was no friend of Vince Dooley for a lot of reasons, all of them wrong.
Leebern, whose net worth approaches that of Croesus, has held a seat on the prestigious Board of Regents since first being appointed by Gov. Zell Miller in 1991. He was reappointed by Govs. Roy Barnes and then George E. Perdue and then Nathan Deal.
One of Gov. Deal’s last actions before leaving office was to recommend Don Leebern for yet another seven-year term. Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan promptly turned that idea down along with Deal’s other lame-duck board appointments because of “technical errors.” (Meaning: Nice try, Nathan.) As a result, it looks like the Reign of Leebern has come to a merciful end. As for Mike Adams, I can only assume he is doing wonderful things at Malibu U, aka, Pepperdine University. He and I don’t howdy much these days.
Anyway, that is all in the rearview mirror. The Georgia Bulldogs will be playing on Dooley Field at Sanford Stadium from now on for all the world to see. As I write this, I am getting mail from readers across the state thanking me for my advocacy in the naming of Dooley Field. As humbling as that is, I can’t take much credit except for having, with malice aforethought, ripped those who either stood in the way or those who should have been the coach’s advocates but were too timid or intimidated to get in the fray. But that is OK. The deed is done. Let the high-fives begin. Victory has a lot of fathers.
As pleased as I am for this good man, my love for the University of Georgia extends far beyond athletics. The proceeds from this column go to fund a professorship in Crisis Communications Leadership at the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communications at UGA as well as for student fellowships. I am told that becoming a Yarbrough Fellow is considered a prestigious appointment. I am glad to hear that. I only know there is no way on God’s Green Earth I would ever qualify for one. I wouldn’t even be able to get into the university these days, let alone into the Grady College. Timing is everything.
Speaking of timing, someone asked me the other day if I still enjoy what I do after 1,000 columns and 21 years. You betcha. Every single word. Particularly when Column Number 1,000 includes the words “Dooley Field.” Now, it is on to the next thousand and other crusades, God and the editors willing. May they be as rewarding as the past thousand have been. Thank you for being a part of it.