“When I think of Georgia football I immediately think of Coach Dooley. Most people think of him as a coach, but he was also a great Athletic Director who brought life to all the sports at Georgia. It wasn’t just about football, he had a great influence on the whole university. I think everyone involved with Georgia would be proud to have the field named after Coach Dooley.” said Kevin Butler, former UGA Bulldog kicker and member of Super Bowl winning Chicago Bears in 1985, now a post-game radio host for the Georgia Bulldogs.
Sanford Stadium in Athens was named for a great gentleman and scholar, Dr. Steadman Vincent Sanford, who first arrived at UGA as an English professor, before taking on leadership roles on the faculty and athletics committees. Sanford would become UGA President and later Chancellor of the entire University system, and in 1911, he moved UGA’s football venue from the small and cramped, but scenic Herty Field in the old north campus, to a valley and the stadium’s current location.
The original stands only sat 30,000, and the field sat atop Tanyard Creek, now encased in a cement culvert under the stadium running east to the Oconee River. A reasonably complex drainage and irrigation system on that natural turf field helps to maintain the grass as well as that historic, football shaped hedge.
Vince Dooley arrived as a young head football coach in 1963, and went on to win the NCAA National Championship in 1980 as well as six SEC Championships. Dooley is still Georgia’s winningest football coach (1963-1989), also serving an overlapping tenure as Athletic Director, and then continuing in that role through 2004, with Georgia teams in a variety of sports winning 23 national championships and 78 SEC titles during his time as A.D.
Vince and his wife Barbara Dooley have also become generous donors to UGA academic and scholarship pursuits. There are now a Dooley Library Endowment Fund and a Dooley Professorship in Horticulture, both made possible by their generosity. And the only subject that Coach Dooley will talk longer on than football is gardening.
Both Dooleys call Athens their adopted home, raising their son and two daughters there. Son Derek is now a college football coach as well, and the charmed couple have become walking icons for Bulldog Nation, both known for their southern charm, hospitality and enduring love for all things Georgia football.
Recognizing these and so many other contributions to the University, both in the academic and athletic arenas as well as becoming true pillars of the Athens community, UGA President Jere Morehead and Athletic Director Greg McGarity (whom Dooley first hired), recently informed a surprised Coach that the field he spent a quarter century coaching atop would soon be named in his honor.
Coach is now 86, and remains active on more boards and non-profits than most folks half his age. I have the pleasure of serving on the Board of the Monastery of the Holy Spirit in Conyers with Coach. He attends most every meeting, often offering insightful guidance and advice, and then hops in his Kia and drives himself back to Athens. Vince and Barbara introduced me to Bulldog Kia in Athens, and that’s Barbara’s face saying ‘See y’all at Bulldog Kia’ to a few hundred thousand Bulldog fans on billboards around Athens each fall.
The Dooleys are both warm, genuine and class acts devoted to UGA. And another one like them, UGA’s current President Jere Morehead said as much when he responded to efforts by more than 450 former Bulldog players calling for naming Sanford Stadium’s field in honor of Coach Dooley. Current Dawgs Coach Kirby Smart played for Coach Dooley, as did former Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue and hundreds of other NCAA and later NFL standouts.
The Athletic Association and University System Board of Regents are adding their voices to that chorus, singing a tune now long overdue. Normally each fall UGA home opener tends to be a light schedule game, and sometimes the stands don’t even fill, into the now 92,000+ seats which expanded around that field during Dooley’s tenures.
But I expect for this year’s opener, on Saturday, September 7th against Murray State, there will be a packed house, and a later standing ovation and applause perhaps not equaled since that national championship season, when that 100-yard stretch of privet and Georgia green officially becomes Dooley Field, an honor truly and duly long over-due. The Dooley’s and their family are expected to be there for the honor and a special half-time tribute. Congratulations Coach! Go Dawgs!