When someone as influential as Vince Dooley comes along it is difficult to put into words how much power and influence he has had. In the last 40 years Dooley has transformed not only the football team but also the athletic department at the University of Georgia.
But not all of Dooley’s accomplishments have dealt exclusively with athletics. He worked extensively with the Easter Seals and contributed a large sum of money to the University’s Library. There was a time that Dooley was so popular, in fact, that he pondered a run for the United States Senate. It never happened.
That’s why most people will remember Dooley for winning football games. He was a surprise hire back in 1964 but quickly made an impact by beating Alabama’s Bear Bryant and winning at Michigan in his first couple of seasons.
Before Dooley arrived, Georgia was in a tailspin. The Bulldogs were struggling in the SEC; they had not won a conference title since 1959.
But after Dooley guided the team to the 1966 SEC championship, his first as Georgia coach, he seemed to be on good footing with the supporters of the program. From that point forward Dooley built his legacy year by year. By the time he was done with the gridiron, Dooley was a success.
Georgia's most successful coach in history, he compiled an overall record of 201-77-10 and has more wins than any other Georgia head football coach. Dooley guided Georgia to the 1980 national championship. But he also won six SEC titles (1966, 1968, 1976, 1980, 1981, and 1982). Dooley nurtured Georgia into a national power year in and year out and made winning synonymous with the program. Dooley took his teams to 20 bowl games in 25 seasons. He was named NCAA National Coach of the Year in 1980 and SEC Coach of the Year seven times. His 201 total victories was second best in the history of the SEC and enabled him to become one of only 10 Division I head coaches in NCAA history to win 200 games.
That kid from Auburn: Dooley’s early years
Not the most well-known candidate for the Georgia job, Dooley made a splash early in his career when he took the Bulldogs to the Sun Bowl. The 1964 season was a success by all measures. Dooley turned a program that had a losing record for three years into a bowl team.
In 1965 the team may have limped to a 6-4 record, but wins over Alabama (Flea-Flicker) and Michigan (at Ann Arbor) solidified Dooley’s coaching potential. The next season Dooley gave Bulldog fans a SEC Championship. Georgia only lost one game that season, at Miami, and won the Cotton Bowl over SMU in Dallas.
Two years later Dooley’s team, led by Georgia and NFL great Bill Stanfill, won the SEC title and a share of the national title. The Bulldogs lost their final game of the season in the Sugar Bowl but in five seasons Dooley gave Georgia a share of a national title, two SEC titles, and four bowl games (Sun, Cotton, Liberty, Sugar).
Close but only one cigar: The 1970s
During the 1970s Dooley’s Dawgs captured only one SEC title but they scored some historic wins. The Bulldog’s come from behind win over rival Georgia Tech in 1978 is a classic. Larry Munson said that Eugene Washington “Ran out of his shoes” against Florida in 1975. And the Bulldog’s Andy Johnson gave Georgia and Dooley a historic win at Neyland Stadium over Tennessee in 1973.
The 1970s were full of disappointments, however. Georgia was challenging for a national title in 1971 but lost that chance as well as the SEC title when Auburn’s Pat Sullivan bettered Georgia by 15 points in Athens. Stanford’s comeback win in the 1978 Bluebonnet Bowl took almost all of the sweetness out of the end of Georgia’s season.
But the worst loss by far in the 1970s came late in the decade. After starting the 1979 season off 0-3 Georgia appeared to have corrected its problems by November. The Bulldogs were on a roll in the middle of ’79 as they took care of Ole Miss, LSU, Vandy, and Kentucky before Homecoming 1979.
Then came one of Dooley’s four self-described worst losses of his career; the Homecoming crowd watched is awe as Virginia mopped up the field with Georgia. The Bulldogs had already lost to ACC rivals Wake Forest and Clemson earlier in the season, but the loss to pitiful Virginia might have been the worst loss in Dooley’s tenure. After all, a homecoming game is supposed to be a gimmie; and with Virginia’s football prowess at the time the game looked like a lock.
The Cavs pounded Georgia 31-0. The Bulldogs had not been blanked in a Homecoming game since a 14-0 loss to Auburn in 1963.
Sweet as sUGAr: The Golden Era
Something (or someone) had to change. Georgia finished off the 1979 season by beating Florida and Tech but losing to Auburn. That change came in the form of a slow talking country boy from Wrightsville.
In the golden era of Bulldog football, Dooley guided Georgia to three consecutive SEC championships and one national title. From 1980 to 1982 Georgia lost only three games, with two of the losses coming to national championship teams (Penn State and Clemson). In fact, Georgia had at least an outside chance of winning the national championship going into New Year’s Day of all three of those seasons.
Walker had everything to do with it. He still remains the greatest college football running back of all time. Walker’s 1982 Heisman Trophy was the crowning achievement in his individual career. But his performances in three straight Sugar Bowls as well as his yearly destruction of hated Florida made him a legend for Georgia fans.
You can not talk about Vince Dooley’s legacy at Georgia without mentioning Herschel Walker. Walker gave Dooley the ultimate weapon for his style of play. It seemed that Dooley hated to throw the ball; that is something that his critics have always pointed to. But Walker allowed Dooley to do the one thing that he loved to do the best: Run the ball.
Georgia may not have outplayed Notre Dame in the 1981 Sugar Bowl but they did what any Vince Dooley team would do: they found a way to win. Dooley made sure that Walker pounded the Irish all afternoon in New Orleans. By the time that it was all over Georgia’s quarterback, Buck Belue, completed only one pass for nine yards. Georgia still won the game 17-10 and the Superdome roof nearly exploded as Georgia fans rushed the stadium floor.
The Bulldogs, and Walker, continued to challenge for national championships in 1981 and 1982 but losses in both Sugar Bowls as well as a loss at Clemson prevented any more national titles.
But in 1983 Dooley’s Dogs were still thrusting themselves into the national championship picture. Georgia had no shot at winning the national title in that year’s bowl season due to a late season loss to highly ranked Auburn. But the Bulldogs did get a Cotton Bowl match up on January 2nd against number one ranked Texas.
Georgia spoiled the Longhorn’s day. It was supposed to be mighty Texas’ return to power. The Horns were undefeated, conference champions, and playing in their beloved Cotton Bowl for all of the marbles.
Dooley’s team didn’t much care. They willed their way to another big win.
Georgia beat Texas 10-9 in a game that was as ugly as the temperature was cold. The final score will always be an inside joke to those that remember the 1984 Cotton Bowl. The joke goes something like this:
Q: What time is it in Texas?
A: It’s still ten to nine.
Dooley’s teams had the knack of winning important games; that’s what happened against Texas. In 1985, two years after the huge upset over Texas, Dooley spoiled number one ranked Florida’s season with a whipping that sent the Gator program backwards for years. Truthfully, Dooley owned Georgia’s two biggest rivals Florida and Georgia Tech. And he won enough against Auburn to take home six SEC titles along the way.
His football career ended at the 1989 Gator Bowl against Michigan State. Georgia won and Dooley ended his career as one of the most successful football coaches ever to patrol the sideline.
He went on to focus on his position as Athletic Director, where he received many honors, the most recent being the John L. Toner Award which is presented by the National Football Foundation and College Hall of Fame. It’s given annually to a director of athletics who has demonstrated superior administrative abilities and shown outstanding dedication to college athletics, particularly college football.
They should rename the award.
The Vincent J. Dooley Award sounds fine.