Vince Dooley was kind enough to speak with me in between trips to Atlanta in the spring of 2004. He discussed his legacy at Georgia and how difficult it has been for his wife, Barbara, to deal with him leaving his post. I also asked him about some of the highs and lows of his coaching career.
Legge: Coach Dooley, this is Dean Legge. How are you?
Coach, I’m doing a piece on you for our final magazine of the year and I wanted to talk with you just a couple of minutes about what it was like to coach in the 60s,70s and 80s and then as Athletic Director in the 90s and how those were a little bit different.
Legge: How tough was it when you first got to Georgia, coming from Auburn and just in general. Was it difficult?
Dooley: Well, this profession is difficult. I guess that I was so young. One of the great beauties of youth is that all you know is that despite all that going on around us we were able to focus our attention on restoring the program at Georgia. I was fortunate to hire an excellent staff and we all worked extremely well together. The staff reminded me a lot of the staff that Coach (Mark) Richt has brought together. We worked together as a team and had good morale, which permeated down to the players. It was probably as much fun coaching as I ever had when those first three teams that fought their way and the third year they won a championship.
Legge: Well, in those first couple of years you won—it seemed like you won those three so quickly — was it tough to adjust in the 70s when you came so close in ’71 and you just barely missed that title.
Dooley: Yeah, you know there’s a thin line between being a champion and not being one. That 1971 team could have been. It’s just that we played against a quarterback who won the Heisman Trophy that year, Pat Sullivan, and some great receivers, but it was a classic game; it was the only game we lost that year. That was a tough loss; but we of course came back in ’76 and won the championship then.
Legge: I want to ask you about the 1979 Virginia game. Was that the most difficult one to swallow while you were at Georgia, or did that give that team motivation for 1980?
Dooley: No, I think that was probably the most difficult. There were 3 that had come to my mind; Virginia was one of them. But…
Legge: What were the other two?
Dooley: Actually, I could say four. Virginia, Kentucky at home—which was bad. We played terrible.
Legge: ’76 Kentucky?
Dooley: No, we got beat badly by Kentucky badly the year they won the championship.
Legge: ’77 then I guess.
Dooley: Yes, yes, ’77.And they were good. But in those games I think we were out of character with most all of our teams and all of our games. Because I think people had developed a sense that when you played Georgia you could count on two things: One: They would hit you and two: they would play you hard for 60 minutes.
In the four games that I’m referring to, that was not the case. I just mentioned two of them. The other one was the Bowl game which was then the Tangerine Bowl right before it became the Citrus Bowl—right before it became the big bowl it is, the Capital Bowl in Orlando. We played Miami of Ohio. But I think of all of them the worst was the Georgia Tech game in 1974.
Legge: Was it tough losing at Kentucky in ’88, and I’m not trying to focus on the losing…but it seems like you all won so much…
Dooley: Yeah, that was tough—yes--because it cost us the championship and we certainly would have won or tied the championship that year had we beaten Kentucky –and we were favored to—we were not focused. Kentucky got a good break; we had the ballgame in fairly good shape and two quick things happened and Kentucky was in our end zone. And we were not able to rally to fight back.
Legge: Besides Herschel (Walker), what was the thing that made that group so special?
Dooley: Well, during that four-year period, we had the best record in the country: 43-4-and 1. Now three of those years we had Herschel one of those years we didn’t.
Dooley: But Herschel was certainly the main focus, and was an important link and cog of the team but at the same time, we had a team in total. We had a terrific defensive team; we had an excellent kicking game; and we had a good offense, featured around Herschel; but it was a total team. I mean, you could take Bo Jackson at Auburn and compare him with Herschel, but look at the record of Auburn during that time.
Dooley: But this team won 3 SEC championships, the national championship, you know, and then the Cotton Bowl -- after Herschel left -- because that was the same team minus Herschel.
Legge: Right. What was it like defeating Texas down there? When they were going for the championship basically in their own place.
Dooley: Well, it was, I think one of the great wins that we had. At that moment, we might have thought it was the greatest, but the greatest was beating Notre Dame in the Sugar Bowl.
Legge: So you have no doubt, Notre Dame, that game was …
Dooley: Well it was because of what it meant. It wasn’t our best game but the result of it, winning the national championship. You know, two years later we beat Texas and at that moment, you think that was even greatest but in reality, it wasn’t
Legge: Damon Evans was on the cover of Dawg Post last month; how do you think that he will lead Georgia. Not just Damon, but how you think that the Athletic Association will survive without you when you have been there for 40 years?
Dooley: Well, I think he will survive well because it’s a good program; it’s a good organization. We’ve got excellent people. I think that it would have been a very bad mistake to have destructed that. This was a program that was built over 40 years. Now I probably have the best group of coaches and the best group of administrators that I have ever had. I am consoled by the fact that Damon is the one who I had picked a year ago or more. I felt like he would be the best one to succeed me... (laughing) in a couple of more years. As you know, I wanted to stay on a few more years. I thought that would help him… the few more years of experience. But I think he’s ready and I think that he’ll do great. I’ll be there to try to help him anyway that I can. But I have no doubt that he will, because he has got such a good group with him. I mean he’s got Claude Felton, who has been with me… that was the first hire that I made as Athletic Director. That will help Damon; he needs that kind of maturity. They will be a great team. I have all of the confidence, (that he will) not only sustain the program, but he will take it to even greater heights.
Legge: Coach, one last question and this time it really will be the last question. I know you’re extremely busy. Was there one poignant moment in the last forty years? I was one of the last people in the locker room after the Kentucky game and it seemed kind of like you didn’t want to leave, that that was kind of your home, that that was what you did. Was there a moment like that that hit you recently or…?
Dooley: You mean in this last Kentucky game?
Dooley: Well, I tell you there have been a lot of those moments for Barbara.
Dooley: Yeah. She feels this very much--this is the last time this, this is the last time that…She’s very emotional. And she has felt…We just got back from a senior administrator’s retreat that has become quite a tradition for us and so it will be the last one and she got emotional about that. Not in front of people, but when we got back to the room. But that’s probably a good balance, because I’m usually fairly level and I accept things, but on the other hand, she provides the heart of matters and the spirit and I think that’s good, so we’ve been a good team in that respect.
Legge: Well, Coach, I’m very young and very new to this whole thing, but like I told you when we were in Baton Rouge, you have meant a lot of things to a lot of different people and I view it as nothing but positive so I wish you good luck.
Dooley: Well, I appreciate it. And I look forward to the last edition (of the year for Dawg Post).