Vince Dooley talks football, family and UGA history

Published 8:57 am Friday, December 14, 2012

I called Hall of Fame football coach Vince Dooley this week to get his perspective on the University of Georgia’s heart-breaking loss to Alabama in the SEC championship game.

There are few people more qualified to comment than Vince Dooley. Let’s start with the fact that he won 201 football games, six SEC championships and a national title during an illustrious career that stretched from 1964 to 1988.

Currently, Dooley is traveling around the state, autographing copies of his latest book, History and Reminiscences of the University of Georgia (Looking Glass Books.) This is his third collaboration with nationally-known Georgia artist Steve Penley. Before getting to football, I asked him “Why this book?”

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“Steve Penley and I were at a function and he said, ‘Why don’t we do a book together?’ I agreed and intended for the first one to be a history book but we ended up doing a book on football first and then a garden book” — Dooley is also a master gardener — “before we got to this one.”

“As for this book, I have always been interested in history,” he said, “I got my master’s degree in history and even while coaching, I audited history classes at UGA.”

He talks about growing up in Mobile and visiting Baldwin County, Ala. Only later did he learn the county had been named for Abraham Baldwin, the first president of the University of Georgia.

The man is more than qualified to reflect on the 200-year history of the university and to reminiscence about his 40 years there and the five UGA presidents with whom he served during his tenure. I was interested in what he had to say about outgoing President Mike Adams, with whom Dooley had a cool relationship (but better than mine.)

“I tried to be historically accurate about President Adams,” he said simply. Maybe I should try that.

Any more books in the offing?

“If I said ‘yes,’ Barbara would divorce me,” he declared.

Nobody — not a modest and much-beloved columnist, a famous football coach or any person with a brain larger than a peapod — will mess with Barbara Dooley. I stay on her good side by reminding her I love her better than banana pudding. So far, so good.

Dooley did mention he has a great interest in Civil War history and might take a look at something on that subject down the road, but that is our secret, OK?

Finally, I got around to the SEC championship game. Dooley said, “It was the best championship game I have ever seen. I just wish I could have been neutral and enjoyed a great game.”

The coach said he was personally proud of Mark Richt, whose hiring was his last major decision before retiring as athletic director in 2004.

“I am also proud of the Bulldog fans,” he added, “and the way they supported the team’s effort.”

Dooley said it will take a while for this bad feeling to pass. “There are always going to be ups-and-downs in the coaching profession and you have to keep things in perspective,” he said, “If you will recall, we had Pittsburgh beaten with 35 seconds to go in the 1982 Sugar Bowl and Dan Marino threw a fourth-down pass for a touchdown to win it.”

When he thinks about that game, he remembers the Buck Belue-to-Lindsay Scott pass that beat Florida, as well as other close games he won. Keep the ups-and-downs in perspective, he says. I suspect Coach Richt will do just that.

I asked about his son, Derek, who was fired at Tennessee after three years. His dad says Derek is going to be just fine and has a lot of options for the future. “Today, success has to be immediate,” he says, pointing out that Duke basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski, the winningest coach in NCAA Division I men’s basketball history, was 38-47 after his first three years. Virginia Tech football coach Frank Beamer was 24-40 with the Hokies before turning that program around and today has more wins than any active football coach in major college football. I doubt either coach would have survived in today’s environment.

Vince Dooley will be busy autographing his books over the next couple of weeks. You can check the Internet to see if and when he will be in your area. If you do see him, tell him you know a guy who admires him greatly for all he has accomplished. The coach is not only writing about history, he is still making it.

You can reach Dick Yarbrough at or P.O. Box 725373, Atlanta, GA 31139.