ATLANTA — Vince Dooley, the football coach who acted like a professor and led Georgia to a quarter-century of success, including the 1980 national championship, passed away Friday. He was 90.
The school has announced that Dooley passed away peacefully at his home in Athens in the presence of his wife, Barbara, and their four children, including former Tennessee coach Derek Dooley. A cause of death was not given.
Dooley was hospitalized this month for what was described as a mild case of Covid-19, but he declared that he was fully recovered and ready to attend his regular autograph session at the campus bookstore for an October 15 game against Vanderbilt.
Dooley had a 201-77-10 career record while coaching the Bulldogs from 1964 to 1988, a stint with six Southeastern Conference titles, 20 bowl games and just one losing season.
“Our family is heartbroken by the death of Coach Dooley. He was one of a kind with an unparalleled love for UGA!” current Georgia coach Kirby Smart wrote on Twitter.
Dooley is the fourth winningest coach in SEC history, behind only Bear Bryant, Nick Saban and Steve Spurrier.
“Vince Dooley was one of my favorite people in the world,” said Saban. “Vince represented the University of Georgia and all of college football with tremendous integrity and class as both a coach and director of athletics.”
After he retired from coaching, Dooley continued as the school’s athletic director, a job he held from 1979 to 2004. dedicated in his honor during the 2019 football season.
Josh Brooks, the school’s current athletic director, said the big money program he now runs “is what it is today because of Vince Dooley.”
Dooley was the second prominent member of Georgia’s storied football history in the past two weeks.
Charley Trippi, who played in Georgia in the 1940s and went on to win an NFL championship with the Chicago Cardinals, died on October 19 at age 100.
Dooley’s death came just one day before Georgia, the defending national champion and No. 1 in the country, faces one of his biggest rivals, the Florida Gators, in the annual “Cocktail Party” competition in Jacksonville, Florida.
Dooley dominated that series during his coaching career, going 17-7-1 against the Gators. The most famous victory came in 1980, when Lindsay Scott got a 93-yard touchdown pass from Buck Belue in the final minute.
The unlikely triumph of 26-21 took Georgia to a perfect season and their first consensus national title.
Dooley lived long enough to see another championship. When the Bulldogs defeated Alabama in last season’s national title game, the former coach was in Indianapolis cheering them on.
Dooley withstood the pressure to win at a football-crazed SEC school during an era when Bryant ran a vigorous program in Alabama. Dooley won from skeptics early on, using a trick play to upset defending National Champion Crimson Tide 18-17 in the 1965 season opener.
The following year, Georgia won the first of its SEC titles. By the time Dooley retired from coaching at age 56, he was one of only 10 NCAA Division IA coaches to win 200 games.
Stoic in his demeanor and elegant with words delivered in a Southern accent, a Renaissance man who engaged in horticulture, studied Civil War history and wrote numerous books, Dooley had his greatest successes after landing a running back from tiny Wrightsville , Georgia.
During Walker’s three years between the hedges, the Bulldogs went 33-3, won three consecutive SEC titles, captured their only undisputed national title, and nearly won another in 1982.
A graduate of Auburn, one of Georgia’s most hated rivals, Dooley had no head coaching experience when he was hired by the Bulldogs at age 32.
It was not a popular hire, as Dooley often noted over the years.
“My qualifications were such that I wouldn’t have hired myself in any way,” admitted Dooley in a 2014 interview with the school newspaper, The Red & Black.
No one complained towards the end of his reign.
Dooley once described coaching as a ‘series of crises’, adding that he could draw on plenty of experience on and off the pitch.
There were definitely low moments.
Near the end of his tenure as athletic director, the men’s basketball program was mired in a scandal that led to the resignation of coach Jim Harrick and the Bulldogs expel themselves from SEC and NCAA tournaments.
Dooley’s four-decade stay ended unceremoniously. He was forced to retire after a nasty argument with then university president Michael Adams in 2004.
Dooley never left Athens and remained a fixture on the football program, often attending press conferences led by the last coach he hired, Mark Richt, and Smart.
Coaching was definitely in Dooley’s blood.
Vince’s younger brother, Bill, was the head coach at North Carolina, Virginia Tech and Wake Forest. Derek has held senior positions at both Louisiana Tech and SEC rival Tennessee.
When Derek returned to Athens as the Volunteers coach in 2010, Vince knew he couldn’t compete with his son, but he didn’t want to be seen in their own stadium against the Bulldogs.
So he stayed home and watched the game on television as Georgia headed for a 41-14 win.
“In a perfect world, I’d rather he be further away and not in the same conference,” Vince said.
In Georgia, Dooley coached a plethora of standout players—from Bill Stanfill to Scott Woerner to Rodney Hampton. But his most famous recruit was undoubtedly Walker, a running back who possessed an almost supernatural combination of bruising power and sprinter speed.
Walker made his mark in his first-ever college game, running right over Tennessee defense Bill Bates for a touchdown that helped the Bulldogs take a 16-15 win.
“My God, a freshman!” old Georgia radio announcer Larry Munson screamed over the airwaves.
Walker rushed for 1,616 yards and 15 touchdowns that season, but the Bulldogs’ national title hopes seemed doomed as they chased Florida 21-20.
Then Belue and Scott played perhaps the most famous play in school history. Thanks to another memorable call from Munson, the game would forever be known as “Run, Lindsay, Run”.
Georgia ended its 12-0 season with a 17-10 win over Notre Dame in the Sugar Bowl to take the National Championship.
That season would be the pinnacle of Dooley’s career, although the Bulldogs nearly won another national title two years later. Walker won the Heisman Trophy and Georgia was number 1 en route to the Sugar Bowl after an undefeated regular season.
But #2 Penn State captured the championship with a 27-23 win in what turned out to be Walker’s last college game. He shot for the novice US Football League after his junior season.
Walker is now a candidate for the United States Senate. Locked up in a close fight with incumbent Senator Raphael Warnock, Walker got his former coach’s approval in a recent ad.
Dooley was inducted into the National College Football Hall of Fame in 1998, but he also prided himself on running an athletic program that was among the best in the country in a wide variety of sports.
From tennis to swimming, gymnastics to baseball, the Bulldogs won 19 national championships under Dooley.
Dooley was born on September 4, 1932, to an athletic family in Mobile, Alabama. After graduating from McGill High School, he attended Auburn on a football scholarship and played basketball.
Dooley was an outstanding defensive backer and captain of the team in 1953, a year in which he also played in the College All-Star Game. He graduated from Auburn in 1954 with a degree in business management before serving for two years with the Marine Corps.
In 1956, Dooley became an assistant coach at Auburn and was a freshman coach at the school for three seasons before being named Georgia head coach shortly after the end of the 1963 season. .
Twenty-five years later, Dooley was carried off the field after his final game, a 34-27 victory over Michigan State in the Gator Bowl.
In addition to his wife and son Derek, there are also children Deanna, Daniel and Denise.