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Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 1,592

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This is the grave of Vince Dooley.

Born in 1932 in Mobile, Alabama, Dooley was an excellent athlete as a kid and got accepted into Auburn University for football. He played a few years, graduated, and went into the Marines from 1954-56. When he came back, he went back to Auburn, got a master’s degree in History (yay!), and started working as an assistant coach, specifically working with the team’s quarterbacks. He had only coached the freshman team at Auburn when the University of Georgia offered him their head coaching job in 1963. That was a big jump! Yeah, I’d say it worked out for the Bulldogs.

He turned around Georgia pretty quick. They became a strong team in the SEC almost immediately. He took them to the Sun Bowl in his first season, where they beat Texas Tech. They upset national champion Alabama in 1965. Then in 1966, he won his first SEC title. The thing about Georgia over the years is that Dooley built an outstanding program, but one that had trouble getting over the top. They had their shots. They were almost always competing for the SEC title. Dooley would win six of them over the years, which given the toughness of that conference (which was not what it is today, but was a good conference then too), was impressive. They had a shot at the national title in 1976, but lost to the team that ended up being voted national champions, Pittsburgh, in the Sugar Bowl. Well, that Panthers team had Tony Dorsett, so no reason to apologize there. However, Dooley won National Coach of the Year that year and by this time was recognized as one of the best college football coaches in the country.

The next year, 1977, Dooley had his worst season, only finishing 5-6. I suppose they lost a ton from that really good team. But it didn’t take long for Dooley to rebuild the team. In 1980, he took over as athletic director too. Also, he had Herschel Walker at running back. Walker would later prove to be an incredibly stupid human being, but he was a hell of a college running back. His freshman year, he ran for 1,616 yards and that was his worst season! So let’s just say that Dooley was going to use his weapon to take the Bulldogs to new heights. The won the national title that year, the first in Georgia’s history. Dooley was named national coach of the year by every organization that gave out such an award. It was surprising that they didn’t win another with Walker, but they lost in the Sugar Bowl both years after winning the SEC. Dooley had a pretty good 1980s, with consistently competitive teams, but without Walker, Dooley wasn’t able to get his team back to the top, He retired in 1988, not having won the SEC since 1982. Overall, he won 201 games, which was pretty amazing. He was one of the great coaches in college football history.

After he retired from coaching, Dooley remained as Georgia’s athletic director. But the Bulldogs would go through three decades of meh before he finally left that job in 2004. Ray Goff replaced Dooley and the team dipped significantly in his seven seasons, only finishing with more than six wins on two occasions. That did not suggest Dooley had a good eye for coaching talent. Dooley had hired Goff as an assistant and moved him all the way up from running backs coach to the head job. He fired fired Goff after the 1995 season. He then brought in Jim Donnan, who had built Marshall into a small-time power. But that wasn’t super either. He was a bit less incompetent than Goff, but after a losing first season when he still had Goff’s players and a big push in his second season to a 10 win season and an Outback Bowl win, he followed with a 9 win season and then two 8 win seasons. This was not satisfactory to Georgia elite who wanted to be better than Florida and Tennessee, the powers in the conference at that time. Dooley did not want to fire Donnan. He, like a lot of former coaches, struggled to realize when he had made mistakes in hiring. The school’s president overruled him and fired him anyway. The best hire was Mark Richt, who was a pretty good coach. But two SEC titles in 15 years was not what anyone had in mind. Georgia fans became tremendously frustrated and he was fired in 2015. In the end, having a big time former coach running the program usually ends up casting a shadow over the program. Barry Alvarez at Wisconsin is a classic example of this. We will see what happens at Alabama with Nick Saban still in the building every day, even though he’s not AD.

By the time Richt was canned, Dooley had finally retired as AD. He always had political interests. He nearly ran for the Senate for the 1986 election as a Democrat, but decided it might get in the way of coaching. I assume Dooley was a Zell Miller kind of Democrat. He also considered running for governor in 1990. His wife later ran as a Republican in a primary for a House seat in 2002, but did not win it.

When Kennesaw State wanted to build up its football program, which it has slowly done, it hired Dooley to work as a consultant and to give his name to the effort. That was in 2009. Dooley also become a master gardener in his retirement and even wrote a book about gardening. He also “wrote” two children’s book about Ugga, Georgia’s bulldog mascot. I expect the amount of writing Dooley really did here was sign his name to the contract using his name and giving him a chunk of the profits. He also became a board member at the Georgia Historical Society in 2016. Knowing more than a little about the right-wing politics of the people who care enough about state historical societies to do this kind of work, I suspect this was….interesting.

Dooley died in 2022. He was 90 years old. Unfortunately, he lived to see the revival of Georgia football under Kirby Smart. He had recently recovered from Covid, but maybe it was enough to knock him out in the end, combined with just being really old.

Vince Dooley is buried in Oconee Hill Cemetery, Athens, Georgia. That cemetery has actually created its own section for Georgia football stars. There aren’t too many in there now (though there’s a couple who were big enough that they will get posts in this series too), but Dooley is the main attraction and has the place of prominence and there’s plenty of room for future dead Bulldogs.

If you would like this series to visit other college football coaches, you can donate to cover the required expenses here. Dooley is presently tied for 95th in all time coaching wins. Eddie Anderson also has 201 wins. The long-time Iowa and Holy Cross coach is in Framingham, Massachusetts. Cleveland Abbott, the long-time Tuskegee coach, who has 203 wins and is tied for 90th all time, is in Tuskegee, Alabama. Previous posts in this series are archived here and here.

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