Dooley: My 40 Years at Georgiaby Vince Dooley, Tony Barnhart
Vince Dooley—the player, the coach, the administrator, the legend—is finally ready to tell his story. Georgia's prodigal son got his start on the rough end of Mobile, Alabama, where he used football as a springboard to an incredible life. After four decades, 201 wins, six SEC championships, and one national title, Dooley is ready to hang up his
Vince Dooley—the player, the coach, the administrator, the legend—is finally ready to tell his story. Georgia's prodigal son got his start on the rough end of Mobile, Alabama, where he used football as a springboard to an incredible life. After four decades, 201 wins, six SEC championships, and one national title, Dooley is ready to hang up his stirrups. In Vince Dooley: My 40 Years at Georgia, Dooley talks candidly to give the complete inside story of his extraordinary life and career.
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My 40 Years At Georgia
By Vincent J. Dooley, Tony Barnhart
Triumph BooksCopyright © 2005 Vincent J. Dooley Tony Barnhart
All rights reserved.
Regrets? Too Few to Mention
Where in the world have the past 41 years gone?
Barbara and I find ourselves saying that a lot these days. On March 19, 2005, we celebrated our 45th wedding anniversary.
Our daughter, Deanna, was just two and a half years old when we came to Georgia in December of 1963. Now she is 43 years old. How is that possible?
And you just wonder again: where has all of that time gone?
It was snowing and sleeting when I brought Barbara to Athens for the first time in 1963. I blinked a couple of times, and now all four of our children are grown and we have 11 grandchildren.
It just goes by too fast ... way too fast.
But here we are, nearing the end of an incredible journey that began when we were both incredibly young. I was 31 years old when I became the head football coach at the University of Georgia. Barbara was 24 — a head coach's wife and a child bride for sure. I signed my first contract for the princely sum of $12,500 per year. A housing allowance and a television deal (which I negotiated myself) bumped that total all the way to $15,000 per year. Needless to say, coaching — and coaching salaries — have changed a little bit since then.
And little did Barbara and I know that 41 years later we would still be living in the same house on Milledge Circle. Well, not exactly the same house, considering there have been nine major additions, but we've had the same address since we moved in six months after our arrival in Athens. Every time a kid would leave, Barbara would want to add a room. It didn't make sense then, but it does now. They do multiply!
In that span I can now say that we accomplished most of the things that we set out to do:
In 25 years as Georgia's head football coach (1964 — 1988), we were able to win 201 games, six SEC championships, and one national championship.
In 26 years as Georgia's athletic director (1979 — 2004), we went from a budget of around $15 million to one of almost $60 million. Three times in my final five years as athletic director we finished among the nation's top overall departments. In 1999 our athletic program won four national championships and finished second only to Stanford as the nation's best program.
In my 40 years as football coach and athletic director, I saw the stadium grow by some 50,000 seats — from 43,000 to almost 93,000, with 77 sky suites. In that same period of time the contributions for ticket priority (money that fans pay to reserve their tickets) went from $75,000 to $22 million. Not only was our department fiscally sound (we always finished in the black), but I believe we did it while maintaining the highest of standards, both ethically and academically. Yes, we did have a problem from time to time, but each time we faced a crisis, we used it to make our program stronger.
What is interesting is that when you reach this point in your life and your career, the victories and the championships still mean a lot. But what means even more are the lives you touched, and how the lives of others have touched you.
I've always said that the great thing about being a teacher or a coach is that you continue to enjoy it for the rest of your life through your players and students. All the memories of competition don't become less important, but what becomes increasingly more important are the players who come back and say two simple words: "Thanks, Coach."
Some thank me for teaching them the simple lessons of discipline. Or they are grateful because I taught them to win — and to lose — with dignity and class. Or I taught them the work ethic that they would take with them and use for the rest of their lives. Or I taught them how to work through adversity in order to achieve their goals.
That's because the teachers you always remember are the ones who were the most demanding. When you're young you might not like to be in a class where the teachers are demanding, but to this day I still remember Mrs. McCloud, an English teacher who taught a course called Business and Professional Writing at Auburn. She was a tough son of a gun, but when it was all over I realized she had pushed me further than I knew I could go. Those are the teachers who mean the most to you later in your life.
I have been so fortunate in that regard, as my former players have gone on to be doctors, lawyers, teachers, businessmen, and ministers. We even had three professional wrestlers! When someone like Billy Payne, who has accomplished so much since his days at Georgia, expresses his appreciation, that is something I just can't put a value on.
The demands of being a head football coach and an athletic director at this level are great. I've been asked many times if I have any regrets about the path I chose and the sacrifices my family and I had to make to be successful. There are absolutely no regrets. From an athletic standpoint and an administrative standpoint, there is nothing quite like being around a university. Georgia is a very special place, and my family and I know that we have been blessed to have a relationship with the same university that has lasted more than four decades.
Are there some things I wish I had a chance to address in a different way? Of course! In this job you make decisions constantly, and you would love the chance to go back and revisit some of them.
I have told the story many times about playing Pittsburgh in the Sugar Bowl after the 1981 season. We went ahead of them late, but then Pittsburgh came flying down the field behind Dan Marino. It was fourth down, they were on the 33-yard line, and there were about 20 seconds left. We called time-out and had to make a decision on what to do. So we went with the blitz and sent the linebackers after Marino. We went after Marino, but their halfbacks picked the linebackers up. I mean they literally put their arms around them and picked them up. That gave Marino an extra second, he threw the ball right into the receiver's hands for a touchdown, and they beat us.
So people asked me right after the game ... and five days later ... and even now: If you had it to do all over again, would you do it the same? And I say, "Heck no!" I know how that decision turned out. I would certainly do it a different way if I was given a chance.
But you don't get that chance, so you make the best decisions you can and live with the consequences. Decisions are always made in the best interests of the program and the team, so naturally some individuals will be hurt for the good of the whole. I always feel for those who were individually hurt in the decision-making process. The hope is that over the long haul you make many more good decisions than bad ones. I believe we did that.
Like I said, I was only 31 years old when I came to Georgia, and I believe that I was able to grow into the job. I learned over the course of time how to better handle individuals and how to coach a season. I was a much better coach in the eighties than when I started. There were times I wished I could start over, but I learned that you have to grow in the position or you won't be in the job very long.
One thing I learned early in my career is that while you grow professionally, you must always keep in mind that there are some basic principles that never change. We must constantly remind ourselves of these principles and reinforce them as we go through our careers.
In 1922 the great John Heisman wrote a book titled The Principles of Football. The intangible traits that made successful football teams, players, and professionals back then still ring true today. Here are just a few of his axioms:
You can't make the team if you don't understand teamwork.
You can't do yourself justice without getting — and staying — in shape.
Never give up.
Never play less than your hardest.
As coaches and educators, we employ — whether we know it or not — the basic, fundamental teaching philosophies expounded by two of the greatest presidents this country has ever known: Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson. The Jeffersonian philosophy of teaching is "to give scope to ability." Translated into coaching, that means providing extraordinarily gifted players an environment in which they can utilize and exploit their superb talents. But the reality is that there are only a few of these kinds of athletes on any given team. The vast majority of a team is made up of players with average skills. Thus, we also employ the Jacksonian philosophy of education, which is "to raise the average." That philosophy challenges us to utilize all of our coaching and teaching tools to produce players who overachieve and rise above their limited talents.
As coaches and teachers, we implement these two philosophies by first making sure our athletes have learned the fundamentals of the game — because only by first mastering the fundamentals can someone maximize their ability.
Secondly, we must be both enthusiastic and demanding. The teachers we all remember were those who loved what they taught and demanded the best of us. The best teachers are those who push us beyond what we think our limits are.
Finally, if we have mastered teaching the game of football to our students but have failed to emphasize the values that the game brings to their personal lives, we have shortchanged ourselves and our athletes. We have, in essence, fallen short in providing one of the greatest services to our profession: teaching and reinforcing fundamental values to young people in a society that has recently proven to be declining in ethics, character, and morality.
We'll talk more about this later, but one of the things I'm most proud of is that when we were faced with a crisis, we addressed it in the right way and ultimately used it to make our program better. We finally learned that we should not spend all of our time defending what went wrong. We knew that even if we got a black eye, if the program was strong we would survive, and every time we survived, our program would grow stronger.
Part of growing in the job is learning how to be flexible. My core principles didn't change, but the way I handle people did. I learned to be a little more understanding. I learned to say no in a nicer way. I learned to be a little more outgoing instead of maintaining my reputation as a staunch Marine (which was the case early in my career). I don't mean to imply that I changed the core values of my Marine training, which have been a tremendous help to me; rather, I tried to be a little more flexible and outgoing.
I have to say that Barbara has been very helpful to me in that regard. I am not naturally an outgoing person. But she taught me that you can work at being a more open person, a more congenial person, a kinder, gentler individual. It came very naturally to Barbara, but as I have grown, it is a lot more natural to me now.
I would like to believe that I was as competitive at the end of my coaching career as I was at the beginning. But I think what moved me to retire at a relatively young age (56) was that I had done just about everything I wanted to do in coaching. You always want to win one more SEC championship, but we did win six. And, of course, I would really have loved to have won more than one national championship, but you get to the point where you wonder if that's all there is. There is always one more game to win, one more championship to pursue. Where does it stop?
The truth is, I had other interests in my life. I thought about running for public office — I gave that a lot of thought. But ultimately I discovered this: service in politics was something I wanted in my mind, but in my heart and gut I realized that I really didn't. In my heart I enjoyed athletics and being around a university campus, so that's why I ultimately took on the challenge of being an athletic administrator, which is something I found to be incredibly rewarding.
Obviously none of what I have accomplished over the past 41 years would have been possible without my family. It was tough being away from home so much, especially when the children were young, but Barbara was great. She was the ideal coach's wife. She was a great mother ... and still is. She was a great part-time father, too, which she had to be on many occasions. She was great with the children and great at being able to fill the void. Without her, there was no way I could have balanced the responsibilities of succeeding in coaching and being a good father. Our current coach, Mark Richt, manages this balance better than I ever did, and I have great respect for him.
Back when I started there were absolutely no restrictions on when you could recruit. I remember several times being on vacation and, about five days into it, things would just start to bother me. That was because I knew there was another coach out there talking to recruits while I was on vacation. So I would tell Barbara that I had to take off for a day. I would go visit three or four recruits and then I would come back to vacation feeling a lot better.
Barbara had to make sacrifices, and I know, to a certain extent, my children did too. In that regard, Barbara and I did have one running disagreement. She would go the extra mile so the kids could enjoy some of the extra opportunities that come with being the family of the head coach and/or the athletic director. I would tend to be more conservative. I didn't want them to get "perks" because of my position.
I believe that when you run an organization, you don't want your children to have more privileges than the children of the other members of the organization. I didn't want my children to be spoiled that way. Barbara and I would argue about that all the time. She tells some good stories about it. There were some disadvantages for my children, and they had many advantages. I just didn't want them to have too many.
These days I get asked all the time how I feel about the way, after all this time, my career ended at Georgia. In March 2003 I asked for an extension on my contract because there was still so much I wanted to get done at Georgia. I felt good, and the athletic department was in great shape — financially and competitively. But Dr. Michael Adams, Georgia's president, denied my request, which was certainly his right to do. That decision, unfortunately, created a lot of ill will among the Georgia people, and I'm afraid it still exists today.
People ask me if I'm mad or bitter about the decision. I tell them that once a decision is made, even if it isn't the way I want it to be, I pretty well accept it and move on to the next thing. I do not let myself have this type of regret. I do not let myself get upset, bitter, disturbed, angry ... whatever. It might be that I didn't have the opportunity to script the last two or three years exactly as I wanted them to be, but I didn't let those negative feelings consume me.
While I have accepted the decision, I still believe that Adams made the wrong decision and that something other than good common sense entered into the process. In addition, he was never willing to accept a compromise that I suggested on two different occasions. I will always believe that if the president had compromised in some way, it would have gone a long way toward healing some of the wounds and bringing the Georgia people back together in the best interests of the university.
I didn't want to stay at Georgia because of my own ego; there were just a few more things that I wanted to do. I really felt that it was in the best interests of the athletic department that I stay there another two to three years to finish the capital campaign fund-raising that had gotten off to such a great start. The campaign is necessary for both academics and athletics and was something that I wanted to see through. I thought the fund-raising campaign would be better if I were around to help.
Once it was decided that my continued tenure was not what Adams had in mind, I adjusted to it. I have plenty to be proud of, so I'm not going to let a decision made by one person affect the way I feel for this university and the greatest number of people in it.
The following pages are simply my account of the past 40 years at Georgia: the good and the bad, the happy and the sad. There is the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat. I tried not to pull any punches. If we made a mistake — and there were some — I wanted to admit it. If I disagreed with the decisions of others — as was the case with Michael Adams — I have been as honest as I can be. History, I believe, will always be the final judge.
Regardless of the circumstances that ended my career at Georgia, it was an incredible journey, and retelling it here for you has been a pleasure.
They say that in any meaningful relationship, you always receive much more than you give. That's the way that I feel about my relationship with the University of Georgia and its people. Yes, I have given the balance of my adult life to Georgia, and I can say with great confidence that I worked just as hard on my last day for the university as I did on the first. I also know that my relationship with Georgia has enriched me and my entire family in more ways than I could ever count. Regardless of what happens to me in the future, I can promise that those feelings will never change.
Excerpted from Dooley by Vincent J. Dooley, Tony Barnhart. Copyright © 2005 Vincent J. Dooley Tony Barnhart. Excerpted by permission of Triumph Books.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author
Vincent Dooley was the head football coach and athletic director at the University of Georgia for 40 years. During his 25 year coaching career he compiled a 201–77–10 record and his teams won six Southeastern Conference titles and the 1980 national championship. Tony Barnhart, known as "Mr. College Football," is a college sports reporter for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, where he has won numerous journalism awards. In 1999 Barnhart was named the Georgia Sportswriter of the Year. He is a past president of the Atlantic Coast Sports Writers Association and the Football Writers Association of America.
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