On Friday night, the University of Georgia honored the life of legendary football coach Vince Dooley with a life celebration at Stegeman Coliseum. After Georgia’s win over rivals Georgia Tech on Saturday, head coached the Bulldogs Kirby Smart had his own way of showing his appreciation for Dooley.
Smart donned Dooley’s traditional gameday attire of a black sweater, red tie and white singlet for Saturday’s follow-up to Georgia’s 37-14 win over the Yellow Jackets. Smart explained to reporters that the tie he was wearing was one of Vince’s and that the Dooley family gave Smart their blessing to perform his gesture.
Smart explained he considered wearing the outfit for Saturday’s game but ultimately decided against it.
“I didn’t want the seniors to get distracted and say, ‘WWell, we don’t change our uniforms, why did you do that?’ So I decided to wear it to the press conference if everything went well,” Smart said. “I [asked] Derek, if I could, and he and Mrs. Barbara said, ‘Oh, we’d be honored.’ She had his tie, and that’s the tie he wore to so many games. Derek gave it to me. I probably didn’t do justice to his shirt and sweater, I honored him without a visor.
“He’s done it right for a long time. He has done so much for this community. It’s just a small token of my appreciation for all the things he did at Georgia.”
Smart spoke extensively on Saturday about Dooley, who died on October 28 at the age of 90. Smart said Dooley taught him the lesson of honor and dignity in representing Georgia over the years, stating that he put Georgia on the map and laid the groundwork for the coaches who eventually followed him.
Smart also shared the story of seeing Dooley at the hotel the night before the national title game in January.
“I got off on every floor in Indianapolis, I think the 15th or 16th floor. The thing rang, I was tired and had my briefcase and went to my room by myself. He was dead right in front of the elevator, just sitting there,” Smart said. “I thought, ‘That’s weird, why is he sitting here?’ He was waiting for his son to come back with a key. We shared a few intimate moments and I kind of waited for his son to come back with the key. [I thought] God brought him here so I should talk to him and see what’s going on.
“I just thought that was a pre-game sign. Looking back now, it’s not about that game, it’s about spending time with someone who has so much wisdom.”
Dooley meant a lot to the Georgian community due to his various roles at the university over the years.
Dooley was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1994 and has been a pivotal figure in UGA athletics, thanks to 25 years as the university’s head football coach and 26 years as athletic director.
Dooley had an overall record of 201-77-10 with a national championship, six SEC titles and eight bowl wins to his credit. He remains the most successful head coach in the history of the Georgia program.
Georgia won 73 games in Dooley’s first decade at the helm of the program and had more success in the 1970s. The Bulldogs won nine or more games three times in the four seasons from 1975 to 1978; During that time, Georgia placed in the top 20 three times in the AP poll.
Dooley’s 17th season in Athens was the one Georgia fans around the world still cherish.
The Bulldogs went into the season ranked 16th and slowly began to accumulate wins, beginning with a 16-15 thriller against Tennessee in the season opener, a game in which freshman Herschel Walker famously rolled over Volunteers defenseman Bill Bates to announce his presence to the world . Georgia notched a dramatic last-second win over Florida in his ninth game of the season – the famous “Run, Lindsay!” Run!” game – to finally climb to the top of the nation. The Bulldogs retained that spot through the end of the regular season thanks to additional victories over Auburn and Georgia Tech.
Georgia ended the year by beating Notre Dame in the 1981 Sugar Bowl with a national championship at stake. The Bulldogs and Fighting Irish fought each other for four quarters, but two short walker rushing touchdowns and a key Scott Woerner interception helped the Dooley’s Bulldogs to a 17-10 win.
The result was Georgia’s first national championship in 38 years.
While the 1980 championship proved Dooley’s only one as head coach, his Bulldogs remained in the title hunt for the next few years. From 1980 to 1983, Georgia won 43 games and clinched at least a share of the SEC title three times. The Bulldogs had another shot at a national title in 1982 but narrowly missed out, losing to eventual champions Penn State 27-23 in the Sugar Bowl.
Dooley stayed on as Georgia head coach for six more seasons before deciding to retire after the 1988 season. At the time of Dooley’s retirement, he was the second-best head coach in SEC history, behind only Alabama head coach Paul “Bear” Bryant.
Dooley, who was appointed UGA director of sport in 1979, stayed on as head football coach after retiring and retained that role for another 26 years. During Dooley’s tenure as athletic director, Georgia teams won 20 national championships – including 10 in his last six years – including four in the 1998-99 school year (women’s swimming, gymnastics, men’s tennis and men’s golf). During his time as an AD, he hired a number of players in UGA athletics, including former swimming coach Jack Bauerle, former gymnastics coach Suzanne Yoculan, men’s golf coach Chris Haack, and former soccer coach Markus dir.
Georgia unveiled a statue honoring Dooley in front of Butts-Mere Heritage Hall in 2008 as part of an area renamed the Dooley Complex. Additionally, the field at Sanford Stadium was renamed Dooley Field in 2019.
Dooley was inducted into the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame in 1978 and the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame in 1984. In 2001 he received the Amos Alonzo Stagg Award as someone “whose contribution to the promotion of the best interests of football has been outstanding”. and was later awarded the Bear Bryant Lifetime Achievement Award 2010.
Smart explained the tie will be returned to the Dooleys after Saturday, adding he’s not sure what the family will do with it now. The Bulldogs head coach added that ties belonged to many wins before poking fun at Claude Felton, Georgia’s longtime sports information director.
“This duel has a lot of wins under its belt, I know that. He has won many soccer games. Claude was probably here for every one of them,” Smart said.