Vince’s victory: UGA to name football field after Dooley

The University of Georgia won its last national championship in football in 1980. Here's a look at how times have changed since coach Vince Dooley and the Bulldogs won the title.

It took a while – almost 15 years, to be precise — but the athletic director whom Michael Adams decided should leave July 1, 2004, as opposed to six months later, is about to get an impressive piece of Clarke County real estate named after him. (And no, not the botanical gardens surrounding the many-times-expanded house on Milledge Circle.) Jere Morehead, president of the University of Georgia, just announced a proposal to name the football field at Sanford Stadium, the one encircled by the famous hedges, for …

Vincent Joseph Dooley.

Can’t say this strikes me as a bad idea, given that I, er, suggested something close in the overheated days — that little missive ran in the ol’ AJC on Nov. 20, 2003 — of Dooley v. Adams. Actually, the proposal here was to rename that many-times-expanded edifice Sanford-Dooley Stadium, but I’ll settle for Vince Dooley Field at Sanford Stadium. And so, I expect, will Vince Dooley.

For late tuners-in, the contretemps between Adams, then Georgia’s president, and Dooley, then Georgia’s athletic director after 25 distinguished years as its football coach, will prompt the question: What the heck was that about? Well, I lived through it — indeed, President Adams insisted on an off-the-record lunch with sports editor Robert Mashburn and myself at the Commerce Club — and I’m still not sure there’s any answer besides ego.

About that lunch. Adams arrived late — he’d flown in from Omaha, where the UGA baseball team had been participating in the College World Series — and started talking. I resolved not to touch my chicken sandwich until Adams had concluded his impassioned opening statement, my thinking being that it would look bad to be getting scolded while I was chewing on something. (I also knew, from a similar experience in the Auburn press box in 2000, that an angry Adams could go on a while.) When finally said statement abated, I took a bite. My sandwich was cold.

Also about that lunch. I’d no sooner gotten home when the phone rang. It was Dooley. He’d heard about my Adams audience, and not from me. “What was that about?” Dooley asked. I said, “According to your president, it was so he and I could get to know one another better.” Dooley laughed and said, “What that meant was, ‘Don’t write anything else.’ ”

Being terrible at following instructions, I wrote a few — OK, more than a few — more things, the stadium-renaming suggestion among them. By then, I’d long since staked out a position on Dooley’s side. (I wasn’t nearly alone in this, I should note.) Over the years, Adams and I would hold many more conversations, nearly all of them pleasant, and I can’t say I ever disliked him as a person. I just couldn’t grasp why two really smart guys – meaning Adams and Dooley, not me – wound up haggling over six months.

But that was then, and now is different. Adams’ successor is doing right by one of the greatest servants UGA has ever had. (Dan Magill and Claude Felton would fill out that podium.) Best of all, Vincent Joseph Dooley is still around – he’s 86 – to enjoy the moment. Which he absolutely will, and he absolutely should.

There is, however, one person who will enjoy it even more. In May 2012, news broke that Adams was about to announce his impending resignation as president. Vince Dooley was driving back from Atlanta when he got the word. His passenger said, “There’s something I have to do,” and she directed him to head not for Milledge Circle but for Broad Street. And that spring night, Barbara Dooley rang the chapel bell.