Dooley Field: An honor UGA’s coach with most wins never saw coming

First in a series. Every day this week, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution will present a story on the many influences of Vince Dooley at the University of Georgia. The field at Sanford Stadium will be named in his honor Saturday.

The countdown has begun. In six short days, the place where the Georgia Bulldogs play football no longer will be known only as Sanford Stadium. From next Saturday on, it will be known as Dooley Field at Sanford Stadium.

If your name happens to be Vince Dooley, that’s one heck of a note.

» MARK BRADLEY: A victory for Vince Dooley

“I never, never thought about that (happening) at all,” said Dooley, who coached Georgia for 25 seasons and was the school’s athletic director for 25 years, with 10 of those years overlapping, in an exclusive interview with the AJC.

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“I was always just into whatever I was doing and trying to do the best that I could. I didn’t have any personal aspirations. I had aspirations for the football team. I wanted to win some championships and have a Heisman Trophy winner, and we did all that. From that standpoint, I did everything I wanted to do. But I never thought in terms of my name being on anything.”

Perhaps not, but Dooley’s name already was in a lot of places. Georgia had already named the South Campus area that houses most of the athletic facilities “The Vince Dooley Athletics Complex.” And there’s a statue of him by Athens artist Stan Mullins that was erected in one corner of it.

Dooley also has his name etched on several substantial trophies, including a National College Football Hall of Fame plaque, twice on the one for National Coach of the Year and on the Wooden Citizen Cup, which goes to a person considered to have had a lifetime of positive influence on the lives of others through sport. Dooley’s name has also found its way onto the covers of at least a half-dozen books that he has penned on subjects ranging from football to horticulture to American history.

But what will take place Saturday is even bigger than all that. His name will be displayed into perpetuity on the interior facade of the stadium he first walked into as unknown coach in 1963.

It’s all a bit overwhelming for a man who will turn 87 years old Wednesday and was just beginning to slide quietly into retirement. Instead, he has found himself once again the center of attention, doing interviews, one after another, for hours on end each day.

“Well, it’s different, but I guess it’s understandable with everything that’s happening,” Dooley said. “If I had my way, it’d hurry up and get over so we can get the focus back where it belongs, on the football team.”

That the opponent Georgia plays Murray State on Saturday should allay some of Dooley's concerns. The No. 3-ranked Bulldogs are scheduled to kickoff against the FCS team at 4 p.m. Fans are urged to get to Sanford Stadium early, as the dedication ceremony is set for 3:30 p.m.

“All I know is I’m supposed to be in the end zone at 3:15,” Dooley said.

Captains from all 25 of Dooley’s football teams will accompany their coach onto the field and surround one side of the Georgia G at midfield. On the other side with will be Dooley’s wife, Barbara, their four children, Deanna, Daniel, Denise and Derek, their respective spouses, 11 grandchildren and two great grandchildren. President Jere Morehead will preside over the ceremonies, which will culminate in the unveiling of the actual lettering on the stadium facade. A memorial plaque to commemorate the occasion will be placed next to the retired jersey exhibits on the north side of the Bulldogs’ locker room.

The celebration actually will get underway on Friday night with a lettermen’s gathering in the Grand Ballroom at the Tate Center. It originally was scheduled to take place in the West End recruiting lounge, but with more than 700 people now expected to attend, grew too large for that space.

By the end of the week, we’ll get to see the Bulldogs play a football game on Dooley Field.

“Sounds good to me,” Dooley said.