Vince and Barbara Dooley (center, front row) were surrounded by family as usual during the family's annual Fourth of July celebration this summer at Lake Burton.

Field dedication means even more to Vince Dooley’s family

Vince Dooley has a go-to line whenever the conversation turns to his ever-growing family.

“Well, we can field a whole football team,” he said, referring to his 11 grandchildren.

The Dooley “team” has now grown to include couple of subs. Dooley and his wife, Barbara, became great-grandparents eight months ago when identical twin girls Murphy Elizabeth and Miles Marie were born to grandson Patrick Cook and his wife, Lauren.

Add in uncles and aunts, nieces, nephews and cousins and the equally prodigious Meshad clan on Barbara’s side of the family, and the Dooleys will have a full Power-5 roster on the field at Sanford Stadium on Saturday for the official dedication ceremony of Dooley Field.

“The whole family is going to be down there,” Barbara Dooley said. “It’s going to be a mob scene!”

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The University System of Georgia’s Board of Regents unanimously improved a motion brought to them by UGA President Jere Morehead this past spring to name the playing surface at Sanford Stadium after Dooley, who served the Bulldogs either as football coach, athletic director or both for 40 years from 1963-2004. That will become official in a ceremony planned before Saturday’s 4 p.m. kickoff between Georgia and Murray State.

While Dooley himself said he is “grateful” and has been “very humbled” by the whole initiative, which actually began many years ago, it’s for his family that Saturday’s event has him most excited.

“They'll all be part of it; everybody’s be coming down to see it,” Dooley said of family they will come from as far away as Texas and Massachusetts. “And that’s what it’s about. It's about family, it's about the players. Because, as I've emphasized, they're the ones that made it happen anyway. So, they all feel a part of it, they are proud of it and it's important to them.”

It certainly is. They don’t mind telling you.

To varying degrees, all in the Dooley family have wished for, prayed for, and in some cases, politicked for, this honor to be bestowed the man known to most everybody else as “Coach Dooley.”

“You know, I was hoping this day was going to come. I thought it was probably going to come, but I didn’t want it to happen after he wasn’t around,” said his oldest son Daniel Dooley, choking back emotion. 

“That was my concern. I had no doubt that some day they were going to name the stadium, the field, something after him. All of us were like, ‘I hope he’s around to see it when they do.’ We’re so thankful that that’s going to be the case, that’s he’s going to witness and be a part of it.”

Barbara Dooley echoed her son’s sentiments.

“I pray, and I pray daily, and I prayed if the stadium was going to be named for him, or the field, that God would let it happen when we were alive,” said Barbara, who will turn 80 on Sunday. “Because I wanted Vincent to be on the field when it happened. That was really my daily prayer, and I’m so thankful it was answered.”

The Dooley patriarch and matriarch are both very much alive and kicking. Barbara Dooley still works out regularly, is active in local media, politics and community groups, and earns money as a public speaker and advertising spokeswoman.

Vince Dooley’s exploits as an author, featured speaker, master gardener and historian are well-chronicled. What is not as well-known is his apparent world-class attentiveness when it comes to his grandchildren.

This can become a bit of a sticking point for those who were born into the family first. When the Dooleys first arrived in Athens in December 1963, Deanna was a toddler, Daniel an infant and Denise and Derek were not yet born.

Meanwhile, Vince Dooley hit the ground running. He had a football program to build, and as we’d learn later, seven expansions of Sanford Stadium needed to be overseen. Succinctly explained, he wasn’t around much.

“I didn’t think anything of it because that’s all we knew,” Daniel Dooley said. “If he’d have started out like he is today till we were 10 or 11 and then all the sudden he was gone all the time because of football, that’d be different. But we didn’t know any better. And Mom did such a great job of doing both jobs a lot of the time, I never thought I was missing anything.”

Now a great-grandfather, Dooley is a Class A doter. The family first witnessed this phenomenon when the first grandchildren were born. With the recent arrival of the twin girls, there has been a reawakening.

“He had a lot of fun with his grandchildren, especially when they were little, because he just loves little people,” Barbara said. “But all of our grandchildren are grown. So, now, he is just in love with the great-grandchildren because they’re babies. He can bounce them on his knee; he can make them coo and laugh. No sass, no ugly talk, no cellphones. So, he’s in love with those two now.”

Said Daniel: “When we see him now, we’re like, ‘Is this the same guy we grew up with?’ He’s so different. He’s so laid back. He has totally transformed to either being with the family or being in the garden.”

Indeed, Saturday’s event very much will be a family affair. Dooley is careful to include former players and coaches in that group. Counting managers and trainers and the many athletic administrative close acquaintances he made in a 50-year career in college athletics, that number shoots up well into the thousands.

Many of them have followed Dooley’s lead. Derek Dooley, once Tennessee’s head coach and now Missouri’s offensive coordinator, followed him into coaching. Derek’s son, J.T., appears to be headed down the same path. A walk-on receiver at Georgia, J.T. had to give up football after back surgery this summer. But he remains with the Bulldogs as a student assistant coach. And Ashton Dooley, son of Vince’s late brother Bill, is pursuing a Ph.D. at UGA in sports management and wants to become an athletic director.

Some of them have special needs, such as Daniel’s son, Matthew. Derek’s middle son Peyton is a Type 1 diabetic, but also captain of his tennis team.

“Everybody is doing life to their best potential, which is all we ask of them,” Barbara Dooley said. 

They already were a close-knit group, getting together every Fourth of July at the Dooley’s vacation home at Lake Burton in North Georgia, but Saturday’s event has brought them even closer.

“I’m glad everybody’s going to be able to be there, and I’m glad they’re doing it for this ballgame,” said Dooley, referring to Georgia’s FCS opponent, Murray State. “That way, it doesn't distract from the total attention that any other kind of game might require. … Maybe a few more people will come.”

With all those generations of Dooleys present, it should improve attendance.

THE DOOLEY CLAN

  • Vince and Barbara Dooley

Children:

  • Deanna (and husband, Destry Rogers) 
  • Daniel (and wife, Suzanne)
  • Denise (and husband, Jay Mitchell)
  • Derek (and wife, Allison)

Grandchildren (9 boys and 2 girls):

  • Catherine Cook
  • Christopher Cook
  • Patrick Cook (wife, Lauren)
  • Michael Dooley (wife, Maggie)
  • Matthew Dooley 
  • Ty Mitchell
  • Joe Mitchell
  • Cal Mitchell
  • JT Dooley 
  • Peyton Dooley
  • Julianna Dooley

Great-grandchildren:

  • Murphy Elizabeth and Miles Marie Cook

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