Vince Dooley, turning 90, believes Kirby Smart will be ‘Georgia’s greatest coach’

ATHENS – Georgia Bulldogs legend Vince Dooley turns 90 on Sunday. Don’t expect any grandiose celebrations, however. It’s football season, you know.

For the past 72 of Dooley’s 90 trips around the sun, he has been in full football mode when his birthday came around. That will be the case again this year as his birthday falls on the day after the Bulldogs play Oregon in a Chick-fil-A Kickoff game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. And, yes, Dooley will be among the 73,000 in attendance.

So, Dooley is anticipating a quiet dinner Sunday while resting from another Bulldogs victory.

“Georgia winning will be celebration enough,” the Hall of Fame coach said.

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As his family often has done, they actually celebrated Dooley’s birthday in earnest this summer. The whole clan gathered at a lodge in Montana over the Fourth of July week so they could get the patriarch’s undivided attention. That also meant that Derek Dooley -- now a member of Nick Saban’s staff in Alabama -- could be in attendance.

While a hip injury last year slowed Dooley’s gait a bit, he has been far from stationary. He just this summer published the 2021 “championship edition” of his latest book “Dooley’s Playbook.” As per usual, he will be signing copies at the UGA Bookstore before the Bulldogs’ home opener against Samford on Sept. 10. On Thursday, Dooley joined a contingent of Georgians who rang the closing bell at the New York Stock Exchange to mark the beginning of the college football season and the Chick-fil-A Kickoff games Saturday and Monday.

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

ExploreAt Oregon game, 73,000 sing ‘happy birthday’ to Georgia’s Vince Dooley

Meanwhile, on the occasion of his 90th, Dooley was scheduled to sit down for a slew of media interviews this past week. However, a minor illness put Dooley’s vocal cords on injured reserve, so he had to cancel.

But, ever the accommodator, Dooley agreed to answer via email a few questions submitted to him by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Following are his replies:

Q: About Georgia and Oregon, they last played when you were coach 45 years ago. What, if anything, do you remember about that game?

A: Rookie Oregon head coach Rich Brooks, who later became a successful coach at Oregon and Kentucky for several years, had his team well-prepared in the only other “Dawg-Duck” clash. Oregon led in the third quarter and, thanks to a fourth-quarter interception and return by linebacker Jeff Lewis to set up the winning TD, we prevailed 27-16. Oregon was one of those teams in the (1970s) we were able to entice to come to Athens with a good financial incentive as a result of our early success in the late 1960s, winning SEC championships in 1966 and 1968. This was a real contrast to the early years when we played (at) Michigan and some SEC games at Grant Field for money with no Athens return.

Q: Of your 90 years, 70-plus have been spent engaged with college athletics either as a player or leader. Realizing we’re about to encounter even more major changes, can you point to one or two that you believe to have been the most profound changes you’ve witnessed?

A: In 1984, we joined Oklahoma in winning the Supreme Court lawsuit against the NCAA’s control of television rights for broadcasting football games. While it has been a tremendous financial boost for conferences and schools since that time, Andy Coates, former Oklahoma law school dean -- who successfully argued the case and is proud of that great win, now believes the legacy of that decision is attributable to the difficult issues now facing college football. Coates recently expressed those sentiments to Andrew Carter of the Raleigh-Durham News Observer, emphasizing his concerns about the future of college athletics and the fear that a “large part of its soul is disappearing.”

I think college football is in terrible trouble. Because of the lack of oversight of the NIL, free-for-all transfer portal, never-ending conference realignment, etc., I, too, have real concerns. While the game is still great, it now will take three or more years to address these issues, especially the most concerning one -- NIL. That showed its ugly face in recruiting this year with the (Nick) Saban-(Jimbo) Fisher public feud. These issues will much require time and especially excellent presidential leadership to resolve, in the final analysis.

Credit: Special

Credit: Special

ExploreWatch: Vince Dooley joins UGA, Tech delegation to ring Wall Street closing bell

Q: Specific to Georgia, how have you seen the football program and athletic department grow and change over the years?

A: We had tremendous growth in the 1980s in most of our sports programs. Football, the lifeblood, had the golden years on the field with a 43-4-1 record (three SEC championships and the 1980 national championship in 1980-83) to start the decade. Basketball, the only other revenue-producing sport, was strong under Hugh Durham, then Tubby Smith and Jim Harrick. But unfortunate circumstances prevented men’s basketball from sustaining momentum built by each.

I believe our positive overall response to Title IX (enacted in 1972) enabled us to get ahead of many schools with regard to women’s sports with the hiring of top coaches. Most all of them won SEC and national championships (a total of 23, I believe), led by gymnastics with 10.

Working under and with President Jere Morehead, Athletic Director Josh Brooks has and will continue to do an excellent job of leading Georgia athletics. President Morehead keeps a low profile, but he is a highly effective president and was the right choice for UGA at the right time. The close working partnership of President Morehead (as both a UGA and national presidential leader) with the good athletic sense of Brooks bodes extremely well for the overall future of Georgia athletics.

Q: What are your thoughts on Kirby Smart as he enters Year 7 with a national championship under his belt?

A: Kirby Smart is destined to be in time not only Georgia’s greatest coach, but one of the all-time great coaches in college football. This year will be especially challenging coming off the national championship. There is no doubt that his philosophy that puts great emphasis on recruiting will again provide an opportunity to end up among the top four. Who knows what may happen in the playoffs? Historically, though, in modern football the odds are against repeating at that level. But standards are at a maximum height right now, and the Bulldogs’ future is at an all-time high.

Q: Finally, what kind of life advice would you give people for living a long and rich life such as you and (his wife) Barbara have?

A: We both had been fortunate to live most of our lives around a “communiversity,” taking advantage of all its opportunities. At the same time, I have been able to survive crises on and off the field, which comes with representing a prestigious public institution. We have thrived as a couple because we have allowed each other to pursue individual goals with support and being able to address conflicts that are part of a long-time relationship. A good part of the longevity has come with the sharing of a strong faith and family emphasis. Barbara takes the commanding lead on both of these values. I believe our very different personalities, while at times challenging, are in the long run a great strength. There are still a lot of things we want to do and see, and I hope we will have time to finish them all.