ATHENS, Ga. -- Nobody knew it then, but the fabric of time and space shifted 50 years ago today — at least in the football-crazy world of Athens and the University of Georgia.
That day, Dec. 4, 1963, Vince Dooley became UGA’s football coach, making all of $15,500 a year, including the extra money he got for a weekly TV show during football season.
No one knew what to expect. At 31, he was too young to be a head football coach — even Dooley knew that. Not many had even heard of Vince Dooley, who coached freshmen at Auburn University.
The college’s president at the time, O.C. Aderhold, couldn’t even remember Dooley’s name at a press conference that day to announce the new coach. He called Dooley “that fine young coach from Auburn,” or words to that effect, Dooley recalls five decades later.
But he was determined to give it his best shot.
He had a few things going for him, not the least of which was the confidence of new UGA athletic director Joel Eaves, who’d recently been hired by Aderhold to straighten up the mess that was the UGA athletic department.
Eaves had been an Auburn basketball and football coach, and for five years had worked with Dooley, scouting upcoming Tiger football opponents. He thought Dooley had character, poise and other good qualities that would make him a good coach.
Dooley also benefitted at first from low expectations. Except for one shining year in 1959, Georgia’s football teams had been mediocre since the 1940s, losing most years to despised rival Georgia Tech.
Georgia had won just 10 games in the previous three years under Johnny Griffith. The man Griffith replaced, longtime UGA coach Wally Butts, had been accused of conspiring to fix a 1962 football game in an article published in the Saturday Evening Post. Butts won a libel suit against the magazine that August, but a kind of taint still remained.
But all that faded fast.
In 1964, Dooley’s team had a winning record. In 1965, on national TV, his second team defeated mighty Alabama on a trick play, the famous flea flicker. The loss was the only one that year for Alabama, which went on to win the national championship.
The Bulldogs followed up two weeks later with a win at national power Michigan. The season wasn’t so great after that, and Georgia finished just 6-4 after a 4-0 start. But the football world was taking note of the new coach, who seemed to be building something at the University of Georgia. But more to the point, the fun was back in Georgia football.
The next year, Georgia won the first of six Southeastern Conference championships under Dooley, missing an undefeated season by just two points.
In 1975, James Brown recorded a Happy Howard song, “Dooley’s Junkyard Dogs.” The Godfather of Soul even performed it at halftime.
In 1980, Dooley and his Bulldogs hit a peak with Georgia’s only undisputed national college football championship.
But there was a lot more for Dooley, now a member of the College Football and several other halls of fame. Dooley became UGA athletic director in 1979, building one of the country’s strongest athletic departments. Repeated expansions of Sanford Stadium made it one of the country’s largest college football venues.
Dooley’s teams kept the seats full and kept the UGA Athletic Association’s finances in the black year after year.
In 1986, Dooley survived his own crisis, when former remedial English teacher Jan Kemp sued UGA. Administrators were keeping football players in school even after teachers had flunked them out. Kemp said publicly that was wrong, and those same administrators fired her. She sued in federal court and won; the scandal cost UGA President Fred Davison his job, but Dooley remained.
Dooley stepped down as coach after 1988 with 201 wins, but stayed on as athletic director until 2004, when he was forced out by former UGA president Michael Adams.
The showdown that followed between Adams and the trustees of the University of Georgia Foundation, who wanted Adams fired, embroiled even the state Board of Regents, who came down on Adams’ side in the end.
Dooley has hardly slowed down in the years since. Never one to sit idle, he’s simply devoted more time to other pursuits, such as gardening and writing.