Jan. 6, 2003: Rename Sanford Stadium For Dooley

Let me say this as simply as I can. When Vince Dooley retires as athletic director at the University of Georgia in 2004, Sanford Stadium needs to be renamed Dooley-Sanford Stadium. I’m not sure who is empowered to make that decision – the university administration, the athletic board, the Board of Regents, the Legislature, the governor, all of the above, some of the above. It doesn’t matter. Just put Vince Dooley’s name on the stadium. It can’t be all that hard to do. Georgia Tech did it for Bobby Dodd. Alabama did it for Bear Bryant. Tennessee did it for Bob Neyland. Auburn did it for Shug Jordan. Ole Miss did it for Johnny Vaught — all great coaches who brought honor to their university on and off the field. Vince Dooley deserves no less from the University of Georgia. The man is a winner by every standard you can name.

During his 25 years as head football coach, Dooley won 201 games, the most in the university’s history. As athletic director, he has made UGA’s overall athletic program – for both men and women – one of the best in the nation. Unlike a lot of other schools, he continues to improve the athletic facilities on campus without bankrupting the athletic department. This past fall, the family of the late Rankin Smith, former owner of the Atlanta Falcons, donated $3.5 million for the creation of a state-of-the-art student academic center for UGA athletes in the name of their father. It is arguably the best facility of its type in the nation.

Vince Dooley also gives back to the University of Georgia beyond athletics. He has served as a managing trustee of the UGA Foundation, which raises private dollars for the university. He has given over $100,000 to the UGA Library as a part of the institution’s fund-raising efforts. He has supported innumerable academic initiatives at the university.

In the mid-1990’s, the university was enjoying a growing academic reputation around the country, but the football team had fallen into mediocrity and the basketball program wasn’t much faring much better. The school had been tarred by the Jan Kemp affair. Kemp, a member of the UGA faculty, claimed she was wrongfully fired for speaking out against the preferential treatment of athletes in the developmental studies program in the early 1980s. There was a growing restlessness within the so-called Bulldog nation – many of whose members wouldn’t know an SAT score from a chrysanthemum – that athletics had lost out to academics. They were calling for Dooley’s scalp.

During this same period, I was a member of the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games. I mentioned to Billy Payne, ACOG’s CEO and a former all-SEC end under Dooley, that things were not looking good for his old coach, and I wasn’t sure he would be able to withstand the heat from those who wanted him off the job. Payne bristled. “Let me tell you about Vince Dooley,” Payne said. “The man is a winner and a competitor and he won’t leave until he has the athletic programs back on top.” As usual, Payne was correct.

Nobody has matched Dooley’s success on the football field, either before he got there or since he quit coaching in 1989. Mark Richt might do it. A little-known fact is that Richt had to be convinced that Vince Dooley was going to be around for his first few years at Athens before he accepted the job. Richt recognized that he had a lot to learn – something that seems to have escaped his predecessors – and who better to learn from than a man who won six SEC championships, a national championship and went to 20 bowl games?

If Dooley has a weakness, he isn’t a self-promoter. Frankly, that is a good weakness to have, but it means that if somebody else doesn’t take the initiative of seeing that Vince Dooley’s name is added to Sanford Stadium, you can be sure he won’t. That isn’t his style. Just raising the topic will make him uncomfortable.

So whoever is in charge of such matters, listen up. After 40 years of unparalleled success at the University of Georgia, Vince Dooley next year. We may never see his likes again. Now it is payback time. Dooley-Sanford Stadium. That has a nice sound, doesn’t it? Just remember that you read it here first.