ATLANTA — Vince Dooley, the football coach who carried himself like a professor and guided Georgia for a quarter-century of success that included the 1980 national championship, died Friday. He was 90.
The school announced that Dooley died peacefully at his Athens home in the presence of his wife, Barbara, and their four children, including former Tennessee coach Derek Dooley. No cause of death was given.
Dooley was hospitalized this month for what was described as a mild case of COVID-19, but he pronounced himself fully recovered and ready to attend his regular book-signing session at the campus bookstore before an Oct. 15 game against Vanderbilt.
Dooley had a career record of 201-77-10 while coaching the Bulldogs from 1964 to 1988, a stretch that included six Southeastern Conference titles, 20 bowl games and just one losing season.
“Our family is heartbroken by the death of Coach Dooley. He was one of a kind with an unmatched love for UGA!” current Georgia coach Kirby Smart wrote on Twitter.
Dooley is the fourth-winningest coach in SEC history, trailing only Bear Bryant, Nick Saban and Steve Spurrier.
“Vince Dooley was one of my favorite people in the world,” Saban said. “Vince represented the University of Georgia and all of college football with tremendous integrity and class as both a coach and athletics director.”
After retiring from coaching, Dooley continued as the school’s athletic director, a job he held from 1979 until 2004. The field at Sanford Stadium was dedicated in his honor during the 2019 football season.
Josh Brooks, the school’s current athletic director, said the big-money program he now guides “is what it is today because of Vince Dooley.”
Dooley was the second prominent member of Georgia’s storied football history to die in the past two weeks.
Charlie Trippi, who starred at Georgia in the 1940s and went on to claim an NFL championship with the Chicago Cardinals, died on Oct. 19 at the age of 100.
Dooley’s death came just one day before Georgia, the defending national champion and ranked No. 1 in the country, faces one of its biggest rivals, the Florida Gators, in the annual “Cocktail Party” game at Jacksonville, Florida.
Dooley dominated that series during his coaching career, going 17-7-1 against the Gators. The most famous victory came in 1980, when Lindsay Scott hauled in a 93-yard touchdown pass from Buck Belue in the closing minute.
The improbable 26-21 triumph propelled Georgia to a perfect season and their first consensus national title.
Dooley lived long enough to see another championship. When the Bulldogs defeated Alabama in last season’s national title game, the former coach was in Indianapolis to cheer them on.
Dooley withstood the pressure of winning at a football-mad SEC school during an era when Bryant ran a powerhouse program at Alabama. Dooley won over skeptics early on, using a trick play to upset the defending national champion Crimson Tide 18-17 in the 1965 season opener.
The following year, Georgia won the first of his SEC titles. By the time Dooley stepped down from coaching at age 56, he was one of only 10 NCAA Division I-A coaches to win 200 games.
Stoic in his demeanor and elegant with words delivered in a Southern drawl, a renaissance man who dabbled in horticulture, studied Civil War history and wrote numerous books, Dooley had his greatest run of success after landing a running back from tiny Wrightsville, Georgia.
During Walker’s three years between the hedges, the Bulldogs went 33-3, won three straight SEC titles, captured their only undisputed national title and nearly won another in 1982.
Dooley was a graduate of Auburn, one of Georgia’s most hated rivals, and had no head coaching experience when he was hired by the Bulldogs at the age of 32.
It was not a popular hire, as Dooley often noted through the years.
“My qualifications were such there’s no way I would’ve hired myself,” Dooley conceded in a 2014 interview with the school newspaper, The Red & Black.
No one was complaining by the end of his reign.
Dooley once described coaching as a “series of crises,” adding that he could draw upon plenty of experiences on and off the field.
There were low moments, to be sure.
Near the end of his reign as athletic director, the men’s basketball program was caught up in a scandal that led to the resignation of coach Jim Harrick and resulted in the Bulldogs removing themselves from the SEC and NCAA tournaments.
Dooley’s four-decade stay ended unceremoniously. He was forced into retirement after a nasty spat with then-university President Michael Adams in 2004.
Dooley never left Athens and remained a fixture around the football program, often sitting in on news conferences conducted by the last coach he hired, Mark Richt, and Smart.
Coaching ran in the Dooley blood, for sure.
Vince’s younger brother, Bill, was the head coach at North Carolina, Virginia Tech and Wake Forest. Derek held the top jobs at both Louisiana Tech and SEC rival Tennessee.
When Derek returned to Athens as the Volunteers’ coach in 2010, Vince knew he couldn’t pull against his son, but he didn’t want to be seen rooting against the Bulldogs in their own stadium.
So he stayed at home, watching the game on television as Georgia romped to a 41-14 victory.
“In a perfect world, I’d rather him be farther away and not in the same conference,” Vince said.
At Georgia, Dooley coached a plethora of standout players – from Bill Stanfill to Scott Woerner to Rodney Hampton. But his most famous recruit was undoubtedly Walker, a running back who possessed an almost supernatural combination of bruising power and sprinter’s speed.
Walker made his mark in his very first college game, running right over Tennessee defensive back Bill Bates for a touchdown that helped the Bulldogs rally for a 16-15 victory.
“My god, a freshman!” longtime Georgia radio announcer Larry Munson screamed over the air.
Walker rushed for 1,616 yards and 15 touchdowns that season, but the Bulldogs’ national title hopes appeared doomed when they trailed Florida 21-20.
Then Belue and Scott hooked up on perhaps the most famous play in school history. Thanks to another memorable call by Munson, the game would forever be known as “Run, Lindsay, Run.”
Georgia capped its 12-0 season with a 17-10 win over Notre Dame in the Sugar Bowl to clinch the national championship.
That season would be the pinnacle of Dooley’s career, though the Bulldogs nearly won another national title two years later. Walker won the Heisman Trophy and Georgia was ranked No. 1 heading into the Sugar Bowl after an undefeated regular season.
But No. 2 Penn State captured the championship with a 27-23 victory in what turned out to be Walker’s final college game. He bolted for the upstart U.S. Football League after his junior season.
Walker is now running for the U.S. Senate. Locked in a tight battle with incumbent Sen. Raphael Warnock, Walker received the endorsement of his former coach in a recent ad.
Dooley was inducted into the National College Football Hall of Fame in 1998, but he also took pride in running an athletic program that was among the nation’s best in a wide range of sports.
From tennis to swimming, gymnastics to baseball, the Bulldogs won 19 national championships under Dooley.
Dooley was born into an athletic family in Mobile, Alabama, on Sept. 4, 1932. After graduating from McGill High School, he went to Auburn on a football scholarship and played basketball.
Dooley was an outstanding defensive back and captain of the 1953 team, a year in which he also played in the College All-Star Game. He graduated from Auburn in 1954 with a degree in business management before serving in the Marine Corps for two years.
In 1956, Dooley became an assistant coach at Auburn and was freshman coach at the school for three seasons before being named head coach of Georgia shortly after the end of the 1963 season, taking over a program in disarray after three straight losing years under Johnny Griffith.
Twenty-five years later, Dooley was carried off the field after his final game, a 34-27 victory over Michigan State in the Gator Bowl.
In addition to his wife and son Derek, survivors include children Deanna, Daniel and Denise.