At long last, Vince Dooley takes his rightful place among the SEC coaching icons

Former Georgia coach Vince Dooley (left) celebrates with current coach Kirby Smart after the Bulldogs won the 2017 SEC championship.Brett Davis/USA Today

On Saturday Georgia will name its playing field for Hall of Fame Coach Vince Dooley

Athens, Ga.—It was New Year’s Eve, 1963. Barbara Dooley was cold and scared.

Her husband, Vince, had just been named the head coach at Georgia at the age of 31. Barbara Dooley had two young children and another on the way. They had just checked into the Holiday Inn on Broad Street when the power went out. All Barbara could think about was that all of their friends at Auburn, where Vince was had been an assistant coach, were in Miami getting ready for the Orange Bowl.

“I had promised Vincent that if he took the Georgia job I would never complain about being a coach’s wife again,” said Barbara Dooley. “Needless to say I didn’t keep that promise.

“But things did get better.”

That was almost 56 years ago. Since then it has been an incredible journey for Vince and Barbara Dooley. They now have four children, 11 grandchildren, and a couple of great-grandchildren.

Vince Dooley was the head coach at Georgia for 25 years (1964-88), winning 201 games, six SEC championships and one national championship (1980). He served Georgia for 41 years as a coach and director of athletics and is in just about every Hall of Fame that you can name.

Simply put, Vince Dooley, who turned 87 on Wednesday, has received every honor imaginable in college athletics.

Except one.

Unlike the other coaching icons in Southeastern Conference history—Bryant, Neyland, Vaught, Jordan, Spurrier, Dye—Vince Dooley’s name is not on the stadium that he built from a modest venue that held only 36,000 into a 95,000-seat football cathedral.

That oversight gets fixed on Saturday when No. 3 Georgia plays its home-opener with Murray State. Just before the 4 p.m. kickoff Dooley—surrounded by his family and 25 team captains will have the playing field at Sanford Stadium named for him. From that moment forward the official name of the football-playing facility at Georgia will be Dooley Field at Sanford Stadium.

“The first thing you think about is that this is for the family,” said Dooley. “It is incredibly humbling.”

Over 800 of Dooley’s lettermen have let the university know that they will be there.

“It’s going to be an emotional moment seeing all of those guys,” said Dooley.

Three of the four Dooley children—Deanna, Denise, and Daniel—will be there. Derek Dooley, the youngest, is the offensive coordinator at Missouri, which has a home game with West Virginia on Saturday. Derek Dooley will visit the field named after his father on Nov. 9 when Missouri plays at Georgia.

While Dooley, as is his nature, downplays the honor, his family and former players summarize the moment thusly:

“It’s about damned time.”

“A lot of people have been working behind the scenes for a very long time to make this happen for Coach Dooley,” said Frank Ros, a former Coca-Cola executive who was the captain of Georgia’s national championship team. “He deserves it and all of us who played for him are thrilled to see it.”

Barbara Dooley always knew this day would come. Her fear was that one—or both—of them would not be here to see it. Last March the Dooleys celebrated their 59th wedding anniversary.

“I prayed every day that we would both be here when it finally happened,” said Barbara Dooley. “And my prayers were answered.”

Some of Dooley’s supporters don’t like the fact that it took so long for him to be honored.

“But I told Vince that this was the perfect time in our lives for this to happen,” said Barbara Dooley. “And all of us are going to enjoy it. The response has been overwhelming.”