The odyssey of Georgia’s Vince Dooley

There’s no question Vince Dooley was a great football coach for 25 years at the University of Georgia.

The College Football Hall of Famer, who won 201 games, six SEC championships and one national title as coach, later became the school’s athletic director to thunderous acclaim. But was he really that great an AD?

In fact, two years previous to his 1988 retirement as coach, UGA was rocked by a lawsuit from a former remedial English instructor who charged that athletes were receiving favorable treatment in the classroom. And they were!

Jan Kemp settled for $1.8 million during her appeals process. But it exposed Dooley’s preference for athletics over academics. Why wasn’t Dooley held accountable for some complicity in what Kemp uncovered? It was simply because he was so popular.

The Dooley odyssey away from greatness continued in the mid-1990s. Remember when he sacked the sorry Ray Goff as football coach yet lavished on him a far-too-generous payout? courtesy of Bulldog donors and Georgia taxpayers? I was editorial page editor of The Augusta Chronicle at the time and we called for him to be fired for that travesty.

Goff’s successor was Jim Donnan who, by 2000, had lost to Georgia Tech three years in a row. Dooley wanted to keep Donnan on – but UGA had a president finally tiring of Dooley’s machinations. Donnan went.

Perhaps it was then when Dooley started whining about his “treatment.” He didn’t directly, mind you, He let his complaints be aired though third parties — political friends, alumni donors and journalists.

Dooley set out to bring President Michael Adams down. After all, shouldn’t it be Vincent the Great — rather than a mere president who answered to a Board of Regents – benignly running things in Athens?

It was in 2001 when this rivalry shifted into high gear with consequences that pitted Georgian against Georgian. Adams announced Dooley agreed to a 2-year contract extension, with the understanding that he would step down at the end of 2003 – and that date was later pushed into mid-2004.

Dooley, in the interim, got egg all over his face when he – not Adams – made the decision on hiring the walking disaster named Jim Harrick Sr. as basketball coach. Atlanta Constitution writer Plott Brice reported Dooley and Adams both interviewed Harrick. “I wanted him there,” Dooley said. “That was my choice.” Of course, Harrick was soon disgraced by an academic fraud and ethics scandal stemming from former player Tony Cole. Dooley had to pull the team out of both the SEC and NCAA tournaments and Harrick had to go. (Incidentally, I’m in possession of an August 13, 2001 memo from Dooley to Adams arguing on behalf of admitting the reprobate Cole. “I am making a direct appeal,” Dooley thundered.)

After leaving as AD, Dooley was kept on a one-year contract as a fund-raising consultant, ending this June 30. He’ll keep an office at the Butts-Mehre complex and will always enjoy lifetime football tickets, but it is time for the school to take the car keys away from its aging grandfather.
Dooley is often trying to micromanage his AD successor, Damon Evans. He continues to knife Adams, regents he despises and other enemies – again by having friends plant “his side of the story” with media allies.

It’s all becoming very unbecoming.

It is also time for the Dooley-Adams wars to end. The Adams haters on the University Foundation fund-raising arm need to let it go. A new fundraising body is needed, and Adams named a diverse membership. They should be allowed to do their jobs on behalf of the state’s growing flagship university.

But – wait – Dooley schemes for yet one more strike against his perceived tormentors. His loyalists are pushing for UGA’s Sanford Stadium to be renamed after him – or at least re-hyphenated into Sanford-Dooley Stadium. Never mind, of course, that to change or hyphenate the name at this point would be a gross insult to the generous family of former UGA President S.V. Sanford.

Furthermore, keeping a former president as the sole name on the football stadium sends the right message about the balance between academics and athletics at the university.

It is a balance, by the way, that even some of his friends privately admit that Vince Dooley never really appreciated.

Phil Kent is an Atlanta author, media consultant and pundit on WAGA TV’s Georgia Gang.