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Georgia's Renaissance Man

The Vince Dooley Exhibit at UGA's Special Collections Libraries

Story and photos by Hank Segars and UGA Special Collections


"Telling the story of Coach Dooley’s life and career is a daunting task. His influence at UGA is almost unmatched in the history of the University and his many passions outside of athletics are equally impressive."

-- Jason Hasty, UGA Hargrett Library


It would be hard to find many Georgians unfamiliar with Vincent Joseph Dooley, currently UGA’s winningest coach with 201 football victories, six SEC titles, the 1980 National Championship, numerous All-Americans, and a legendary Heisman Trophy winner, Herschel Walker. However, Dooley’s life story does not begin or end with his accomplishments as UGA’s head football coach from 1964 to 1988, or his outstanding leadership as athletic director, 1979-2004. . . There is much more to his story.

Coach Dooley at the 1981 Sugar Bowl in New Orleans. UGA Special Collections Library

Outside his stellar career as a National Hall-of-Fame football coach, Vince Dooley was the consummate lifelong leaner. As an accomplished scholar and author, master gardener and traveler, the Athenian pursued lifelong learning and became skilled in numerous fields of endeavor. He was truly a Renaissance man.


An exhibit of the life and accomplishments of Vince Dooley entitled “Legacy: Vince Dooley, 1932-2022” is currently on display at the University of Georgia’s Special Collections Libraries in the Russell Building near Sanford Stadium. Other interesting collections and archives can also be viewed when visiting.

UGA Special Collections Library poster designed by Joy Hwang

Visitors to the exhibit will see original artifacts, photos, and documents from Coach Dooley’s life and career, with an emphasis on his accomplishments outside of football,” says Jason Hasty, UGA Athletics History Specialist. “I have tried to bring out areas of Coach Dooley’s life that aren’t as well known. So, while his life may be familiar to people, I hope that visitors will learn new things about him or maybe learn more about things they’d known little about.”


Coach Dooley, who died in October 2022, was no stranger to Lake Country. In the early 1960s, both he and his wife, Barbara, made visits to the Eddy Deraney family who were relatives of Mrs. Dooley.



Over the years, the coach crisscrossed our region for recruitment visits, speaking engagements, and book signings. Local residents might remember his 2017 book signing at Eatonton’s Cotton Warehouse, sponsored by the Georgia Writers Museum.


Here are a few things you might not know about the late Vince Dooley:


The Athlete

Young Vince earned all-state honors in both football and basketball at McGill High School in Mobile, Alabama. Surprisingly, basketball was considered his best sport. Vince accepted a football scholarship to Auburn University and played for Shug Jordan, the school’s legendary football coach.

Young Vince (far left) at McGill High School, Mobile, Alabama, his senior year in 1949. From Special Collections Library

Soldier and Scholar

Dooley at Parris Island (UGA Special Collections)

While at Auburn, Vince excelled as an ROTC student and earned his bachelor’s degree in business management in 1954. After graduation, he served two years as an infantry officer in the United States Marine Corps, rising to the rank of captain. In 1956, he returned to his alma mater to become an assistant coach. While coaching, he also earned a master’s degree in history. Professors in the history department encouraged Vince to work on a PhD and publish his master’s thesis; however, another huge opportunity came in 1964.



Coach Kirby Smart with Coach Dooley at the 2022 National Championship Game.

The Coach

At the age of 31, Dooley was named head football coach at the University of Georgia. Fate had smiled on the young Auburn assistant and he often said that due his lack of experience, he would not have hired himself for the job. But Vince Dooley was ready for the task of reviving UGA’s football program. For the next 25 years, Dooley’s teams became nationally ranked and eventually won the national championship in 1980. Coach Dooley became National Coach of the Year in 1980 and 1982 and a five-time SEC Coach of the Year. Awards and inductions into Halls of Fame would come throughout his stellar career.


Traveler and Historian

Coach Dooley traveled the world, and his destinations were pinned on a map in the family’s home. Favorite locations included Civil War battlefields and historic sites. He was proud to serve as a Trustee of the Georgia Historical Society and on the organization’s Board of Curators from 2007 until his death.

Wedding day for Vince and Barbara in 1960. (Special Collections Library)

Master Gardener

Dooley audited horticultural classes at UGA as one of his favorite hobbies was gardening. His landscaped home gardens received acclaim and were featured in popular magazines. The master gardener developed a type of camellia and hydrangea that received naming in his honor. One of his most popular published books is “Vince Dooley’s Garden: The Horticultural Journey of a Football Coach” with illustrations by Steve Penley.


The Author

Coach Dooley authored, co-authored, and provided forwards for around two dozen books. Many titles focused on UGA football but also included children’s, gardening, and history books. Favorites include Dooley’s Playbook, Dooley: My 40 Years at Georgia, and History and Reminiscences of the University of Georgia.


Speaker, Humorist, and Educator

Coach Dooley held audiences spellbound with his knowledgeable talks on a variety of topics. He kept audiences engaged with his self-effacing humor and stories about his life, football, Barbara and the family, travel, and his passions for learning. It is hard to forget his engaging smile and willingness to converse with anyone from all walks of life. The personable and popular coach remained active during his 90 years on earth and knew countless Georgians from every part of the state.


Vince Dooley talks about his book during a book signing at the Georgia Writers Museum in Eatonton in 2017. (The Eatonton Messenger file photo)

Humanitarian

During his life, the coach remained connected to many of his players and provided generous support for UGA, the Athens community, and various organizations including Georgia Easter Seals Society, St. Mary’s Hospital, the Boy Scouts, Winship Cancer Center, Salvation Army, and many more.


“One thing that I learned about Coach Dooley that surprised me was his involvement in charitable outreach in the Agalta Valley in Honduras,” says Hasty. “Before starting work on this exhibit, I hadn’t known that Coach Dooley was involved in working with the people of the Agalta Valley to build homes and schools – or that the very first Dooley Field was in the Agalta Valley, not Athens.”


There is a lot more that could be said about the late Vince Dooley’s activities such as his work in establishing the successful football program at Kennesaw State University. Also, there were times when the coach had thoughts about running for Governor or U.S. Senator from Georgia. Ultimately, he decided not to leave his beloved Athens.


“I knew about the breadth of his interests and his commitment to serving the people and community around him, but when you look deeply into Coach Dooley’s life, you see just how much he did and how passionate he was about that,” adds Hasty. “I feel that this goes hand-in-hand with his lifelong love of learning and exploring the world around him. His personal motto was ‘I am always learning’ and everything about his life showed his commitment to this ideal.”


Indeed, Georgia’s Renaissance man.


The Legacy Vince Dooley Exhibit at UGA Special Collections Library (Photo by Hank Segars)

The “Legacy: Vince Dooley, 1932-2022” exhibit is open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays at UGA’s Richard B. Russell Building, Rotunda Gallery, 300 S. Hull Street, Athens until May 2024. Admission is free.


Additional galleries and exhibits at the Russell Building include the Walter J. Brown Media Archives, University Archives, Richard Russell Library for Political Research, Peabody Awards Collection, and exhibits about Athens’ music scene and Georgia history. Parking is permitted in the adjacent Hull Street Deck by providing a license plate number at the security desk inside the Russell Building. For more information, please visit libs.uga.edu/scl.

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This story appeared in Lakelife magazine, Volume 17, Issue 6 and is the property of Smith Communications, Inc. No portions of the story or photos may be copied or used without written consent from the publisher.

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