Here’s a toast of a cocktail to former Georgia coach Vince Dooley, who was 17-7-1 against Florida in the rivalry game called “the world’s largest outdoor cocktail party.”
I would make it an Old Fashioned by someone who knows how to mix it just right.
Dooley, who mixed athletics and intellectual pursuits extremely well, died Friday afternoon peacefully at his home in Athens, Georgia, at age 90 on the eve of the Georgia-Florida game. That game has been played every year but two since 1933 in Jacksonville, Fla., five hours south of Athens at the border. Dooley was born in Mobile, Ala., in 1932.
In 1994 and ’95, the game was played in Gainesville and Athens as the Jacksonville stadium was refurbished for its new NFL team.
There has been a recent movement to move the game to the two campus sites in Athens and Gainesville, which is just an hour and 15 minutes south of Jacksonville. Georgia coach Kirby Smart, in particular, wants the game on a home-and-home basis. He says it hurts his recruiting as the NCAA does not allow schools to host recruits off campus on game days.
Dooley never spoke much of wanting to move the game from Jacksonville. So, make an exception for Georgia’s and Florida’s recruits, NCAA, and keep the game in Jacksonville for Dooley’s sake. Georgia and Florida have always recruited very well without that extra Saturday. It’s kind of hard not to recruit well in Georgia and Florida. Do you really need that Saturday, Kirby?
It’s a good Old Fashioned rivalry game played at a somewhat neutral site, which is a throwback. Many teams used to play at neutral sites back in the day. Auburn and Alabama used to play at Legion Field in Birmingham and would split the tickets 50-50. That’s how it is for Georgia-Florida, and it’s something to see.
“That’s unique,” Smart, who played in the game while a Georgia defensive back, even admitted Wednesday on the SEC teleconference.
The only remaining, major neutral site, regular season games are Georgia-Florida in Jacksonville, Army-Navy usually in Philadelphia and Oklahoma-Texas in Dallas.
There will likely be a moment of silence for Dooley at Saturday’s Georgia-Florida game, which kicks off at 3:30 p.m. on CBS. Each school gets about $3.5 million more for the game than they do for a typical home game.
Georgia coach Vince Dooley was a real Renaissance Man
That would make sense for Dooley, who graduated from Auburn with a degree in business management in 1954 after playing quarterback from 1951-53. After a stint as an infantry officer in the Marines, he was Auburn’s offensive coordinator from 1956-63. He also received a master’s degree in history from Auburn in 1963.
He was Georgia’s head football coach and athletic director from 1979 through 1988. A real Renaissance man he was, combining mental and physical pursuits. Part jock plus part intellectual equals complete man.
Dooley became Georgia’s head coach ahead of the 1964 season at age 31. He won six SEC titles in 1966, ’68, ’76, ’80, ’81 and ’82 and the national championship in 1980 with tailback Herschel Walker. Dooley had one losing season. He finished 201-77-10, winning 70 percent of his games. He retired from coaching after the 1988 season.
Dooley’s 201 wins is fourth all time among SEC coaches behind Bear Bryant (292) and Nick Saban (still active at 233) at Alabama and Steve Spurrier (208) at Florida.
A voracious reader, Dooley also wrote several football books, another one about his hobby of gardening. And he was a Civil War buff. He did it all.
“Our family is heartbroken by the death of Coach Dooley,” Smart tweeted on Friday. “He was one of a kind.”
Saban, who made Dooley’s son Derek one of his first hires at LSU in 2000 and brought him with him to the Miami Dolphins, on Friday during an open week was at his vacation home on Lake Burton in northeast Georgia. Derek, who is an offensive analyst on Saban’s staff now, recommended the area more than two decades ago. The Dooleys and the Sabans were often at their vacation homes at the same time just across the lake.
“Vince Dooley was one of my favorite people in the world and a wonderful friend for the entire Saban family,” Saban tweeted Friday.
Dooley was born in Alabama and educated at Auburn, but he spent his last 58 years in Athens. And he told his pregnant wife Barbara at the time they first arrived at Georgia in December of 1963 that it might be a short stay. Coaches move a lot.
“Don’t get too comfortable,” he told her. “In fact, you might not even unpack, I don’t know how long we’re going to be here, but I’m going to give it my best shot.”
At some point Saturday, during or after the Georgia-Florida game, have a shot for Vince.
Cheers, Vince Dooley.