For the longest time—too long, in fact—there was something about the college football universe that wasn’t quite right.
College football, particularly in the South, has long honored its iconic coaches by putting their names on the stadiums that, because of their success, grew into the game’s massive cathedrals. Here are a few:
Alabama: Bryant-Denny Stadium. Paul “Bear” Bryant won six national championship and 13 SEC championships in 25 seasons (1958-82) in Tuscaloosa.
Auburn: Pat Dye Field at Jordan-Hare Stadium. Dye (a Georgia graduate) won four SEC championships in 12 seasons (1981-92) as head coach. Ralph “Shug” Jordan (1951-75) won 176 games in 25 seasons.
Florida: Steve Spurrier-Florida Field at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium: Spurrier, the 1966 Heisman Trophy winner for Florida, led the Gators to six SEC championships and one national championship in 12 seasons as head coach (1990-2001).
Ole Miss: Vaught-Hemingway Stadium. John Vaught won 190 games, six SEC championships, and three national championships in 25 seasons as head coach.
Tennessee: Shields-Watkins Field at Neyland Stadium. General Robert R. Neyland won 176 games, five SEC championships and four national championships in a coaching career that was interrupted twice by military service.
Georgia Tech: Bobby Dodd Stadium at Historic Grant Field. Robert Lee “Bobby Dodd” served Georgia Tech for 46 years as an assistant coach, head coach, and director of athletics. He won 165 games in 22 seasons.
And there are others.
But for a long time now one has been noticeably missing.
Vince Dooley was a 31-year-old coach of the Auburn freshman team when he was named Georgia’s head coach in December of 1963. Over the next 25 seasons Dooley’s teams would win 201 games, six SEC championships and one national championship (1980). When he retired as head coach after the 1988 season, Dooley continued to serve Georgia as director of athletics until 2004. If you’re counting at home that’s 40 years on the job.
Dooley, who was voted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1994, has received every award that the institution college athletics has to offer.
Except one. When he came to Georgia, Sanford Stadium was a modest facility seating 36,000. When he left it was a palatial showcase with a capacity of 92,746. Fifteen years have passed since Vince Dooley finished his service to Georgia and still his name was not on the stadium.
That changed on Thursday when UGA President Jere Morehead and director of athletics Greg McGarity came to the Dooley home on Milledge Circle in Athens. They informed Dooley and his wife, Barbara, that on Sept. 7 the official title of the stadium would become Dooley Field at Sanford Stadium.
“Barbara is a lot more emotional than I am and she was hugging and kissing them,” said Dooley, who turned 86 last September. “I am so happy for the players. This is a real tribute to them and everybody else who has been so supportive.”
Georgia’s stadium was originally named for Dr. Steadman V. Sanford, who was the school’s president and the driving force behind the construction of the stadium in 1929. Despite Dooley’s accomplishments and what surrounding SEC schools had done to honor their greatest coaches, there were political forces within the state that did not want to see the name of the stadium changed in any way.
For a long time Dooley’s players, many of whom became very successful in the state of Georgia, have been lobbying those in power to get this honor for their coach. I talked to a half-dozen of them on Thursday who could barely contain their excitement.
“This is long overdue but this is something that Coach Dooley richly deserves,” said Frank Ros, a former Coca-Cola executive who was the captain of Georgia’s 1980 national championship team. “His record as a football coach speaks for itself. What people also need to look at is what he did as our athletics director. We have one of the best departments in the country because he built it.”
“After Coach Dooley left the athletics directorship this just made all the sense in the world,” said Chris Welton, who also played on the 1980 team and was one of Billy Payne’s chief lieutenants in the 1996 Olympics. “I am so glad that this is happening so that Coach and Barbara can enjoy it.”
“I’m so elated for all of my teammates and all the lettermen who have been working to make this happen for Coach Dooley,” said Macon attorney Kirby Moore, the quarterback on Dooley’s first SEC championship team in 1966. “We felt like this was way, way overdue.”
Georgia, which will be ranked in everybody’s preseason top five, opens the 2019 season at Vanderbilt on Aug. 31. Then the Bulldogs have their home-opener against Murray State on Sept. 7.
Under normal conditions there would probably be some empty seats at Sanford Stadium for Murray State. But it’s a pretty good bet there will be no empty seats on the day it becomes Dooley Field at Sanford Stadium.
“That has a nice ring to it,” said Bill Krug, an All-SEC and All-America defensive back (1975-77).