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It’s about time

September 03, 2019 - 17:07
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    LON sports editor Justin Hubbard


It never should have taken this long.

This Saturday afternoon in Athens, the field at Sanford Stadium will officially be named in honor of Vince Dooley. The naming ceremony is scheduled to take place before Georgia kicks off its second-week matchup against Murray State.

The decision to name the field after Dooley was unanimously approved in May by the Georgia athletic association’s board of directors

Although it took too long to make, this was a no-brainer decision. Dooley holds the most coaching wins in Bulldogs history (201) and he led the program to its most recent national title with a victory over Notre Dame in the 1981 Sugar Bowl.

But you probably knew that.

You probably also knew about the multiple awards Dooley won during his 25-year stint as Georgia’s head coach, including the inaugural Bobby Dodd Coach of the Year award (1976) and five SEC coach of the year honors.

What often gets overlooked, though, is the greater effect Dooley had on UGA athletics.

He served as the school’s athletic director from 1979 to 2004. Although the end of that tenure was tainted by then-UGA president Michael Adams’ refusal to extend Dooley’s term (not to mention what happened to Dooley’s successor, Damon Evans), it was mostly marked by positive growth.

Across the board, UGA athletics flourished under Dooley’s direction. The gymnastics and tennis teams were national powers. Women’s basketball was consistently among the SEC and NCAA elites. Georgia’s softball and women’s soccer programs started under Dooley, too. He also helped Athens host part of the 1996 Olympics.

And then there was the football team, which won the national title in Dooley’s second year as AD and enjoyed continued success. When its production dipped in the late 1990s, he hired Mark Richt, who took the job as a first-time head coach and restored the consistency the Bulldogs previously enjoyed with Dooley as head coach.

Dooley was not the only broad-stroked influential person in UGA athletics (you can’t talk about Georgia sports without mentioning the late Dan Magill) but, in terms of overall effects on UGA, it’s hard to say anyone played a bigger role than Dooley.

“Coach Dooley’s many contributions to this university can be seen across campus,” UGA president Jere Morehead said in a statement released in May, “from Georgia athletics, where he achieved unrivaled success, to the learning environment, where today many academic programs and initiatives bear his name, such as the Dooley Library Endowment Fund to the Dooley Professorship in Horticulture. The university community will continue to benefit from his service and dedication for generations to come.”

This is an honor that should have been bestowed upon Dooley years ago. The state of UGA athletics, particularly the football team, would look much different without his influence. Who’s to say Georgia would be one of the strongest overall universities for athletics without his input?

Sanford Stadium is where Dooley made his most notable mark on UGA, and that’s where he deserves to be honored for eternity.

In many interviews leading into Saturday’s big moment, Dooley has predictably remained humble about the incredible honor. He points the credit to his former players, many of whom will join him on the field Saturday. And he told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that he wants to get the ceremony over with so the focus will return to the current football team.

This year’s Bulldogs are chasing down the program’s ever-elusive third national championship. They seem to have the talent and coaching capable of getting the job done.

If the 2019 squad does so, it will join Wally Butts and Dooley, along with their assistants and players, in Bulldog immortality.

Considering Dooley is the best to ever do it at Georgia, it’s only appropriate that the field upon which the new breed of Bulldog, as Larry Munson’s recorded voice says before every home game, assumes the reigns of their Georgia forbearers.

There is no bigger forbearer than Dooley. It’s about time his name gets officially attached to the stadium.