In his 87 years on the planet, about 50 of which were spent at the highest level of college athletics, Hall of Fame coach Vince Dooley has learned a thing or two about crises.
“A big part of life is managing crises. You’re either going into a crisis, in a crisis, or coming out of a crisis,” said Dooley from his home in Athens, Ga., on Monday.
He was born during the Great Depression. He was teenager during World War II. He was a 31-year-old freshman team coach at Auburn when President Kennedy was assassinated on November 22, 1963. As fate would have it, 12 days later he would be named the head football coach at Georgia.
After graduating from Auburn Dooley joined the Marine Corps, where he trained in Quantico and served on Parris Island. He went back to Auburn in 1956 as an assistant coach but served eight years in the Marine Corps reserve.
More than once during his 25 years (1964-88) as Georgia’s head coach, Dooley was on the hot seat. But each time he managed the storm and ended his career with 201 wins, six SEC championships and one national championship.
In 1987 his team trailed 21-7 at Vanderbilt. About that time he started feeling chest pains.
“I thought it was going to be a great way for me to get out of coaching,” Dooley said. “I was going to have a heart attack and we were going to lose to Vanderbilt.”
His team came back to win 52-24. But on Monday he went to see his cardiologist who informed him that he needed an angioplasty procedure to clear a blockage in his heart. By Thursday he was out of the hospital and on Saturday he was standing on the sidelines at Sanford Stadium as Georgia played Kentucky. Georgia trailed 14-3 at halftime but rallied and scored with only 1:08 left to win 17-14.
One year later he retired from coaching. He was only 56 years old.
On Sept. 11, 2001 he was still the director of athletics at Georgia when the planes hit the twin towers.
I tell you all of that so that I can tell you this: When somebody with the life experience of Vince Dooley talks, we should all listen.
Dooley, the father of four adult children and the grandfather of 11, says he’s never seen anything like the current crisis with the coronavirus.
“What’s different is that this impacts every facet of our lives,” said Dooley. “It feels like we’re learning something new every day. “
Usually this time of year Dooley and his wife Barbara—who just celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary—are very active. Dooley, who has a Masters Degree in History from Auburn, has traveled the world. That’s because Dooley, who has written books on football, gardening, art and Civil War history, doesn’t just like to just READ about history. He wants to do see it first-hand. Much to the chagrin of his children when they were growing up, if a family vacation took them past a civil war battleground, there would be a lengthy stop. The Georgia Historical Society has a distinguished fellowship named after Vince Dooley.
The Dooleys have been to Honduras five times as part of the Honduras Outreach, Inc., which brings health care, education, and food to some of the poorest children of the world. Last year they also visited Croatia and Romania. There had been discussions about a trip to Iceland.
The Dooleys are still so much in demand for public speaking and other charity events that daughter Deanna has to keep up with the schedule. By her count the Dooleys have had at least 15 public appearances and charity events cancelled due to concerns about the virus.
But Dooley said staying at home is a small price to pay if it can help with the spread of the virus.
“There are so many projects I’ve started at home and need to get back to. There are books and articles to read and those are stacked up.
"And I have my garden,” he said.
Vince Dooley doesn’t just have a flower garden. He has a showplace. Visitors stop and knock on the door hoping to get a glimpse of the garden which includes a strain of Hydrangea named for him. He holds the title of Master Gardener in the state of Georgia, which is achieved only through extensive class room instruction and volunteer work.
“Vincent never does anything half way,” said Barbara.
So, like a lot of us, the Dooleys are hunkered down for the long haul. Although the house has been renovated many times, they live at the same address in Athens where they’ve been since December of 1963. They have a place at Lake Burton (about two hours North of Atlanta) that can be used for family gatherings.
Coach Dooley’s message?
“We’ve never been through anything like this. Yes, the world is turned upside down right now,” he said.
“This is tough on a lot of people. But we’re going to get through this.”
Thanks, coach. We needed that.