November 11, 2010
Former University of Georgia head coach Vince Dooley is regarded as one of the top college football coaches of all time. He won a national championship at Georgia in 1980 in addition to six Southeastern Conference titles during his 25-year career. He also coached one of the greatest college running backs of all time, 1982 Heisman Trophy winner Herschel Walker, the anchor of the 1980 championship team. Dooley later took the reins as athletic director at Georgia, but he still found time to indulge in several interests, including gardening. His wife of 50 years, Barbara Dooley, has recently overshadowed her famous husband with her off-the-cuff, outrageous comments on sports radio talk shows, including WJOX’s Paul Finebaum Show, where she is the most anticipated weekly guest. Vince Dooley will be in town on Tuesday, November 16, at Aldridge Botanical Gardens (3530 Lorna Road, Hoover) to sign his latest book: Vince Dooley’s Garden—The Horticultural Journey of a Football Coach. Dooley’s appearance (which is free) from 4 to 6 p.m., with a reception from 5:30 to 6 p.m., will also include a Q&A session. Details: 682-8019 or www.aldridgegardens.com.
||(click for larger version)
Black & White: How did you get interested in gardening?
Vince Dooley: Well, I had absolutely no background when I started gardening. But if you live around a university and you have a curiosity for anything, you can satisfy it, because there’s an expert on everything. I have always enjoyed auditing courses on different subjects while I was athletic director at Georgia—history, I particularly enjoy. I was always curious about trees and plants, so I thought I’d sit in on one course, not realizing that I would be bitten by a bug and get infected. And there is no cure. (laughs) If I can do it, anybody can do it.
Do you have a favorite flower?
Well, I love Japanese maples, I love hydrangeas. There’s a wide variety of them, and one of the very best is at Aldridge Gardens, the Snowflake. I enjoy camellias and peonies.
Is your wife, Barbara, as enthusiastic about gardening as you are?
Not really. We finally reached a compromise. She would be in charge of domestic affairs and run the house, and I wouldn’t mess with anything. I would be in charge of foreign affairs outside of the house, and she wouldn’t mess with my garden.
Is it true that you considered running for governor of Georgia in the early 1980s?
I did think about that. I got my master’s in history and wrote a lot of papers on elections. There are some good people in public service, but you’ve got to be totally committed. I guess that my commitment was more to athletics and serving in that respect, to be in a position to influence young people. My head wanted to run for governor, but my heart wasn’t totally into it.
When you and Fob James [a teammate of Dooley's when the two played football at Auburn in the 1950s] were roommates in college, did you discuss politics?
Yeah, we used to. Fob was an example of someone with no political background who could be elected to office. I probably would have been what you call an old southern Democratic—a very conservative Democrat. But the parties have gotten so mixed up and screwed up, you might call me an Independent now.
Auburn has surprised quite a few people this season.
I’ve never seen one player make so much difference in a football team as [Auburn quarterback] Cam Newton. They’re probably a pretty respectable team without him. But they may be the best team in the country with him. There’s no position he couldn’t play.
How did playing and coaching under Shug Jordan at Auburn influence you?
I learned my basic philosophy about football from him. I had the advantage of being in an area where there were some great football coaches, and I used to always scout Alabama and Georgia Tech [as an assistant coach at Auburn]. Bear Bryant and Bobby Dodd had two contrasting styles, but both were successful. So I was able to pick what I liked from them, but I got my base [coaching philosophy] from Coach Jordan; he gave me my first coaching opportunity.
The coaching profession has changed a lot since your days. Coaches switch jobs frequently.
There were always demands on coaches in the past, but there are more demands today, primarily because they’re getting paid incredible salaries. They make more now in 2 years than I made in 25 years. I never had an agent when I was coaching, either. In my latter years when I was athletic director at Georgia I could have, but I went so long without an agent I said, heck, I’m not going to have one this late in my career.
Was Herschel Walker the best player you ever coached?
He was the most productive player by far. He combined three things: He had incredible speed—world-class speed—he had great strength, and he had an incredible mental toughness. I’ve never seen all three of those things combined so well in one package.
Your wife speaks her mind quite freely when she’s on the radio here. Does she ever embarrass you?
Nah, what comes in her head goes out her mouth. She has no filtering of her thoughts. It makes her, in one respect, well liked and respected. But on the other hand, it gets her in trouble periodically. (laughs) I’m more of the “think first, speak later” type.
Will Barbara be with you at the book signing?
Oh, I don’t know. She’s so busy these days, she’s hard to get a date with. (laughs) &