By Devin Golden
In 1963, a little-known college football coach named Vince Dooley was announced as the man to lead the University of Georgia.
Five decades later, the line to meet him continues.
That was the case Thursday at the Kroger on Walnut Avenue in Dalton as Dooley signed autographs for patrons, many sporting their Bulldogs fandom with attire or memorabilia. Dooley and his Dogs won the 1980 college football national championship, and he led the Bulldogs for 25 years. He has written many books about both Georgia football and life at the university, and some of those writings were available for purchase at Kroger.
On Dec. 4, 1963, 50 years and one day from Thursday’s appearance, Dooley remembers the press conference when he was introduced to the Bulldogs fanbase. He was an assistant at Auburn, where he graduated, before accepting the Georgia position.
Dooley remembers the “more-candid Georgia fans” weren’t exactly thrilled with the choice.
“They said, ‘Who in the heck is Vince Dooley?’ It’s amazing because as an administrator, which I was, there’s no way I’d hire myself,” he said. “I was 31 years old and a freshman coach at a rival school. I somehow survived 50 years.”
After winning six Southeastern Conference championships, accumulating a 201-77-10 record and 20 bowl appearances, surviving in the Peach State probably becomes pretty easy.
“I’ve had a good run at a great institution,” said Dooley, who now works as a consultant helping start Kennesaw State University’s football program. “I’ve been very active since retiring with a lot of things.”
Many times during the signing event, a line formed to meet the legendary coach. Regardless, there almost always was a fan waiting to speak with him. Dalton resident Larry Minchew had “Dooley’s Playbook: The 34 Most Memorable Plays in Georgia Football History” signed for his grandson, Alex Taylor.
“You can’t think of Georgia football without thinking of Vince Dooley,” said Minchew, who met Dooley last year when he visited the same Kroger for a similar event.
Eric Hayes, another Dalton resident, is a lifetime Georgia fan and also met the coach. He got multiple 8-by-10 photos signed, plus a helmet and the same title as Minchew. Hayes met Dooley two years ago when he visited Kroger.
“A lot of coaches and players in college it’s hard to meet,” Hayes said. “I’ve been lucky to meet him twice. ... To me, he is Georgia football.”
Dooley agreed that interacting with fans wasn’t common when he was a coach.
“I never could do it,” he said. “You fly in, say hello and then you’re gone. You’re back to work.”