Dooley a distant admirer of Notre Dame
When Notre Dame faces Georgia in 2017, it will be one of the few times in Vince Dooley’s adult life that he will have divided loyalties as the Bulldogs take the football field.
Dating back to his childhood, Notre Dame has always been special to the 81-year-old University of Georgia icon.
“When I was a young Catholic boy growing up in Mobile, Ala., we used to have ‘rosary teams,’” Dooley said. “Those ‘rosary teams’ were groups of boys who would get together around the radio on a Saturday afternoon and say the rosary during Notre Dame football games.
“That’s how much I loved Notre Dame back then. I used to say prayers at night that I would go to Notre Dame.”
Auburn was the more realistic destination for Dooley as a player. He was quarterback for the Tigers (1951-53), then came back as an assistant coach from 1956-63. He took over Georgia in 1964. Dooley won 201 games in 25 years with the Bulldogs. His “magical” season was 1980 when Georgia captured the national championship. In order to win the title, the Bulldogs had to beat none other than Notre Dame, 17-10, in the Sugar Bowl. It remains the only football game between the schools in history.
“Notre Dame fans couldn’t understand why Georgia fans were celebrating so much,” Dooley said. “It had been so long since Georgia had won a national championship (1942)…; the wait was so long that they had a lot to celebrate. Notre Dame fans didn’t understand what it meant to wait that long.”
Dooley, who began his 25-year run as athletic director at Georgia in 1979 (he was head football coach and AD for 10 years), was very active in the national scope of college athletics. In that role, he developed a relationship with Rev. Edmund Joyce, Notre Dame’s vice
president in charge of the athletic program.
“I had great respect for Father Joyce,” Dooley said. “What a class act. What a great mind.”
It’s obvious the respect was mutual.
Dooley said that before Gerry Faust took over the Notre Dame program in 1981, he and Joyce sat next to each other on a plane and discussed the possibility of Dooley coming to South Bend as Notre Dame’s head football coach.
“Nobody ever knew anything about that conversation,” Dooley said. “I told Father Joyce, ‘If I was younger, I would jump as far as I could go to get up there.’ I was too old (50 years old) and had been at Georgia too long to consider leaving.”
Just imagine how the trajectory of the Notre Dame football program might have changed had Dooley said yes.
“I remember (ND athletic director) Moose (Krause) would always come up to me, punch me in the ribs, and say, ‘You’re one of us; you’re a Catholic boy,’” Dooley said.
That Catholic boy finally did make it to Notre Dame. Joyce invited him to be a spokesperson for all college football coaches at Dan Devine’s retirement after the 1980 season.
After retiring as head coach in 1988, Dooley continued to admire Notre Dame. As athletic director until 2004, he said he “quietly had conversations with Notre Dame” about scheduling a series. However, he pointed to Notre Dame’s “changes in athletic administration” for keeping the series from coming to fruition.
Former Irish football assistant coach George Kelly, who had been moved into an athletic administration post, was Notre Dame’s point man on those negotiations.
“Georgia playing Notre Dame is good for college football,” Dooley said. “It’s great for Georgia. It adds prestige to their schedule.
“Georgia fans travel pretty good. I’m sure that (2017) game in South Bend (followed by a 2019 meeting in Athens) will be on a lot of Georgia fans’ bucket lists.”
Dooley, who intimately understands the mechanisms that make college football work, thinks a series like this – a meeting of two heavyweights – will be more the norm than the exception in the near future.
“The (playoff) selection committee is making strength of schedule a big factor in choosing the final four,” Dooley said. “The (Southeastern Conference) has voted against adding an extra (league) game, in order to schedule an intersectional rival.”
Besides bulking up an already tough schedule, Notre Dame’s motive for scheduling the Bulldogs is to develop a presence in the fertile recruiting grounds of SEC territory.
“Notre Dame has always recruited well in Atlanta,” Dooley said. “They’ve always had a presence.”
Dooley may have been stereotyped as a conservative coach who practiced fundamentals ad nauseam, but as an innovative thinker in the big picture of college football, he was well ahead of his time.
Before the birth of the BCS in 1998, Dooley was an integral part of an NCAA committee that was formed to study the best route for the game to travel.
“If you look back in the archives, you’ll find a two-inch thick document from our committee suggesting there be a four-team playoff,” Dooley said. “Myself, I was a ‘plus-one’ guy. Play the bowls, then have a championship game afterward.
“We came up with the four-team format back then, but they decided to go with the BCS instead.”
Maybe he feels a sense of vindication now.
“During my 25 years as athletic director (1979-2004), I thought I’d seen it all,” Dooley said. “Integration, Title IX, the whole TV flap that caused the (College Football Association) to be formed.
“When you see what’s happening now, I really hadn’t seen anything. The NCAA better let those five power conferences (and Notre Dame) address the situations they need to address.”
Through it all, Dooley isn’t completely convinced Notre Dame will be able to maintain its football independence.
“If anybody can, Notre Dame can,” Dooley said. “They’ve been able to do it for so many years. But, for so many schools, the conference means so much. There’s a lot going on. Great rivalries have ended because of conference changes. It’s a different business now (compared to 2004).”
But, then again, as Dooley well knows: Notre Dame is special.