Honoring Greatness While It Is Still Among Us

Posted: Sep 17, 2015 12:01 AM

If you are as tired as I am of politics and politicians, perhaps you have joined with millions of other Americans and turned your attention to football to give yourself a well-deserved break from the news of the day.

With more and more fans, college football seems more popular than the professional league, in part because it still has some small vestige of reality about it. Somehow watching the teams play, one can still hold out the hope that some of the players are actually getting both an education and lessons in life.

These days college football coaches move from one school to another, either because the fans and alumni -- ever-hungry for success -- demand their heads if they don't win enough, or because the coaches' successes earn them "promotions" to bigger and better programs.

The South has for years now been the epicenter of college football. But when one thinks of the prototypical southern football coach, rarely is it someone who, early in his career, worked to get a graduate degree; or after retiring, audited college classes in, say, horticulture; or who also managed to win six major conference championships and a national championship along the way. Someone who, more than 25 years after retirement, remains one of the winningest coaches in collegiate history.

This coach is real, not a composite one of stellar traits. He spent his entire career as head coach and later as athletics director at one school. This is a coach who competed successfully against some of the greatest coaching names in history, including Bear Bryant (Alabama), Bobby Bowden (Florida State), Bobby Dodd (Georgia Tech) and Ralph "Shug" Jordan (Auburn).

This man is Vince Dooley of the University of Georgia.

Ironically, among the giants of college football just listed, only Dooley's name is missing from the stadium he helped make synonymous with excellence. When Dooley took the helm at UGA in 1964, Sanford Stadium held about 36,000 fans. Today its capacity exceeds 92,000.

Dooley, who was born in 1932, remains a remarkably active man. And the honors and endeavors in his life never seem to end. You name it, he's done it. He's an avid historian. His books, with topics ranging from gardening to history, are prolific. And like President George H. W. Bush, he has even done some senior skydiving.

Dooley has received every honor he could hope to attain - from National Coach of the Year to a spot in the College Football Hall of Fame, and even the Marine Corps Hall of Fame. You would think such a uniquely talented and successful man would be afforded the same honor given other coaches of his stature in the South.

But not so in Georgia. Oddly, it was the switch from Georgia's total domination by Democrats to a Republican-controlled legislature and a succession of GOP governors that led to a seemingly unwavering determination to keep Dooley's name off of Sanford Stadium.

When an effort was made years ago to add Dooley's name to the venue, politicians and Republican movers and shakers used the excuse that the Sanford family objected to any name change.

The stadium was named for a university president, Steadman Sanford, in the early 1900s. Sanford then became head of the state's university system and also helped create the stadium.

Note that the stadium was named for Sanford while he was still chancellor -- so much for one of the main excuses for not adding Dooley's name to that of Sanford's. Opponents have argued that it would be wrong to add a legend's name to a stadium or to its field while that person is still living. Tell that to Bobby Bowdon and Florida State, among others, who have lived to see their names become stadium or field names.

Ironically, Dooley's wife Barbara has been an active Republican, even running for a GOP nomination to Congress. But alas, the modern GOP in Georgia sits stone-faced on the subject of adding Dooley's name to Sanford Stadium.

The real reason for the snub to Dooley is jealousy. Even years after having retired as the school's most successful athletics director, he is still swarmed by fans at home football games. And he is infinitely more popular than the politicians and political hacks who somehow have decided politics and pettiness are more important than honoring their state's "top dawg."

Matt Towery is author of the book "Paranoid Nation: The Real Story of the 2008 Fight for the Presidency." He heads the polling and political information firm InsiderAdvantage. Follow him on Twitter: @matttowery. To find out more about Matt Towery and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.