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January 30, 2004

MY OPINION: The Best Job In The World

By Vince Dooley, Athletic Director, University of Georgia

As I approach the completion of 40 years of proud service to the University of Georgia, I look back appreciatively on my experiences and memories of the glory and grandeur that has been Bulldogs athletics. I could easily write thousands of pages to relate this rich and bountiful tale. However, since mine is a novel not yet written, this abbreviated account will suffice for now.

There are brain surgeons, rocket scientists, visionary statesmen and military heroes who have had extraordinarily fulfilling and meaningful jobs, but my jobs as Georgia football coach and Athletic Director have undeniably been, in my opinion, the best jobs in the world.

Despite all of the pressures, challenges and even crises, my football life was like a 25 year dream from which I never woke up. Surrounded by the absolute finest coaches, support staff, players, students and alumni, I was blessed to have led the Bulldogs’ perennial pigskin successes. I felt uncomfortable in being too much the focus of adulation--after all, more credit should have been accorded to my coaches and players. However, I would be less than candid if I did not admit that I thoroughly enjoyed the rides on the shoulders of my players after a big victory. It was like riding in the clouds, in slow motion and without a care, yet at the same time knowing it was appropriate to come down from the clouds to pay proper respect to the losing coach.

When I assumed the additional role of Georgia’s Athletic Director in 1979, I came to realize that there is much more to college athletics beyond football. For fifteen years I had enjoyed the luxury of a tunnel-vision focus on football, but now I took a giant leap to the generalist activities of an athletic director. I re-invented myself by becoming more adept at comprehending the consequences and reverberations to all the multiple layers of constituency that make up UGA athletics. Being in the Athletic Director’s office was more like a global United Nations view rather than one-country parochialism. Yet, I knew that the football program had to succeed to financially support all of the other sports.

At every step along the way I was surrounded by great people. After all, a leader is only as good as the people he hires. And we had no shortage of great talent at UGA. I had excellent talent both as a coach and as an administrator. I had superb assistant coaches too numerous to mention, but I made good decisions early on by hiring my brother, Bill Dooley, on my first staff as my offensive coordinator and Erk Russell as my defensive coordinator. My brother went on to a 26-year head coaching career, rebuilding programs at North Carolina, Virginia Tech and Wake Forest. Erk Russell, who was with me for 17 years, became head coach at Georgia Southern, winning three national championships there.

During my 25 years as Director of Athletics, I was blessed with excellent talent in administration with five extraordinary senior associate directors. The first was Lee Hayley, a former teammate and coaching associate at Auburn, who later was the school’s athletic director. He was my top man for ten years while I was both football coach and athletic director. He was followed by John Shafer for five years, who later became the athletic director at Ole Miss. John was replaced by another quality senior associate, Dick Bestwick, who served for two years before I hired one of my former players, Damon Evans. I recruited and coached Damon, and after graduation he performed great service in administration at Missouri and in the SEC office. Damon has been my top assistant for six years. A couple of years ago I became convinced that Damon was not only the right person to maintain the great program we have built here at Georgia, but also to take it to even greater heights. I am proud to say that he will succeed me as athletic director upon my retirement in June.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Claude Felton, the best sports communication director in America, who was the first and most important hire I made as athletic director and who has been with me for the 25 years I have served the University in that capacity.

I was fortunate to have been grounded in basic values essential to good leadership from my parents, my teachers and my high school and college coaches before being exposed to the formal leadership training provided me by the Marine Corps. When I assumed the UGA Athletic Director position I never forgot those leadership essentials: hire good people, treat them with dignity, clearly define the objectives, set a good example, and then get the hell out of their way to let them do what they’re supposed to do.

Interlinked closely with leadership is the obligation of decision-making, and I can proudly say that I never shirked from making tough decisions. But decision-making for the athletic department of a large state university is a process, not simply an end result. To be an athletic director means orchestrating a lot of diplomacy and consensus-building before all parties sit down at the table. Compared to being the head football coach, I believe that the athletic director should be more of a consensus builder in the diplomatic mold rather than of the unilateral mold necessary at times while coaching. As a comparison, perhaps more like Dwight Eisenhower and less like General George Patton.

Regardless, at times one has to unilaterally make a tough decision, and the toughest decisions I ever had to make were dismissals of staff members, particularly the football or basketball coach. Those types of decisions are so difficult because they have such grave consequences on human beings and their families.

Although the athletic director might sit at the head of that table, that does not necessarily mean that all the decisions come from his chair. Even though I don’t really fully control all the decisions, I accept that the responsibility lies with me on all athletic department matters.

Winston Churchill once said: “The price of leadership is responsibility.” I fully agree with Churchill’s profound statement. I accept responsibility no matter what the circumstance. I also believe strongly in the statement by President Harry Truman that “the buck stops here.” I have always been a strong believer that in victory or when credit is due, praise should be given to others, and in defeat and in difficult times the responsibility should be shouldered alone.

Sometimes the eyes of the entire state of Georgia seem like they’re trained on the UGA Athletic Director. No matter how seemingly trivial an issue, invariably someone somewhere will pass judgment on a decision. Although the press has generally treated me fairly throughout my career, there were times that I could have done without those microphones in my face or the questioning reporters at my doorway.

As I moved along in my career, I developed a keen sense of the gulf between perception and reality as related to the vaunted office of athletic director. The perception of the athletic director position at a major university is that it could be among the most envied, the most desirable and the most visible in the entire world of college sports administration. I believe that these perceptions are in line with reality.

However, reality diverges from perception in the area of decision making. Enlightened athletic directors will generally build a consensus and then make a decision with the support of key stakeholders. Rarely will an athletic director simply dictate a course of action. There are too many constituencies involved. We are not kings; we are more like prime ministers.

I think that athletic directors at large state universities are challenged with keeping more people happy than any job anywhere. Since we take our athletics so seriously at UGA, our constituencies are many and mighty.

How does an athletic director even begin to address the needs of all his constituents? Like anyone else, we usually start with our bosses. In my case that’s the university president. For most of my career I enjoyed—cultivated, actually—an open and supportive relationship with my presidential bosses. Such healthy relationships require cooperative inputs by both parties. For most of my career, there was mutual trust and constant communication among most all of the five presidents that I had the privilege of serving—a relationship essential to success in a quality work environment.

Another important constituency at UGA is the Athletics Board. With 15 members (8 faculty, 7 alumni) it has the potential to be an unwieldy group. Fortunately, through the years, I was blessed with conscientious people who were good advisors, but respected my judgment in running a quality program in the best interests of the University and athletics. Always, of course, with academics in the foreground. However, we have always managed to keep what is good for the University at the forefront, and personal agendas have been effectively suppressed.

The Georgia faculty members have been great partners in the success of our program through the years. And that is not because they have looked the other way. On the contrary, the faculty has consistently demonstrated its support by proactively facilitating the special academic needs of our student-athletes. The pressures of athletic competitiveness and maintaining academic standards can be enormous at large state universities. With laudable cooperation by the UGA faculty, we have done an exemplary job of producing good athletes and good students.

There are several other important constituencies vital to Bulldogs athletics: students, alumni and non-alumni investors, the media, the SEC, the NCAA and the people of the great State of Georgia.

Plus, on a more personal level, there are several other constituents of paramount importance. Depending on the issue, I have variously sought the input of my fellow ADs, my coaches, my friends, my family and my wife, Barbara. And one of my last road checks is my own self. Thanks to a good Christian upbringing and a deep faith in God, I have been able to rely on my faith to help me through some difficult times in my 40 years of service to the University.

We have developed an interdependent intricacy of cooperation at UGA that hinges on no one person. I have been profoundly blessed to have been associated with such a great program.

GO DAWGS!

[Mr. Dooley has risen in stature to become the most admired, prominent and enduring individual in Georgia sports. As football coach, he led the Bulldogs to 201 victories; as Athletic Director he has persistently championed excellence in both academics and athletics. As he passes into his next role as UGA AD Emeritus, Bulldog fans can feel secure that Coach Dooley is turning over a house in very good order.-Ed.]


Jan. 2004