Tennessee football: Vince Dooley’s success was often at Vols’ expense

Apr 13, 2022; Atlanta, Georgia, USA; Former Georgia Bulldogs head coach Vince Dooley before a game between the Atlanta Braves and Washington Nationals at Truist Park. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 13, 2022; Atlanta, Georgia, USA; Former Georgia Bulldogs head coach Vince Dooley before a game between the Atlanta Braves and Washington Nationals at Truist Park. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports /

The beauty of competition is that it means hall-of-fame success for somebody occurs at the expense of others, but eventually, fans of those expensed grow to appreciate the hall-of-famer. Such is the case for Tennessee football and Vince Dooley.

On Friday, Dooley passed away at age 90. From 1964 to 1988, Dooley was head coach of the Georgia Bulldogs. He led them to a national championship and six SEC Championships. After retiring, he stayed on as athletic director through 2004, a position he held starting in 1979.

Georgia and Tennessee football weren’t even rivalries in those days. However, Dooley always had a knack for his matchups with the Vols becoming the most memorable. Most notable among those is Georgia’s 16-15 win in Knoxville in 1980.

That game was the opener for both teams, and the Vols led 15-0. Dooley then put freshman Herschel Walker in, and Walker led UGA to a huge comeback to win 16-15. It was his breakout game en route to the Dawgs’ national championship season.

Dooley’s win also wound up costing the Vols a bowl appearance, as they finished the season 5-6 in Johnny Majors’ fourth year, which started to put him on the hot seat. Although that game was most notable, it’s not the most costly for Tennessee football.

Just 12 years before that fateful matchup, the Vols and Dawgs played to a tie. That proved costly at the end of the year, as UT finished 4-1-1 in SEC play while UGA finished 5-0-1. If the Vols had won, both teams would’ve been 5-1, and Doug Dickey’s team would’ve been SEC Champions.

Instead, that tie gave the Dawgs the SEC Championship. From 1966 to 1969, the Vols and Dawgs won the SEC Title every other year, but had that tie not occurred, Dickey’s team would’ve been SEC Champions every year from 1967 to 1969.

Even in Dooley’s final year, he scored a huge win. UGA beat Tennessee football 28-17 to open the 1988 season. That sent the Vols on a slide to start the year 0-6. They won the final five games, though, so that one ended up costing them a trip to a bowl.

It would be the last time the Vols missed a bowl game until 2005 and the last time they lost to Georgia in 2000, as their golden age of the modern era began the next year. However, Dooley had a hand in sending their golden age out the door as well despite not playing.

In 2001, as athletic director, Dooley hired Mark Richt to coach the Dawgs. Richt brought Georgia back from the dead and closed off the state in recruiting, shutting off a huge pipeline for the Vols. There’s a reason that 2001 remains the last year they finished in the top 10.

Of course, Dooley’s deepest connection is when the Vols hired his son, Derek Dooley, as head coach in 2010. That didn’t work out, and while a lot of things were out of Dooley’s control, he made plenty of mistakes on his own.

To a certain extend, you could also blame that on Vince Dooley’s success. After all, Derek Dooley acknowledged in a 2016 interview with Clay Travis that he got his first full-time coaching job, as an assistant with the SMU Mustangs in 1997, because of his father’s connections.

At the time, SMU’s head coach was Mike Cavan, who played for Dooley during the late 1960s, including that 1968 season when the Dawgs beat the Vols. That led to Derek Dooley climbing the coaching ladder, which got him to the Vols in 2010.

Simply put, everywhere you look, Dooley had a habit of causing heartbreak for Tennessee football, but Vol fans and SEC historians couldn’t help but appreciate what he did. It’s similar to Steve Spurrier. He owned UT in the 1990s, but if you’re a Vol fan now, you appreciate him.

Next. Vols' top 10 wins vs. Georgia with both teams ranked. dark

When looking at the elite SEC coaches of all time, Nick Saban, Robert Neyland and Bear Bryant are Tier 1. However, Dooley is right there with Spurrier. They probably round out the top five, and then you get to guys like Phillip Fulmer, Urban Meyer, Johnny Vaught and Frank Thomas. RIP to Vince Dooley. He truly was a legend.