ATHENS — Some prominent Georgia alumni — including a few who played for Vince Dooley — returned to lead the cheers as a statue depicting the former coach and athletic director was unveiled on Saturday.
Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue, who was a walk-on player at Georgia, and Augusta National chairman Billy Payne, who was part of one of Dooley’s first recruiting classes, spoke at the dedication of the Vince Dooley Athletic Complex before the Georgia Tech-Georgia game.
Payne, the former head of the Atlanta Olympics committee, led fundraising efforts for the statue, which depicts Dooley being lifted onto the shoulders of two offensive linemen.
"I’m glad I came along when they lifted the coach up instead of pouring Gatorade over them because that might have been difficult to sculpture," Dooley joked.
The statue was created by Athens sculptor Stan Mullins.
"I really do like it," Dooley said. "I like it because it involves the players and not just me."
Dooley won a school-record 201 games, six Southeastern Conference championships and the 1980 national title as Georgia’s coach from 1964-88. He was athletic director from 1979-2004, a tenure that included 23 national championships and 78 SEC titles by the school’s various teams.
The statue has been installed in a new garden area that was constructed next to the Spec Towns track and field stadium and the Butts-Mehre football building.
The Dooley athletic complex includes the track, Butts-Mehre building, the football practice fields, Stegeman Coliseum and the new Coliseum training facility, Foley Field baseball stadium, the Rankin M. Smith Sr. Student-Athlete Academic Center, and the Dan Magill tennis complex, including Henry Feild Stadium.
The project was received warmly by Dooley, though many of his supporters instead wanted to see his name placed on Sanford Stadium.
University of Georgia president Michael Adams opposed the efforts to have Dooley’s name added to the football stadium.
Adams was generous in his praise of the former coach on Saturday, even though the project exceeded its original estimated cost of $1 million.
"This is a wonderful, fitting tribute and we’re not worried about the fact that it cost a little more than we thought on the front end," Adams told The Associated Press before the ceremony. "That’s part of it."
Added Adams: "Bottom line, this was one we wanted to make sure was done right and I think anybody who sees it would agree this is a fitting tribute to one who has given his whole professional life to the university."
Sen. Johnny Isakson spoke at the ceremony and Sen. Saxby Chambliss, wearing a red Georgia sweater, took a break from his campaign to attend.
Perdue wore a red Georgia warmup jacket.
"Even on this day I bleed red and black," Perdue said, referring to the annual intrastate rivalry game.
"(Dooley) made people like me and Billy proud to say we’re graduates of the University of Georgia."
Payne said Dooley "provided the fundamental framework for most of our lives."
"We honor a 45-year devotion to our great university," Payne said. "... We honor a consistent example of honor and integrity he has set for us.
"I speak for the hundreds of players when I tell you from the bottom of my heart, Coach Dooley, we love you."
Dooley said it was "very exciting and very emotional" to see so many of his former players at the event.
The garden was placed near the statue due to Dooley’s love for horticulture. A rainy day kept most of the ceremony indoors, but Dooley said he didn’t mind."
"It’s really exciting to see everybody, particularly on a rainy day, which is good for the garden, I might add," he said.
Perdue called Dooley’s wife, Barbara, "one All-American who has been with you throughout your whole career."
Dooley also was joined by three of his four children and eight of his 11 grandchildren. His son Derek is the head coach at Louisiana Tech, which played Nevada on Saturday.