Vince Dooley prides himself on being a people-person. And he demonstrated it last Thursday in his afternoon visit with hundreds of fans at the Thomson Depot/Annex.
"This is what I love to do now that I'm not coaching football is to be around people," said the legendary former head football coach and athletic director of the University of Georgia. "Now that I'm not coaching football anymore and I'm not as involved as I once was at the university, I have time to go out and meet people."
Dooley came to Thomson at noon as guest speaker of the Thomson Rotary Club. There, he shook hands with dozens of UGA Bulldog fans before moving over the Thomson Depot Annex later in the afternoon where he spent time signing autographs and promoting his new book, Dooley, My 40 Years at Georgia.
One of the first people that Dooley spoke to prior to the Rotary Club luncheon was Gloria Thompson, a Thomson businesswoman, whose brother, Cooper Gumby, a former Thomson High football star, went to play for Dooley at UGA.
"I remember that Cooper well," said Dooley with a big laugh. "He was a bit of a prankster and loved to tell jokes. He was very good at embellishing a story."
Andy Knox, a Thomson businessman, was another one of Dooley's former players. Knox also attended the luncheon and spoke with his former college football coach.
"He's (Knox) always been a big supporter of the Bulldogs and we appreciate that," said Dooley.
"I love sharing memories with people," Dooley told The McDuffie Mirror. "And a lot of them seem to enjoy their memories with me."
Before addressing the local Rotarians, Mike Carrington, director of the McDuffie County Industrial Development Authority, formally introduced Dooley as the guest speaker. Dooley also remembered that Carrington played for him as a walk-on.
Dooley became head football coach at the University of Georgia at the age of 31.
"When I went there, everybody heard that a man named Vince was coming to coach the football team," recalled Dooley. "They all thought it was Vince Lombardi. They found, instead, it was Vince Dooley."
Despite some rocky years in the 1950s when the Georgia Bulldogs didn't do so well on the gridiron, Dooley, though young, was determined to turn the program around when he came on the scene in 1964. And turn it around, he did.
The Georgia Bulldogs won two Southeastern Conference Championships in 1966 and 1968 and quickly the name Dooley was known throughout the Bulldog Nation. During his tenure as head football coach at UGA, the Bulldogs won the 1980 National Championship with such notable players as Hershel Walker and Terry Hogue. In their time at Georgia, the Bulldogs compiled three SEC titles and one national title, amassing an incredible record of 43-4-1 during that span.
"It was a great experience to be in one place at one time for 40-something years," said Dooley.
One of the greatest assistant coaches to have ever served under Dooley was his beloved friend, Erk Russell, who served as the defensive coordinator at Georgia for several years. He later left to rejuvenate a football program at Georgia Southern University.
"We'll miss him forever," said Dooley of Russell, the bald-headed coach who was killed a number of years ago in a car wreck. He led the Eagles to four national championships.
Dooley said he once shaved his head after his players won an SEC title and that Russell told him: "Vince, you've set bald heads back 40 years."