Friday, March 12, 2010

College football coaching great Vince Dooley a student of Civil War, other passions

Legendary college football coach Vince Dooley made sure his grandson appreciated history at an early age.

Every year, Dooley took Patrick Dooley Cook, now 24, to sites across the country, including Vicksburg, Antietam and Gettysburg.

“To walk in footsteps of history is so important,” says Dooley.

Most people know Dooley for his teams at the University of Georgia that won the National Championship in 1980 and six Southeastern Conference titles.

They might be surprised to know that Dooley, 77, earned a master’s in history while he was coaching at Auburn University in the early 1960s. One of his passions, besides the American West, is the Civil War, and he regularly attends meetings of the Civil War Roundtable of Atlanta.

“The Civil War probably is the most critical time in our history. It defined who we are,” he says.

Tuesday night at the roundtable, the Mobile, Ala., native scanned information on an ancestor who fought for the Confederacy. Pvt. George Stanter (the surname shared by Dooley’s mother) served with the 24th Alabama Infantry.

This weekend, Dooley will join the Georgia Battlefields Association for a tour of northwest Georgia. Famed historian Ed Bearss will provide a detailed lesson on the fall 1864 campaign following the fall of Atlanta.

Dooley believes in battlefield preservation and he counts pristine sites such as Shiloh and Pickett’s Mill in Georgia among his favorites. He works with the Civil War Preservation Trust and Georgia Civil War Heritage Trails.

He remains busy even after retirement as UGA athletics director. He is publishing a book on gardening next month and he and wife Barbara are celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary March 19. They recently returned from a Persian Gulf cruise near Dubai. The couple also is renovating their Athens home, which features a spectacular garden.

The coach is a fan of Patrick Cleburne, the Irish-born Confederate general who was “ahead of his time” in pressing for African-Americans to fight. The idea was squashed until late in the war.

When asked if there is any comparison between a general and a head football coach, Dooley cites leadership, tactics, spirit, discipline and camaraderie.

“They must be demanding, but at the same time fair.”

A student at heart, Dooley has audited a variety of classes at UGA, including political science, gardening, art history and religion. He took a class taught by UGA history professor Stephen Berry, author of “House of Abraham: Lincoln and the Todds, A Family Divided by War.” Berry attended the roundtable meeting.

Dooley, who also served two years in the Marines, says auditing is “a great way to go to class.” He takes notes and does the readings. But there is a key difference between him and the rest of the folks in the class, Dooley quips.

“When it comes to the tests I get up, leave and wish students the best.”

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