Former athletic director Vince Dooley stands with university president Jere Morehead and family members during the dedication of Dooley Field on Saturday, Sep. 7, 2019 at Sanford Stadium in Athens, Georgia. (Photo/Ryan Cameron, rcameron@randb.com)

It’s official. 

The playing field at Sanford Stadium was named in honor of former Georgia coach and athletic director Vince Dooley in a ceremony before the Bulldogs’ game against Murray State on Saturday. 

The pregame event was preceded by a banquet on Friday night with former Bulldogs football lettermen. Dooley said he’s never seen so many former players this happy all gathered in one place. 

“Last night was just a great, wonderful homecoming,” Dooley said. “And they were all hugging each other, hugging me, and I was hugging them. It was a love affair.” 

On Saturday, Dooley was joined at midfield by his family, captains from each of his 25 football teams, University of Georgia President Jere Morehead, athletic director Greg McGarity and University System of Georgia Board of Regents Chairman Don Waters. 

A plaque bearing the new name was unveiled on the north end of the grandstand. 

Dooley coached the Bulldogs from 1964-88 and served as athletic director from 1979-2004. As football coach, he led Georgia to its second national championship in 1980, six SEC championship titles and 201 victories. Under his watch as athletic director, Georgia sports teams won 23 national championships and 78 SEC team titles. 

He also coached the 1982 Heisman Trophy winner, running back Herschel Walker, who was on hand for the event Saturday. 

“It’s been a long time coming,” Walker said. “He’s done so many great things, not just as a coach but as an athletic director as well. People don’t realize he is the reason why we have the equestrian team with a lot of great women doing some great things for the university … I’m happy to see this happen.”

Dooley was hired by former athletic director Joel Eaves in December 1963. Before then, Dooley was a freshman coach at his alma mater, Auburn University. Dooley succeeded Johnny Griffith, whose three teams had a conference record of 6-12-1 from 1961-63. Dooley won his first SEC championship in 1966, Georgia’s first since 1959. 

But it was about more than just football for Dooley. 

“I hope that I provided [the players] a good example in life,” Dooley said.

Walker said Dooley showed his players how to become men. For Walker, Dooley acted as an extension of his home. 

“He made a big impact on me,” Walker said. “And I told him that last night. It’s funny — you leave home, and I was very fortunate to have great parents who showed me how to be respectful and all that. Then I came to a university where you have a coach that continues to teach the same principles.” 

Buck Belue was the quarterback for Dooley’s only national championship team, but Belue said that wasn’t his favorite moment with his former coach. That would be the 1981 Auburn game, when Georgia won and Belue presented Dooley with the game ball only to have his coach give it right back. 

All these years later, Belue still has the game ball. 

“He really went out and touched [and] influenced a lot of people in a positive way,” Belue said. “And that’s why everyone loves and respects him so much.”