Barbara Dooley, the mother of UT football coach Derek Dooley and the wife of legendary University of Georgia coach and athletic director Vince Dooley, says her son has her under a gag order in Knoxville — she’s not allowed to do TV interviews.
But that hasn’t stopped her from speaking her mind to various civic groups in our town. Her latest appearance was last Friday when she was the luncheon speaker at the Junior League of Knoxville’s “Tinsel and Treasure” show at the Knoxville Convention Center.
A Realtor, former radio talk show host and Republican political candidate, she has many opinions on how to get the most out of life. Approaching her five-year anniversary as a breast cancer survivor, her main philosophy seems to be, as she said, “to grab each day and suck every drop you can out of it.” Some other gems from her speech:
- Football coaches have tunnel vision. During the season, all they think about is winning football games. “So during football season, you can buy whatever you want,” she confided. “Sofas, chairs, dining room tables. They won’t notice until January. And then you say, ‘That’s old!’”
- As an example of how focused they are, Dooley said that when he was coaching at Georgia, her husband was preparing for a game against Alabama in Tuscaloosa. Barbara desperately wanted to go to the game, but was having trouble with the schedule because she had to attend some of her children’s activities in Athens on Friday night prior to the game on Saturday. “Vincent,” she said to him as he was reading a newspaper. “Will you please help me figure out how to get to the game this weekend?” He lowered his paper and said sternly, “Barbara, I have 100 football players to worry about. I have all these assistant coaches to worry about. I think you can figure out how to get yourself to the football game.” As soon as he walked out the door, she said, “I picked up the telephone and rented myself an airplane!’ (Big applause from the mostly female audience!)
- Unfortunately, the Saturday of the game, the airplane, which was coming to Athens from Augusta, Ga., got socked in by fog and was not going to be able to make it in time for the game. Barbara’s daughter mentioned that her cheerleading coach was driving to the game, so Barbara arranged to drive with the coach and the coach’s husband. The trio made it to Pell City, Ala., when the drive shaft fell out the car, stranding them on the interstate. After a little while, Barbara hatched still another plan. She walked down the ramp and stuck out her thumb. A car with two men pulled over. “I’m trying to get to Tuscaloosa,” she told them. “Hop in,” they said. “We are heading to the game.” The three Georgians hopped in the back seat and Barbara introduced the other couple and then told them her name. “You mean you are Vince Dooley’s wife?” the driver asked incredulously. “I sure am,” she said. “Lady, you sure do have a cheap husband!” he said.
- Barbara Dooley said she has been “happily married to Vince Dooley for 46 years.” The audience applauded. “That’s not bad out of 50 years of marriage,” she said when the applause stopped. “Well, every year can’t be good!”
- The Dooleys have always been a spiritual family. In addition to having a family prayer before dinner, they also had a family prayer every Saturday before a football game. “And, ladies, we prayed to win!” Dooley said firmly. “There wasn’t any of that talk about ‘the best team.’ We prayed to win!”
- One of Vince Dooley’s rules for the children was that they couldn’t sit on the Georgia sidelines until they were 10 years old. “Rules work for the first two or three kids,” said the mother of four. “Then you let them do whatever the hell they want. Because you are tired!”
- When Derek, the youngest of the four children — the one she still calls “Precious” — was only five years old, he begged to go on the sidelines of the Georgia-Georgia Tech game being played in Atlanta. Vince Dooley agreed, but with a few conditions: Georgia had to be winning by a reasonable margin in the third quarter, Derek couldn’t touch or speak to his father on the sidelines, and he couldn’t talk to the players. When the third quarter started, Georgia was beating Tech 42 to 0. “I thought that seemed like a reasonable lead,” Barbara said. So she took Derek down towards the sidelines. Tech scored a touchdown, making the score 42 to 7. As she handed the little boy over the sideline fence to a policeman on the other side, Tech scored another touchdown. As she headed back to her own seat, the Yellow Jackets scored again, making the score 42 to 21. Then they kicked an on-side kick and were marching down the field toward the goal line again. She looked at the sidelines and saw the Georgia coaching staff moving along the sideline as the on-field action moved. And there, hanging onto his father’s leg, was 5-year-old Derek Dooley. The coach kind of kicked his leg, trying to dislodge the youngster, but to no avail. Derek held on tightly as his father moved all the way to the end of the field and Georgia Tech scored yet again, making the score 42 to 28. Barbara saw Vince and Derek “exchange words,” she said, and Derek went and sat quietly on the bench. Tech never scored again and Georgia won the game. Later, in the hotel, Derek told his father, “I knew we were going to win. That was just Jesus having a little fun with you!”
- “So, Derek honey, what’s happening at Tennessee right now is just Jesus having a little fun with you!” she said.
- Dooley said her 10 grandchildren call her Honey. “I didn’t want to be called Memaw, or Mamaw. And certainly not Big Mama,” she explained. “I wanted to be called something sweet, so I picked Honey. You know the best thing about it? Whatever the grandchildren call you, your sons- and daughters-in-law have to call you! Even if they have to do it through gritted teeth!”
Dooley said the things that make life worth living are attitude, integrity, faith and love. And the most important thing is love. For her finale, she had someone put Stevie Wonder’s “I Just Called to Say I Love You” on the sound system. “Play it loud!” she instructed. Then she danced through the audience singing along and getting everyone to do the same.
A most enjoyable lunch for this Georgia graduate!