Hardly a surprise as to what game that was.
On Jan. 1, 1981, Dooley’s Bulldogs turned back Notre Dame, 17-10, in the Sugar Bowl to claim Georgia’s first and only Associated Press national championship, forever making Dooley a national-championship coach.
“Now that it’s all over, I think it did,” Dooley said. “What everybody would like to do as a coach is have a team that would be undefeated and then the undisputed national champion, and that’s what Georgia did in 1980. They always found a way to win, and there was no question that Georgia was the undisputed national champion. That was very, very special.
“Everything has to fall in place for that to happen. Some teams play a long time and never win a national championship, and other teams have things fall into place a couple of times just right.”
What makes his reflection particularly remarkable is that it’s easy to forget Dooley almost didn’t coach that game.
In early December of 1980 and only two days after Georgia had defeated Georgia Tech to complete a perfect 11-0 regular season, it was announced by The Birmingham Post-Herald that Vince Dooley was leaving UGA and heading to Auburn to replace the resigning Doug Barfield. Citing sources, the newspaper declared Dooley had decided to return to his alma mater when he was also promised the athletic director position. Reportedly, Auburn was offering a contract of anywhere from $1 million for five years to $1.8 million for eight – a nice chunk of change 30 years ago for an Athletic Director/Head Football Coach.
With the Sugar Bowl less than a month away, who would replace Dooley immediately began being discussed. The logical and leading candidate was defensive coordinator Erk Russell – Dooley’s top assistant since they arrived together to Georgia nearly 17 years before.
If Dooley was going to leave for Auburn, Russell stated that he “would like very much to have the head coaching job [at Georgia].”
Dooley was lobbied for the switch by his former Auburn teammate and Alabama Governor Fob James. In the end, he turned down mama and stayed in Athens.