2017-07-06 / Opinions

Post-coach Dooley is a master gardener and historian

By LORAN SMITH
columnist

Life’s exposures bring varied friends and personalities into your sphere which brings about conclusions. Some elicit favorable approval, some don’t. Not sure what the rest of the world thinks, but it is always refreshing to interact with one accomplished in his field but happens not to be one dimensional.

That is why it has always been difficult for athletes to earn respect beyond their signature abilities Рthrow a 95 mph fastball, hit ­homeruns in bunches; fling a football with alacrity and aplomb for a first down under the greatest of pressure or arch it deep for a touchdown in the face of intensity which evokes the energetic approval of critical aficionados.

Too often, when off the field, these heroes reflect provincial and plebian indifference to intellectual pursuits. Witless and Philistine, what do they do when they lose their suppleness and their motor skills are in retreat?

With coaches, there is a similar circumstance. Some can only coach. Some go to seed. While he has an enduring affinity for gardening, Vince Dooley, the former Georgia coach, is motivated by both outside and inside avocations. He connects with the environment, he enjoys getting his hands in the dirt, but, perhaps, what he is most compatible with is the library.

This Mobile waterfront alumnus, whose early life was austere but blessed with a proximity to books and an unadulterated Catholic education, has enjoyed a more fulfilling afterlife as a coach than most in that his bent for history has always set him apart. You start with that natural curiosity and then you take note of his merging an enduring appetite for learning with enterprise. While an assistant coach at Auburn, he earned a masters degree in history. Most coaches on most campuses “don’t know where the library is at.”

Since he coached his last game January 1, 1989, Dooley has become a master gardner, a landscape disciple, and has authored or co-authored 10 books. While he is not a natural writer (a man is not always accomplished at everything), he is a dogged and indefatigable researcher which is how his latest literary effort came about. Dooley and Samuel N. Thomas Jr. have teamed to publish “The Legion’s Fighting Bulldog,” which is a story of a University of Georgia honor graduate who was a hero of the Civil War. The book includes the war correspondence of William Gaston Delony, who was a Lieutenant Colonel of Cobb’s Georgia Legion Calvary, and his wife, Rosa Delony, 1853-1863. Thomas sorted, organized and edited the correspondence between the Delony’s, which is a treasured collection at the UGA Research Library.

Ed Larson, historian and a member of the Pepperdine faculty says: “A Bulldog Confederate officer’s story affectionately retold, capturing his devotion of family, friends and cause. By showing as much why Delony fought as what he did, Dooley and Thomas enrich our understanding of the Civil War and its lasting impact on the South. A Dawg-gone good read.”

It was only natural that Dooley and Thomas were attracted to Delony’s Georgia heritage. The touching letters between husband and wife – who understood the sacrifice being made meant separation but remained hopeful of reunion – are very poignant and insightful.

Dooley admired the leadership skills of Delony, whose name is still inscribed on a pew at the First Presbyterian church on East Hancock Street. He was fascinated by the courage of a man who set the finest example for his troops by putting himself in harm’s way before asking them to follow his lead.

Traveling to all the battlefields where Delony earned universal respect, Dooley allowed his mind’s eye to recreate the scenes he and Thomas wrote about. Dooley gloried in his research by “locating” himself at those sites where Delony distinguished himself. He endeavored to vicariously live Delony’s war experience. He had to become emotionally linked to the “fighting Bulldog” of Cobb’s Georgia Legion Calvary. He and Thomas have allowed us to emotionally connect with the “best regiment of either army, North or South” as the highly regarded Wade Hampton, a member of the Robert E. Lee brain trust, described them.

The Delony story is a reminder of the one which came about when a Union squad captured a near impossible to-subdue Confederate at Kennesaw. “You got any slaves?” the rebel was asked. “Naw,” was the reply. “Your family got any slaves?” Again, “Naw.”

“Then why are you fighting so hard?”

“Cause,” came the pungent response, “Y’all down here.”

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