Now the Christmas season is in full swing, and that means a slew of football bowl games, most of which mean nothing to most people. By my count, there are 34 postseason affairs. That means roughly half the FBS teams get some sort of postseason reward. In other words, it really doesn’t say that much for a team’s achievements any more to be in a bowl game. (Credit/blame cable TV.)
So now, we are throwing even more potential combatants into the mix. Locally, Georgia State is starting a football program, with play set to begin in 2010 in the Georgia Dome. Former Georgia Tech and Alabama head coach Bill Curry is heading that program. That’s a good choice by GSU, as his name recognition will draw instant attention. Dan Reeves, the former Atlanta Falcons head coach and a Georgia native, served as consultant to GSU.
Along those lines, Kennesaw State in the Atlanta area has made plans to start a football program. Kennesaw apparently plans to play in an on-campus facility. And the school again realizes the value of mainstream media attention, hiring former University of Georgia football coach and athletic director Vince Dooley as an adviser.
The question many may be asking is, “Why?” Football programs cost money. Education is one of many fields that is suffering in the current economy. The likelihood of immediate return — television money, bowl game money — is slim.
My answer: college football has educational value, too. Starting a football program tells future students and their parents, “We are not all about academics.” Ivy League schools such as Harvard and Yale emphasize academics, yet still field football teams (though they do not offer athletic scholarships). As Bear Bryant once said, “It’s hard to rally around a math class.”
So I think it’s particularly appropriate that Dooley is advising Kennesaw. In a sense, I go way back with Dooley, as I covered the Bulldogs for The Red and Black in my student days.
Then and now, Dooley is perfectly suited for the college game. It never comes up much now, but Dooley is quite the scholar. He has a master’s degree in history, and he’s always been one to embrace the discipline and ideals necessary to run a program filled by young adults.
He won over 200 games in 25 years as Georgia’s coach, and had just one losing season (1977). That meant players, families and fans knew the Bulldogs then would always be competing for the SEC title and a bowl game (and yes, going to a bowl game was much more special then).
Many remember how Herschel Walker, who led the Bulldogs to the 1980 national title, left school after his junior year to play for the new United States Football League. Well, not many remember that Walker was essentially shoved into doing so, as Dooley declared Walker ineligible when Dooley learned that Walker was conducting negotiations with the USFL that violated NCAA rules at the time.
“I’m as mad at Herschel,” Dooley said at the time, “as I would be at one of my own kids.” That showed Dooley’s commitment to ethics and discipline. Minus Walker the next season, the Bulldogs went 10-1-1, including a Cotton Bowl win.
I also found Dooley very accommodating to me and others on the school paper at the time. I was more controversial than some others in my opinion pieces then, provoking such controversy among Bulldog players that one colleague felt called to write a piece in my defense. Yet Dooley himself never voiced displeasure or treated me any differently in press gatherings.
And perhaps the ultimate compliment to Dooley’s influence: his son, Derek, is the head coach at Louisiana Tech. Derek Dooley was an assistant under current Alabama head coach Nick Saban with the Miami Dolphins. (Updated 1/16/2010: Derek Dooley is the new head coach at Tennessee, replacing Lane Kiffin.)
So Kennesaw has some good leadership on board as its football program incubates. Maybe there’s a rivalry with Georgia State brewing.