Vince and Barbara Dooley moved to Athens, Georgia, in December of 1963 during the middle of a snowstorm. While all their friends from Auburn University in Alabama, their alma mater and the school that gave Dooley’s career its start, were in Miami at the Orange Bowl, the Dooleys were in a Holiday Inn with no electricity, and two young, crying children, while Barbara was three months pregnant with their third. “I told Barbara, ‘Don’t get too comfortable. In fact, you might not even unpack, I don’t know how long we’re going to be here,’” says Coach Dooley. “‘But I’m going to give it my best shot.’”
As it turns out, he remained at the University of Georgia for the next forty years, becoming the winningest coach in the school’s history with a place among the all-time greats of the game. The Dawgs’ head football coach for twenty-five seasons, Dooley won 201 games, six SEC championships, and a national title in 1980, then went on to serve as Georgia’s athletic director, a position he held until 2004. Since then, he and Barbara have remained fixtures in Athens public life.
In his retirement years, Dooley has written numerous books and become a life-long student. “I’ve always enjoyed auditing courses,” he says. “It’s one of the benefits of living around a university.” History classes are his favorite—he’s a Civil War buff—although gardening has become one of his most well-known pursuits. “I was always curious about trees and plants, so I took a tree identification course and one course led to another that led to another and that became my hobby.”
And while Vince has one of the biggest names in Athens, Barbara has one of the biggest personalities. “Barbara is the one who can tell you about the social aspects of Athens,” says Vince with a laugh. “She knows the restaurants, and I know the sights to see.” Follow their advice for a day well spent in the Classic City.
Breakfast: “Well I would have to start at Mama’s Boy for breakfast,” Barbara says. “[I order] just the regular grits, biscuits, and fried eggs, though they do have great pancakes. Everyone loves Mama’s Boy. And now there’s two of them!” [The popular restaurant opened a second location right across the Oconee County line last year.]
Garden Tours: “We’ve got the State Botanical Gardens here in Athens,” Vince says. “There’re also a lot of nurseries. I like to ride around Athens and some places nearby like Moon’s Tree Farm in Washington, Georgia. I go over there with [owner Dwayne Moon] to see his trees. And I have my own garden that I’m constantly adding to. Someone accused me of being a collector more than anything else and I guess I am: If there’s a plant or a tree I don’t have, I want to get it and try to find a place to put it.”
Lunch: “My favorite places for lunch would be Last Resort and FIVE,” Barbara says. “At Last Resort I usually get their Southwestern salad. They also have great dishes of the day. And then, at FIVE, I don’t even know. I do a different thing every time because [the menu] changes all the time. It’s especially good for Sunday brunch.”
See Historic Athens: “For those who enjoy history and the Civil War, I’d recommend the Taylor Grady House. General Taylor built the house [circa 1844] for his three sons to go to school there,” Vince says. “Also the Hargrett Rare Book & Manuscript Library. [I just finished writing] a book called the The Legion’s Fighting Bulldog, which is about a first honor graduate from the university named Deloney and there’s almost two hundred letters in the library between he and his wife when they were courting. Athens also has relics from the  Olympics, including the statue of Athena outside the Classic Center.”
Dinner: “At night, I would choose Five & Ten,” Barbara says of Hugh Acheson’s acclaimed Southern-contemporary restaurant in Athens’s lively Five Points neighborhood. “The food is really good. I’ve never had a bad meal there. Ever.”
Nightlife: “When I have company, it’s always fun to take them to the bar on the top of the Georgia Theatre that overlooks downtown,” Barbara says. “And I think really and truly, to get a feel for the music scene in Athens, just going to the Georgia Theatre with the kids is hilarious and great. The first time I went, I was stunned there were no chairs. I said, ‘Where do you sit?’ they said, ‘Sit?! You don’t sit!’”
But if someone were coming to visit Athens for a weekend, there’s really only one absolute must-do according to Coach Dooley: “You’ve got to go to a football game.”