Monday’s special meeting of Statesboro’s two Rotary Clubs starred two beloved older Bulldogs. Living-legend Coach Vince Dooley as guest speaker surprised one on his early players, Bruce Yawn, by announcing him as the clubs’ 2020 Citizen of the Year.
Dooley’s career at the University of Georgia spanned 40 years, including 25 seasons, 1964-1988, as head football coach, overlapping his service as athletic director, which began in 1979 and concluded with his retirement in 2004. Erk Russell served as the Bulldogs’ defensive coordinator, assisting Dooley, for 17 years, the 1964-1980 seasons, before coming to Georgia Southern, then College, as head coach of the revived Eagles team.
Soon after arriving at the microphone, Dooley mentioned Yawn, and that was the first hint.
“I look at the table and there’s Bruce Yawn, who helped me get started,” Dooley said. “Bruce actually was part of the first full recruiting class that we had at Georgia, and that class won two SEC championships.”
Yawn, after graduating from Statesboro High School, had gone to the University of Georgia on a football scholarship, and played offensive guard his sophomore through senior years. During that time the Bulldogs won the Southeastern Conference championships in 1966 and 1968, also won the 1966 Cotton Bowl over Southern Methodist University and played in but lost the 1967 Liberty Bowl and the 1968 Sugar Bowl.
As a sophomore Yawn was second-string to starting right guard John Kasay. So Yawn didn’t get into the winning 1966 Cotton Bowl until late in the fourth quarter, when the Bulldogs were controlling the game. But he got to play, thanks to his friend.
“So the last three plays, John Kasay came out limping with a bad ankle, and you got in,” Dooley said to Yawn, who was still seated in the audience.
“We had that planned,” Yawn piped up.
“I was concerned about Kasay, and there wasn’t a dadgum thing wrong with him,” Dooley said, to much laughter in the room.
Two years later, Yawn was a starter when the Bulldogs were conference champions again.
Dooley went on to become “a two-time National Coach of the Year, seven-time SEC Coach of the Year, head coach of the 1980 National Championship team, a 1994 College Football Hall of Fame inductee, and a longtime athletic director,” Matt Sawhill, Statesboro Rotarian and UGA alumnus, noted in his introduction.
Sawhill had started out humorously introducing Dooley as a “well known and renowned, published author on a topic that means so much to such a passionate group,” namely horticulturists and gardeners.
Dooley, who started auditing horticulture classes at the university in the 1990s, in retirement has pursued his hobby at a near-pro level. Designated a master gardener, he has several varieties of flowers named for him, as well as a professorship in UGA’s horticulture department.
Just last September the university also named for him what Sawhill called a “very lush, green patch of grass … that any master gardener would be proud of, Dooley Field at Sanford Stadium.”
Dooley had Rotarians and guests laughing through much of his speech with jokes that seemed to hold grains of truth. One theme was that he has to hide news stories about current head coaches’ salaries from his wife so she doesn’t insist that he return to work. He’s 87.
Vince and Barbara Dooley, who have lived at the same address in Athens for almost 55 years, will celebrate their 60th wedding anniversary next month.
Of course, he couldn’t speak in Statesboro without making some personal remarks about the late Erk Russell, who led the Georgia Southern Eagles to three NCAA Division I-AA national championship wins. Dooley noted that he was there for the last one in 1989.
“What a way to go out in a profession, to have the record that he had and on the last game win the national championship again and say, ‘adios,’” Dooley said. “I was there, a special moment for me because of us being together for so long.”
At the close of his remarks, he said that Yawn received no demerits while at UGA and has since been an “ideal citizen across the board.” He then announced that Yawn was receiving the award, reflecting “a lifetime of achievement.”
Yawn, at first along with his father, the late Vivian D. “Snooky” Yawn, operated Snooky’s Restaurant from 1971 until 2012. Since retiring and closing the restaurant eight years ago this month, Bruce Yawn has continued in several business and community roles.
He is chair of the Development Authority of Bulloch County and the local Synovus, formerly Sea Island Bank, board and works part-time as assistant executive director of Willow Pond Senior Care. He is also active in his church, Statesboro First United Methodist.
Soon to be 73, he still volunteers with both Georgia Southern University’s and Ogeechee Technical College’s annual fundraising campaigns.
Yawn said he was completely surprised. He joked that after being told Friday that Coach Dooley was coming to speak, he spent all weekend trying to get in shape when he should have been writing a speech.
“I really appreciate this, first of all, and I could not have received it from anyone that I have more respect for than Coach Vince Dooley,” Yawn said.
Two clubs present
Rotary Club of Downtown Statesboro President Dennis Key and Rotary Club of Statesboro President Jim Benton presented Yawn the plaque. Family members, including his wife Carol Yawn, their daughter and son-in-law Nancy and Chad Wiggins, daughter and son-in-law Susan and Brandon Williams, son Jeff Yawn and Bruce’s brother Billy Yawn, attended.
The award is presented to a Bulloch County resident of high moral character, one whose “activities must contribute to the betterment of all races and all economic levels and to the cultural, social and moral advancement of all citizens,” Benton read from the criteria.
The selection committee noted that Yawn was one of the local leaders in bringing football back to Georgia Southern, “providing a huge impact for the community and region.” In the past he chaired the Statesboro-Bulloch County Recreation Department board and served on boards of the Boys & Girls Club of Bulloch County and East Georgia Regional Medical Center.
He received the Deen Day Smith Humanitarian of the Year Award in 2001.
When a young woman interviewed Yawn for a school project, she asked him what he would do differently in his life, he related.
“You know, I thought a minute about it, and I said, ‘Absolutely nothing.’ There’s nothing that I would change in my life, being a part of Statesboro.”
When Snooky’s closed, another interviewer asked what he would like his legacy to be.
“I told her, only that I made a difference,” Yawn recalled.