Vince Dooley braced for big news — good or bad — when University of Georgia President Jere Morehead and athletic director Greg McGarity interrupted his gardening for a surprise visit Thursday morning.
"I was hoping it was something positive and not something negative," Dooley said.
The positive surprise from Morehead and McGarity was the announcement Georgia plans to name the field at Sanford Stadium in honor of Dooley, the former longtime coach.
The ceremony to dedicate Dooley Field at Sanford Stadium is scheduled for Georgia's 2019 home opener on Sept. 7 against Murray State.
"I was very pleased for the family and pleased for all the ballplayers who have been so loyal and for all the friends and supporters," Dooley told The Associated Press.
Dooley, 86, said his wife of 59 years, Barbara, was "more than pleased."
"She was in a hallelujah stage of emotion, which she is capable of," Dooley said. "So she started crying and hugging the president and hugging the athletic director. It was a very nice surprise."
Dooley said he had no hint about the announcement, which must be approved by the University of Georgia and the Board of Regents. His supporters have lobbied for years for his name to be placed on the stadium.
"I have always quietly thanked those people but never said anything," Dooley said. "I didn't think it was appropriate for me to say anything in that regard."
McGarity said the ceremony "will be a moment for the entire Bulldog Nation to collectively say 'thank you' to a man who has devoted much of his life to making the Georgia athletics program one of the strongest in the nation."
Dooley's 25-year run as coach ended in 1988 and he retired as athletic director in 2004.
In 2008, former University of Georgia president Michael Adams unveiled a statue of Dooley at the entrance of the newly named Vince Dooley Athletic Complex. The statue shows Dooley being lifted up by players from his 1980 national championship team.
Dooley was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1994.
Dooley posted a record of 201-77-10 with six Southeastern Conference championships and one national title in his long run as coach from 1964-88.
With tailback Herschel Walker leading the way, Dooley's Dogs won three straight SEC titles from 1980-82. Georgia then had a 20-year SEC title drought before winning championships in 2002 and 2005 under former coach Mark Richt. Georgia won the 2017 championship under coach Kirby Smart, who supports the honor for Dooley as a way to generate financial support for the expansion of the team's football facility.
"We will use this exciting development to galvanize private support around our capital fundraising efforts to expand Butts-Mehre for our football program," Smart said.
Morehead said Dooley's impact on the university carried beyond athletics.
"Coach Dooley's many contributions to this university can be seen across campus, from Georgia athletics, where he achieved unrivaled success, to the learning environment, where today many academic programs and initiatives bear his name, such as the Dooley Library Endowment Fund to the Dooley Professorship in Horticulture," Morehead said in a statement. "The university community will continue to benefit from his service and dedication for generations to come."
Approval from the Board of Regents could come later this month.
"I have immense respect and appreciation for coach Dooley and all that he has accomplished at the University of Georgia," University System of Georgia Chancellor Steve Wrigley said in a statement. "The Board of Regents and I look forward to reviewing the proposal to name Dooley Field during our May meeting."
The honor has the support of new Gov. Brian Kemp, who was a childhood friend of Dooley's son, Daniel. Vince Dooley supported Kemp's successful campaign.
Kemp said Dooley "is one of the most celebrated leaders in Georgia athletics" and "inspired generations of young men and women to live with purpose, passion, and integrity. I applaud the University of Georgia for honoring Coach's decades of service and success. I look forward to watching the Dawgs compete on Dooley Field in the near future."