Michael Adams is set to leave the University of Georgia in June 2013, which would mean he’ll have outlasted Vince Dooley by nine years. In the overheated summer of 2003, it wasn’t clear who would lose (or win, depending on your slant) the race to be last out the door.
At an institution of higher education, there was little edifying about their bitter struggle. Dooley, the athletic director, wanted to stay a little longer. Adams, who could never give a compelling reason as to why Georgia needed a new AD, wanted this one gone. Two smart and powerful men were reduced to bickering over half-years.
Dooley loyalists rallied, and such was their outrage that it seemed possible the president would be forced out before Dooley. But Adams managed to hold his job, mostly because he was, as a college president, delivering the goods. Dooley left quietly on June 30, 2004, to be succeeded by Damon Evans, and the bizarre saga reached its end.
Dooley lost his job but claimed overwhelming victory in the court of public opinion. He stamped himself as the wronged party, and when he gave the nod for his supporters to cool it — the 2003 summer convocation of the Bulldog Club of Greater Atlanta had been an embarrassment of pro-Vince overkill — he came away as statesmanlike. In the years since, Dooley has taken solace in having weakened his nemesis on campus and off. (If not for the memory of the Dooley feud, Adams might have received greater consideration to succeed Myles Brand as NCAA president.)
To say that the two men hated one another would not be overstating. Dooley considered Adams a meddler and a hothead, and Adams resented Dooley for trying to use a moment of presidential weakness — the AD asked for a contract extension not long after Adams had run off football coach Jim Donnan — as personal leverage. To suggest that either man has forgotten, much less forgiven, is a stretch.
Asked by colleague Chip Towers for a reaction to Adams’ announced departure, Dooley offered this beautifully meager kiss-off: “First of all, I commend President Adams on his retirement, his service and his contributions to the University of Georgia. I do believe it is time for a change and I look forward to the Bulldog Nation uniting under new leadership in the near future.”
Note that commendation for Adams’ “retirement” came two spots ahead of any note of his “contributions.” Note also that “time for a change” came in Sentence No. 2.
Dooley has always taken pains to note that Adams’ doctorate is in political communication, as if the only game the president had ever mastered was one that valued style over substance. But here’s where Dr. Adams can spring the ultimate bit of political jiu-jitsu: As a parting gift, he can name the football stadium after his adversary.
There were those of us who believed that should have happened a decade ago, but there was no way Adams would grant that favor at a time when Dooley’s forces were trying to get him fired. But now it’s 2012, and there could be no gesture more statesmanlike that this.
The school did affix Dooley’s name to the facilities on the southwest corner of campus in 2008, but that was thin gruel: It involved little more than transporting a statue someone had already made and holding a dedication ceremony on the morning Georgia played Tech. (Further indignity: Tech won the game.) Asked back then about naming the stadium for Dooley, Adams sniffed that the stadium “already has a name.”
But few Bulldogs fans would recoil at the notion of Sanford Stadium becoming Sanford-Dooley Stadium. (I’m of the opinion that “Dooley-Sanford Stadium” would sound funny. But maybe that’s just me.) It would be the right way to honor the greatest figure in the school’s athletic history, and it would be the right political move for a president who hasn’t always been seen as presidential.
Honoring his enemy would be a way for Adams to show that, this once if not always, he’s capable of being the bigger man. It would enhance Dooley’s legacy, but it would burnish Adams’ more. If this president left today, he’d be known as the guy who was right on academics but wrong in his handling of a popular AD. If he leaves after renaming the stadium for that AD, he’d become the guy who, in his final act, was wise enough to admit he’d gotten one big thing wrong.
That would, as even Dooley would be forced to admit, be one heck of an exit line.
By Mark Bradley