I actually got to meet Barbara Dooley when we shared the platform many years ago. She is the bride of Vince Dooley, the retired Head Coach of the Georgia Bulldogs, whom he guided to a 1980 National Championship and the mother of former Tennessee Coach Derek Dooley.
Barbara was one of the wittiest speakers on the platform over the years. Her notoriety might have come from being the wife of Vince Dooley and the mother of Derek Dooley. Make no mistake; her credentials on the platform were hers’ alone.
I became close to Barbara over the years. When my favorite team, the University of South Carolina Gamecocks played the Georgia Bulldogs, I would always host her in Columbia. She would sit with my family on the 50-yard line right in the heart of some of the most die-hard Gamecock fans, some of whom were less than kind about her husband.
Barbara always took this stuff personally, but I would put my arm around her and assure her that the expression fan comes from the word “fanatic.” We would feed her before and after the game and treat her like family.
When Carolina hit the road to Georgia, Barbara would always host us in the coaches’ suite where we were wined and dined with other coaches’ wives and VIP’s. After each game, she would host us at her home along with all the good-givers to the Bulldog football program.
Barbara would always be a mess at every game. The next pre-game meal she keeps down will be the first one. Being a coaches’ wife is not easy. Being a coaches’ mother is even harder.
I also had the privilege of meeting a number of other high profile college and professional coaches through my attorney, the late Craig Kelly, who died at the young age of 56 from cancer. Craig was one of the most successful and yet lowest profile sports agents in the business.
He represented South Carolina State’s Willie Jefferies, Virginia Tech’s Frank Beamer, former Texas A&M coach Dennis Franchione, former Virginia coach Al Groh and former Florida coach Ron Zook.
One of his last accomplishments before his death was negotiating Gary Peterson’s contract at TCU. He also represented professional coaches like Bill Belichick as well as a number of high profile players and assistant coaches, including Hall of Famer Harry Carson.
Craig would allow me to tag along with him when he attended professional games. It was on these trips where I could meet the coaches wives like Debby Clarke Belichick, the now x-wife of Bill Belichick. Every single one of them lived and died with the agony of defeat and the glory of victory.
You must be a special breed of cat to prowl in those circles, which accounts for so many divorces among coaches. In nearly every situation, a wife is a distant second in the ranking order. You accept that when you marry a coach.
A coaches’ wife is married to two parties, the coach and the game.
Most are surrogate-mothers to the athletes her husband mentors. It’s her job to prop them up when they’re down.
Steve Spurrier’s wife, Jerri, wears many hats. Not only is she Steve’s childhood sweetheart and wife, she’s a mother and a grandmother and a surrogate mother to hundreds of athletes every single year.
She props them up when they’re down, calls their mothers to assure them, helps them through surgery and assist them when they get into trouble. In some ways, her ear is closer to the ground than her husband’s because she is communicating with them on a motherly level.
This is almost saint-like, but Jerri doesn’t only help her husband’s players. She even reaches out to the wives of her husband’s fiercest competition, like Georgia’s Mark Richt, whose wife Katharyn suffered a bout with cancer.
Coach Richt proudly said it was Coach Spurrier and his wife Jerri who reached out to him and Katharyn first to offer prayers and assistance. Coaches’ wives truly qualify for sainthood.