In December of 1980, Erk was supposedly just an eyelash away from instructing more than just his Bulldog defenders.
I was catching up on my blog reading yesterday and discovered Bill King's (Junkyard Blawg) mention of ESPN raising the question, What if Lindsay Scott hadn't scored against Florida in 1980?
Like Bill, I prefer not to think of "what if" scenarios; dealing with "what is" can be challenging enough. Although, the thought of Run, Lindsay, Run not transpiring caused me to contemplate another "what if" concerning that very same season - one that would have drastically changed the foundation of Georgia football for years afterwards.
In early December of 1980 and only two days after Georgia had defeated Georgia Tech to complete a perfect 11-0 regular season, it was announced by The Birmingham Post-Herald that Vince Dooley was leaving UGA and heading to Auburn to replace the resigning Doug Barfield. Citing sources, the newspaper declared Dooley had decided to return to his alma mater when he was also promised the athletic director position. Reportedly, Auburn was offering a contract of anywhere from $1 million for five years to $1.8 million for eight - a nice chunk of change 30 years ago for an Athletic Director/Head Football Coach.
With the Sugar Bowl less than a month away, who would replace Dooley immediately began being discussed. The logical and leading candidate was defensive coordinator Erk Russell - Dooley's top assistant since they arrived together to Georgia nearly 17 years before.
If Dooley was going to leave for Auburn, Russell stated that he "would like very much to have the head coaching job [at Georgia]."
At the time, Dooley was UGA's co-athletic director along with Reid Parker. There had been rumblings for quite some time that the Bulldog coach was unhappy sharing the position with Parker; he wanted it all for himself. (Dooley has always denied this rumor.) At Auburn, he could have it all.
Nevertheless, just two days after the Birmingham newspaper shook the Bulldog Nation, Dooley announced he was staying in Athens. While most Georgia football followers breathed a sigh of relief, others had been confident all along Dooley wouldn't quit on the team with a chance for a national championship only weeks away.
"I knew he wouldn't leave," said an 18-year-old Herschel Walker.
And the rest, as they say, is history: Georgia won the national title, Parker promptly retired with Dooley taking over as the school's sole athletic director, while Russell soon became the head coach of a dormant but, apparently, a sleeping giant of a football program in south Georgia.
What if Vince Dooley had accepted Auburn's offer following the 1980 regular season?
What's certain is Russell would have coached Georgia in the Sugar Bowl and Vince Dooley, not Pat Dye, would've been Auburn's new coach in 1981.
My guess is Russell would have likely coached the Bulldogs for about as long as he'd eventually coach at Georgia Southern (through 1989) while Eagle football doesn't have nearly the immediate success it achieved while under Erk.
In only his third season at Auburn, and 26 long years after the Tigers' last conference championship, Pat Dye captured an SEC title and within six seasons, he had won three more. From 1983-1990, Dye defeated Georgia in seven of eight meetings.
Among other things, Dye's quick rise to the top had much to do with his ability to successfully recruit the state of Georgia - something Dooley might have also been able to accomplish on the Plains.
However, as the head coach of Auburn, would Dooley been able to win four SEC titles in a seven-season span and defeat Georgia (with Erk at the helm) on almost an annual basis?
In addition and here's something really to consider... If Erk takes over for Dooley just prior to the '81 Sugar Bowl, Ray Goff, for several reasons, most likely isn't Georgia's head football coach just eight years later. And I don't have to remind most of you about the Bulldogs' struggles during the Goff era.
Following Dooley's announcement that he'd remain a Bulldog, Russell was quoted as saying, "It's the best thing that could happen." Erk was undoubtedly correct in regard to the future of football at Georgia Southern and maybe even Auburn.
Was it the best thing that could have happened to UGA football? Well, decide for yourself...