Part 1: The Coaches | Part 2: The Players
When it was suggested that I write a column about my time as a football secretary at the University of Georgia, I thought that it would be an interesting undertaking. I knew I could remember many things that happened in the 10 years I worked in this capacity. But it was much harder than I anticipated. There are so many funny, exciting and sad stories that I didn't know exactly where to begin. Therefore, I will start at the beginning. I was employed at the University of Georgia Athletic Association from October 1988 through January 1999 as secretary to the defensive assistant coaches. Those were some of the most exciting years of my life.
This story really began when I was a teenager. I saw a Georgia football game and I was hooked! I have been a devoted fan now for about 40 years. I've pulled for the Bulldogs in the good times as well as in the not-so-good times. I had worked in many different jobs after high school but had never had a job I thoroughly enjoyed as much as the one I had at the University of Georgia. I felt so lucky to have had a job that I looked forward to going to each day. Not many people ever have that opportunity.
I began my tenure in the football office on October 13, 1988 and that started the job of my dreams. I felt slightly intimidated when I was told that they had hired four or five secretaries in the six months before I was hired, but none of them lasted in the position. I was really scared. What had I gotten myself into? I was at a point in my life that I needed a job very badly and this one was offered to me, so I immediately accepted it.
When I look back over my time working in the football office, there are many experiences that I had that were very exciting. My job, at first, consisted of working for the defensive assistant coaches who included: Bill Lewis (defensive coordinator), Dicky Clark, Dale Strahm, and Steve Greer. Our offensive
assistant coaches then were George Haffner (offensive coordinator), Ray Goff, Bob Harrison, Joe Hollis, and Charlie Whittemore. We also had John Kasay as strength coach, Joe Tereshinski as assistant strength coach, Bill Hartman as kicking coach and Bob Pittard as the recruiting coordinator. Of course, Vince Dooley was head coach. What a great group of coaches and men!
I had only been working in the football office about a month when the offensive coaches secretary resigned. I about panicked. I had not yet learned how to transfer calls on the telephone. I was still trying to learn what the coaches wanted, needed, and who they were. Here it was almost the end of the season and I felt I didn't anything about working in the UGA Football Office! It became a running joke that if one of the coaches got a call, he would be able to talk to the caller only if he came to my desk. It seemed as if there was a jinx on the phone because I was trying so hard to be professional and when I would try to transfer a call to Coach Dooley, click, it disconnected. I can truthfully say that the coaches were very understanding and patient with me even if the callers sometimes weren't.
Coach Dooley was very confidentiality-minded. He always wanted to know who was on the football floor at all times. If there were someone there who should not be, he would ask that they be escorted off the floor. What happened one Saturday proved that I was very determined to follow his orders. I was doing some catch-up work on a Saturday afternoon when I heard someone walking down the hall of the football office. Thinking I was the only one in the office, it surprised me. Well, I waited for a few minutes and no one came by my office. I got up from my desk to walk down the hall when I heard someone in the film room. I eased open the door and saw someone bending over some football tapes dressed in a sweatsuit. I was nervous, but I tried to be brave. I asked, "What the hell are you doing?" Imagine the look on my face when who should turn around but Coach Dooley!!! He said, "I work here" I almost freaked out. After my heart slowed down from fright, I just knew I was fired. He started laughing and asked what I was doing there. When I explained that I was doing some catch-up work, we both started laughing. I apologized to him for being so abrupt but he told me that I was doing my job. He said that this showed I was on the ball and that no one would get by me. We laughed about this many times over the years.
I would like to note something about Coach Bill Lewis. He was one of the greatest individuals you could ever work for. He was a perfectionist, and I thought he would be difficult to work for. With the previous job I had for almost 10 years, you never received any compliments if you did a good job. But Coach Lewis stole my loyalty and respect no long after I started working at UGA. I was learning how to do five things at the same time, when he asked me to make a chart for him. I had no idea what he wanted or how he wanted it so I was uneasy about what he has asked me to do. I was determined to do the best job I possibly could. When I finished the chart, I placed it on his desk because he was in a meeting. Then I waited. About an hour later, he came to my desk with the chart in his hand and I began shaking in my boots. I will never forget what he said. He said, "Helen, this chart is exactly what I wanted and I want to thank you for doing this for me. I know that you are being pushed for different things to do, but I wanted to let you know that you did a good job on this."
To my horror, I broke down and started crying. For the first time in over 10 years, someone had complimented me on my work! Coach Lewis was so shocked, he just stood and looked at me for a few minutes. He finally asked me what was wrong and when I explained to him that with my previous job, I never felt appreciated and he was the first person to compliment on my work, I could not keep from crying. He told me that he felt anyone who performed a good job should ALWAYS be complimented on his or her work. That was it! I would have jumped off of the Georgia Coliseum for him if he had asked me. Then, to my dismay, Coach Lewis went to East Carolina as head coach at the end of the season. I will always remember his patience and kindness with a scared secretary who was very insecure with her work.
As everyone who is a Dawg fan knows, Coach Dooley soon resigned as head coach to devote be the athletic director only. After he announced he was retiring as the Bulldogs's coach, anxiety and fear in the office was extremely high. None of the assistant coaches knew if they would still have a job or if they should be trying to find another job. I had finally trained them to put up with my forgetfulness, inability to transfer calls, and generally doing some things completely opposite to what they needed. I was also scared about losing my job, but by then, I had stayed longer than any of the previous defense secretaries so each day when I went to work, I just crossed my fingers. I had not really had time to get acquainted with this set of coaches when it was over (or so I thought).
When I arrived back at work in January 1989 after the Christmas break, we had a new head coach, Ray Goff. The football office was a madhouse. The phone was ringing off the hook and I was trying to take up the slack with me being the only football secretary. A secretary for the offensive assistants still had not been hired. The mail load was unbelievable. Coach Goff was getting letters from everywhere and everyone and did not have a full time secretary for about a month.
I think the most unusual piece of mail that he received was a brown envelope with just his picture on it-no name and no address. It was sent directly to him. We made a lot of jokes about that. Obviously the postal employees were 'Dawg fans because they knew exactly where to send it. Finally, a new set of defensive coaches were hired. Now I had Richard Bell as defensive coordinator, along with Clark, Greer, and Frank Orgel. The offensive staff consisted of Haffner, Harrison, Hollis, Coach Willie McClendon and Whittemore. Kasay, Hartman and Pittard were still in the same positions they had under Dooley. The insecure secretary was gone and I had finally found a place where I could be secure. They had hired many temporary secretaries for the offensive coaches but they would never stay. Finally, they hired Linda Hemphill. She was a fireball. She caught on immediately and I was so glad that some of the strain was off of me.
While Ray Goff was head coach, we went through many coaching changes. I was fortunate to work with coaches Darryl Drake, Steve Ensminger, Greg Davis, David Kelly, Mac McWhorter and Steven Dennis in addition to the others aforementioned. Coach Ray Lamb was hired as high school relations coordinator. He also helped with the football coaching clinic. Coach Bell was such a fantastic, caring person. He was only at Georgia for five years, but he was extremely easy to work for. He never raised his voice to me when I would do some really stupid things. He not only was my boss; he and his family became some of the best friends I have ever had. He always had time for his players and anyone who just dropped by to visit.
Another outstanding coach that I was extremely privileged to work with was Wayne McDuffie. When I was told that he was coming to work at UGA, I was terrified. I soon learned to love Coach McDuffie though. He could be so funny at times. If he told you a joke, you sometimes didn't know if he was joking or not because he would look so serious. I finally got used to this. He would also do some of the wackiest things, so you never knew what was going on when he was around. I always kept a "throw-away" camera in my desk in case someone very important came through our office and I wanted to have a picture taken with them. Coach McDuffie knew about this and one day he told me that he wanted me to take his picture. I knew something was up because he had this little silly grin on his face. I agreed and he said to meet him out on the deck of the Butts-Mehre Heritage Hall, which housed the football offices. I got my camera and went out there to wait for him. Soon he came out with this cap on. I didn't notice anything too strange about it until he turned around. There, hanging down in the back was a ponytail. He said, "This is my Willie Nelson hat!" I couldn't resist it. I started laughing and almost was not able to take the picture. This is one of my photos that I will always treasure. He will be greatly missed. He was a fantastic coach and good friend to me.
I also had the opportunity to work for Coach Marion "Swamp Fox" Campbell for one year. He is a very nice person and really knew his "X's and O's. A legend like Coach Campbell was working in the football office and I was fortunate to be working for him. He was a very laid-back type person unless you were talking football. Then he got down to business. I hated to see him leave UGA, but when he resigned, he laughed and told me that there were some fish out there with his name on them and he meant to catch them.
Coach Joe Kines was hired to replace Coach Campbell. You talk about a change! Coach Kines was a very intense coach. He was completely different from Coach Lewis, Coach Bell and Coach Campbell. Naturally, when Coach Kines came to UGA, he had his way of doing things. I felt like I was on a roller coaster. Since I had only been with Coach Lewis for approximately two months (who was a perfectionist), I had begun to sit back and relax in my job. With Coach Kines, there was no more sitting back and relaxing! I had to stay on my toes. Now, he was the perfectionist! By the time he left, it was getting scary. I was able to almost read his mind when it came to things he wanted done. One day, I was a step ahead of him on a report that he wanted done and when he came into my office and asked that it be done, I just handed it to him. He looked shocked at first and then he laughed. He told me that we were on the same wave length. I laughed and said that it was scary being able to read a coach's mind.
While I was employed in the UGA football office, I was fortunate to meet many important people. Many I had heard of for years and I was fortunate to have the chance to meet them. They included: Evander Holyfield, Billy "White Shoes" Johnson, Lynn Swann, Tommy Lasorda, Walt Bellamy, Coach Barry Switzer, Coach Dave Shula, and Coach Jimmy Johnson.
When I met Coach Johnson, I did something that I couldn't believe. When I would see him on the sideline with the Dallas Cowboys, his hair always looked in place, even when the wind was blowing. When I met him, I asked him if I could do something that I had wanted to do for quite a while. He looked at me and said, "Sure". Well, I did it. I walked over to him and put my hands in his hair and just messed it up really bad. As soon as I did this, I couldn't believe what I had done. It was a spur of the moment thing. His hair was standing on end and he was laughing so hard, I thought he would fall down. As soon as I did this, I started apologizing to him but I told him that I wanted to see him one time with his hair all messed up. He kept laughing and told me that he had never had anyone do this to him and he thought it was extremely funny. I'm proud to say I got his autograph!
Of everyone that I met, no one could ever mean so much as the great Walter Payton. He was one of the classiest people I have ever had the opportunity to meet. As many know, he played for the Chicago Bears. Coach McClendon played with him at Chicago and Walter came down for one of our home games. That's when I met him. I know that I acted like a teenager when I was introduced to him, but I was in total awe! Here he was, "Sweetness" himself and I was talking to him!! Naturally, I had my picture made with him and no one, absolutely no one will ever get this picture. When he died, I felt I had lost a close friend. He seemed so indestructible, so much alive but here he was stricken down with a terrible disease. He will always be "great" and total "sweetness" to me. Thanks for the memories, Walter.
In 1995, Coach Goff was gone and Jim Donnan became the Bulldogs' new head coach. What a change! There were new coaches coming in again and I had to adjust once more. Coach Donnan brought along a completely new staff, including coaches Chris Scelfo, Greg Adkins, Greg Briner, Brad Lambert, Mickey Matthews, Leon Perry, Greg Williams, George Edwards and Pat Watson. Coaches Drake, Scelfo, Edwards and Matthews were not at Georgia long. Coaches Rodney Garner and Phil Jones were eventually hired.
Whew! With all of these coaches coming and going, it certainly kept things in the football office interesting. I was so fortunate to meet and work with so many fantastic people. I outlasted many of the coaches, much to my surprise.
My favorite head coach to work for was Jim Donnan. I only worked with Coach Dooley for about 3 months so I did not have a chance to get to know him as well as I did Ray Goff and Donnan. Coach Donnan was so different from what I was used to. When he asked you to perform a job task, he expected it to be done and done correctly. If you had any questions, you should ask him before you started the it and he would explain what he wanted done. He would be very precise and if you listened, you would have a good picture in your mind what he wanted when he finished his explanation. Asking questions and listening pretty much saved me. I learned a lot from him. He was always fair to the office employees. To him, we were not just secretaries; we were part of the football family. He treated us with respect and always had time to share with us important things that were going on in the office that we should be aware of.
I will not forget the first day of spring practice after he arrived. I had a habit of taking my break about the time practice would get started and go out on the deck to watch the players. When I went out that day, I was scanning the group when I saw someone not in jersey dress-out right in the middle of a play. That was very unusual. As I stood there and watched, I realized that it was Coach Donnan. He was "down in the trenches" with the players, showing them plays and explaining why they should do something this way or that way. My respect for him really increased when I saw this. I later observed how the players treated him and how he treated his players. They treated him with a lot of respect, joking with him at times and he would joke back. However, when it was time to get down to business, the players were ready. Coach Donnan was making practice fun, but also a learning experience. I had heard many players, over the years, say something about not wanting to go to practice but I do not remember ever hearing the players grumbling or complaining about going to practice after Coach Donnan got there.
I really hate Coach Donnan will not be coaching at Georgia any longer. I know that the players and their families really respect him and he respects them. I wish Coach Donnan and his family the very best. He has worked hard over the years and he will definitely be an asset to any program he works for in the future.
Helen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.