UGA Glory Began With Coach Eaves
You look back over your life and you usually see a network of individuals who help you get to wherever it is you happen to be.
There was an English teacher who encouraged my writing. There was another teacher who taught me to type. God knows how hard it would have been to have had to write it all down in longhand.
There was a college dean who taught me to love and honor my profession. And this person got me my first job, and that person saw fit to hire me.
Then there was Joel Eaves. He came close to being the person who changed the direction. He almost made me a PR man.
Coach Eaves. He was tall and silver-haired with a voice so low and strong, it used to make me think, “That’s probably what God sounds like.”
Joel Eaves came from Auburn in 1963 to take over as athletic director at the University of Georgia when the department was in near shambles.
There was that mess about an alleged fix of a football game by Georgia’s Wallace Butts and Alabama’s Bear Bryant. Georgia was averaging three wins a football season and half-empty stadiums in those days.
But enter Joel Eaves, who shocked the state by bringing in a 30-year- old kid named Vince Dooley to be the new head football coach. Enter Joel Eaves, who could squeeze the green out of a dollar bill and who made the athletic department’s financial situation sound once more.
I first met him in 1965. I was a 19-year-old kid sportswriter working for the Daily News – Athens’s new morning newspaper.
I trembled the first time I had to interview him. Walking into his office in the Georgia Coliseum was like walking into an office with the name of Oval.
Perhaps Coach Eaves sensed my anxiety. He was patient with me, answering each of my questions, most of which, I am sure, were as sophomoric as I was at the time.
I would interview him often during my last three years at Georgia. He fed me an occasional scoop, invited my young bride and me on a couple of bowl trips and always treated me with respect, something athletic directors are not known for doing when it comes to sportswriters.
My senior year came along. In early spring Coach Eaves summoned me to his office and offered me the job of assistant sports information director at Georgia. He was willing to pay me $7,200 a year.
I wanted to take it. I wanted to work for Joel Eaves and I wanted to work for Georgia. My bride wanted me to take it. She enjoyed the bowl trips.
But Jim Minter, who was executive sports editor of The Atlanta Journal at the time, found me in the Georgia baseball press box a few days later and offered me $160 a week – all the money on Earth – to come to Atlanta and continue as a sportswriter. I took the offer.
Coach Eaves said, “If you ever decide you made the wrong choice, give me a call.”
The man died last week. A friend in Athens said, “He just wore out.”
Coach Eaves had been in a nursing home.
There’s been a lot of athletic glory at Georgia the past 25-plus years, and let us all remind ourselves it was Joel Eaves who laid the foundation.
His funeral was at 1 o’clock Saturday. For a reason. Georgia kicks off at 1 o’clock Saturdays.
Coach Eaves lived 77 good years, and he gave Georgia a large portion of them. We will be forevermore in his debt.