True to the reputation for graciousness that precedes him, Howard “Doc” Ayers couldn’t have been kinder when this reporter called him in the middle of the Auburn and Ole Miss game Saturday to finish an interview.
“Is this a bad time?”
Doc: “Yes, it’s a horrible time, I’m watching football!” And then with a smile in his voice, he said, “but I’m happy to talk to you.”
The interview began on Friday at the Krystal in Cedartown where Doc and his friends gather at 7:30 a.m. during the week for their long-running coffee club.
This Friday was Doc’s birthday, and the mood was appropriately festive, complete with a cake and a birthday card signed by all the coffee klatchers. (Doc insisted we not print his exact age because, he said, “I don’t want the funeral homes to start calling me.”)
Don Smith was on hand Friday to wish his old friend a happy birthday. Smith, who signed the birthday card “Doc and Don forever,” coached with Ayers through all 12 years Doc was head coach at Cedartown High School.
“Doc is just one brilliant man,” Smith said. “Doc is a person -- I don’t know exactly how to explain it -- he knew football but he also knew how to make a boy feel good about himself and that’s the main thing about him. “And it wasn’t just on the football field that he had a kin to the boys out there,” Smith continued. “If a boy lived way out in the country, he would take him home every day after practice.”
One of the “boys” Ayers watched over and inspired was Edgar Chandler. Chandler played on the CHS 1963 state championship team, was an All-American at Georgia, and had a successful pro career with the NFL’s Buffalo Bills and New England Patriots.
Chandler, who died of cancer in 1992, said he owed his career to Doc Ayers.
“Because he believed in me, even as a 13‐year old growing up, I was able to fulfill the dream of practically every youngster,” Chandler once said.
Howard Ayers was born in Toccoa, Ga. His father was a well known doctor and people started calling young Ayers “Doc” early on, assuming he would follow in his father’s footsteps.
But Doc fell in love with football instead of physiology. He won All Mid Conference honors in high school and upon graduation was recruited as a halfback by University of Georgia coach Wally Butts. He entered Georgia on a football scholarship in 1946.
At practice a week before the G-day game of his freshman year, Ayers suffered a knee injury that put an end to his football-playing career.
Doc says when Nick Chubb hurt his leg this year in the Georgia-Tennessee game, he felt “great sympathy” for the young man, whom he met when Chubb was playing for CHS. “I dropped him a note and told him I was mighty sorry that he received the injury.”
Ayers says he’s confident, however, that Chubb will play again. “These days, they can do wonders with those things,” he said.
Football fans who wear red and black will forever be thankful that Doc didn’t leave football when he was injured. Instead, he helped coach the Georgia B team after his injury and was a student trainer in 1946 through 1947.
The word “legendary” is over used, but for Ayers, it’s a fitting description of the man who never fit the hardnosed stereotype of a football coach.
“He never cursed in front of them,” his friend Don Smith said. “If he got mad, he’d say something like ‘dadgumit.’”
Ayers set win-loss re-cords at his first head coaching job in Lavonia before he took the Cedartown head coaching job in 1952.
Over the 12 years he ran the Bulldogs, he took the team to two region championships, seven sub-region championships and a CHS state championship in 1963.
His record of 91 wins to 40 losses is still the best in Cedartown football history.
When Vince Dooley took the head coaching job at UGA in 1964, the first assistant coach he hired was Doc Ayers.
Ayers coached the UGA freshman team to a three-year 28-12 record. It remains the best record in Georgia freshman team football history.
Ayers stayed at Georgia 24 years, spending a large portion of his time recruiting Bulldogs “from Miami to New York,” he says.
The Ayers charm that worked so well in the recruiting field still burns bright. He remains an approachable, kind man, with a chuckle or a wink never far from breaking through that dignified and still handsome exterior.
Today, Ayers still occsionally visits the CHS team on the practice field and in the locker room. He also stays busy with the various charities he supports, including the Ayers-Beck Golf Tournament, which he started with Georgia Tech All-Star Ray Beck in 1991. The tournament raises substantial sums for the Polk Community Foundation.
Ayers attends Sunday School at the First Baptist Church regularly, and he rarely misses his early-morning coffee club date at the Krystal in Cedartown.
That’s enough to keep him going for a while, he says.
“If I can keep coming to this coffee club every day and going to my Sunday school class every Sunday,” he said on his birthday, “I think I can make it to 100.”