Originally created 04/14/02

Gailey ready to take on the challenge of replacing O'Leary



ATLANTA -- Chan Gailey frowned and tried to restore order.

Georgia Tech's new coach watched in frustration during a recent scrimmage as two of his young players wrestled on the ground, grabbing each other's face masks. Other players quickly joined the scrum.

"Let them go, let them go," someone yelled, but several assistant coaches moved in to separate the group. The pushing and shoving stopped, and the players slowly moved back to their respective huddles.

"Pick up that helmet," one of the coaches shouted.

Welcome back to college, coach.

After spending the past eight years in the NFL - including two as head coach of the Dallas Cowboys - the Americus native was hired by Georgia Tech in December to replace George O'Leary.

He takes over a team which has played in five straight bowl games, the longest streak since the 1950s. The school also was embarrassed by revelations that O'Leary lied about his college playing career and graduate work, costing him a job at Notre Dame just five days after he left the Yellow Jackets.

It didn't get much better after Gailey was hired. His original choice for defensive coordinator, Rick Smith, was forced to resign after falsehoods were found on his school-released biography.

Things have finally settled down at Georgia Tech, with spring practice drawing to a close. The focus has returned to the field, where Gailey's trying to find a replacement for departed quarterback George Godsey.

But the focus also is on Gailey, 50, who's never been the head coach of a Division I program. He led Troy State to a Division II title in 1984, and he coached one season at I-AA Samford in 1993.

"The college game is a little different now," Gailey said. "I think the game has become more sophisticated, and everybody has learned to be better. I also think there are a lot more NCAA rules that you have to pay attention to."

He's noticed some other differences, too, mainly in the attitude of his players.

"These guys seem eager to be here," Gailey said. "There's a lot of enthusiasm and emotion in the game for them everyday. It seems like, in the pros, that tends to happen only on game day or toward the playoffs.

"It's enjoyable to go to practice here."

So far, Gailey's easygoing personality has carried over to practice. Fans line the hill beside Rose Bowl Field to watch the Yellow Jackets, and reporters are allowed to stroll down the sidelines with the players.

"It's a more relaxed team, kind of new experience for everybody," said quarterback Damarius Bilbo, one of the players involved in the fight during the scrimmage. "He helps us out a lot, because he's been to the next level."

Gailey led the Cowboys to the playoffs two straight years but lost a power struggle with owner Jerry Jones. He resurfaced in Miami, retooling the offense for new Dolphins coach Dave Wannstedt. The team reached the playoffs in both of Gailey's seasons.

He was a candidate a year ago for the job at Georgia that eventually went to Mark Richt, but Gailey said he wouldn't have been lured out of the NFL by just any school.

"There's not a lot of universities I would have considered," Gailey said. "It had to be one of a certain group. Certainly, the location of the school, and the league it played in was a factor, as well as level of play."

Just how long he stays at Georgia Tech is another question. Football coaches often bounce around from job to job, and in fact Gailey has spent more than four seasons with just one team.

But he said he has no aspirations to return to the NFL, and he hopes to stay with the Yellow Jackets for years.

"We all know this business and how it changes, but the plan right now is to coach at Georgia Tech for 10 to 15 years and then turn it over to a younger guy," he said.