ATLANTA - Football coaches find motivation for their teams in many sources.
Knute Rockne told his Notre Dame team: Win one for the Gipper. John Heisman dissected a football as a message for his team not to fumble it. Jon Gruden references rappers and their songs in speeches to his Tampa Bay Buccaneers teams.
Somewhere, maybe, a book full of motivational ploys exists, and an updated copy is mailed to each head coach every year.
Georgia Tech's Chan Gailey has a contribution.
The Yellow Jackets' inconsistent play in 2003 befuddled him. The Jackets opened last season by losing three of their first four games. Then they won four in a row. Then they lost three of their last four before trouncing Tulsa in the Humanitarian Bowl.
Stressing consistency every day wasn't enough. Gailey needed a vehicle to drive home his message, something that would challenge as well as inspire.
He found it in Georgia Tech's men's basketball team and its NCAA Tournament run.
The Jackets' success was the talk of campus back in March. Students discussed the team over chili dogs at The Varsity, between torturous classes at the Neely Nuclear Research Center, and late at night over drinks on sagging front porches.
The excitement also reached the Rose Bowl practice field, where Gailey's team was in the midst of spring drills.
The run finally ended with a loss to Connecticut in the national championship game. Seizing on the moment, Gailey gathered his players and used the basketball team's unexpected postseason success to make his point about consistency.
His spin was just strange enough to get their attention. Instead of a "You guys can do it too" spiel, Gailey pointed out the basketball team's up-and-down regular season and third-place finish in the Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament.
The basketball team got several chances at a title run. The football team only gets one, Gailey told his team.
"This is not like our basketball team, which came in fourth in the conference, third in the ACC tournament and still played for the national championship," he said. "Every game is a playoff game and you better get ready to go."
Far from a tear-jerker and not exactly a speech to whip men into a frenzy, the message resonated nonetheless.
This is a year in which Georgia Tech could be much improved from 2003 yet finish with a worse record because of a tough schedule that includes conference newcomers Miami and Virginia Tech.
The Yellow Jackets can't afford losses to Duke - which ended a 30-game league losing streak with a win against Georgia Tech last year - or close calls against inferior teams like Vanderbilt - a 24-17 win in overtime in 2003 - and expect to earn a bowl berth for the seventh consecutive year.
"In football, you make one mistake and it can change the whole game around, the whole season around," running back P.J. Daniels said. "You have to be consistent. You can make errors, but they have to be small mental errors."
The Yellow Jackets have the personnel to compete for a league title. They return 14 starters, seven on offense and seven on defense.
Daniels returns at tailback after leading the ACC in rushing last year. The 2003 ACC Rookie of the Year, Reggie Ball, is back at quarterback.
All-ACC selections James Butler, a free safety, and defensive ends Eric Henderson and Travis Parker anchor the defense.
The schedule remains Georgia Tech's biggest obstacle. Even though the Jackets don't play preseason league-favorite Florida State this year and have Miami and Virginia Tech at home, they must play Clemson, Maryland and N.C. State on the road.
And they travel to Athens to face Georgia in the season finale.
"It's going to be much harder," said Butler, Tech's safety, "but at the end it will be much sweeter."
Reach Adam Van Brimmer at firstname.lastname@example.org
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