August 5, 2002
ATLANTA - Chan Gailey has yet to step on the field during an actual game or draw up an offensive play on the sideline, but Georgia Tech's first-year coach already has revealed a lot about himself in the seventh months since he was hired.
As has been documented on these pages before, Gailey is a no-nonsense kind of guy, a devout Christian who filled his staff with like-minded individuals. He doesn't swear. He drinks only an occasional glass of wine. And though he has a single-digit handicap on the golf course, he enjoys the competitiveness of the game - not the beer-filled, 10-bucks-a-hole aspect of it.
So it should have come as no surprise that Gailey scrapped the annual summer golf tournament that George O'Leary hosted for boosters and media members at Reynolds Plantation near his lake house east of Atlanta.
The June event was a big favorite of both media types and boosters, who were treated to two days of free golf, ample steaks and beers and a casino night. O'Leary picked up the tab himself, said to have cost around $20,000 each year. It was pocket change for a coach making $1.5 million a year, and an easy way to promote goodwill between his program and those covering it.
Shortly after he was hired, Gailey was told about the tournament and asked if he wanted it to continue. O'Leary certainly wasn't the only coach to host such an event. Former Georgia coach Jim Donnan had a one-day deal outside of Athens for several years, and Clemson's Tommy Bowden hosts a similar golf outing.
But Gailey wasn't interested, mainly for the reasons cited above. He simply didn't think it was "the sort of thing" the Yellow Jackets' first-year coach should be sponsoring. There is talk that Gailey may bring back a scaled-down version of the event next summer. If so, it probably will be missing several of the features of O'Leary's outing - namely booze, overnight stays and media members. Look for it to be a boosters-only event under Gailey, if it happens at all.
Though Gailey and O'Leary are worlds apart personality-wise, Gailey used the forum at the ACC's annual kickoff meetings to praise his predecessor publicly for one of the first times.
"We forget all the great things Coach O'Leary did for Georgia Tech football, and that should not be lost," Gailey said. "He took us to five straight bowls."
Gailey still hasn't spoken to O'Leary since taking over at Tech on Dec. 29 of last year, though O'Leary did send word through his former secretary that he'd be willing to talk to Gailey if he had any questions.
But Gailey simply does not seem like the type of person who cares to fraternize much with anyone outside of his staff. At the kickoff meetings in Pinehurst, Gailey played golf the first day with a group that included Jackets' play-by-play announcer Wes Durham. He was asked during the coaches' media session whether he has spent any significant time with the other head coaches at the meetings.
"I haven't taken the time to get to know them," Gailey said. After a pause, he added: "Nor have they taken the time to get to know me."
Clearly, Gailey is most comfortable when he's around those closest to him - his wife and two sons, and his assistants and their families. Actually, he's a lot like Florida State's Bobby Bowden in that respect. Unlike Bowden, however, schmoozing is not one of Gailey's specialties - whether it's with his coaching counterparts, alumni or reporters.
After going 20 years without working at a Division I-A program, Gailey hardly seems awed by the level of interest in ACC football. In Pinehurst, the 50-year-old Gailey told those gathered around his table that during his two years as the Dallas Cowboys' head coach, he would have about 65 media members surrounding him during training camp.
At Tech, Gailey will see at most a dozen reporters at his pre-game press conference, even during a big week such as Georgia. He'll have to deal with only two beat reporters on a daily basis - one from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, another from the Macon (Ga.) Telegraph. That's the smallest number of full-time reporters on any ACC beat (although Wake Forest comes close) and certainly one of the smallest contingents following any of the 64 football programs that make up the six BCS conferences.
Dodd Comparison Inappropriate
Much was made last winter that Gailey's hiring had as much to do with his public relations skills as his football background. Even before O'Leary's resume debacle, the short-tempered Irishman had burned a few bridges at Tech - with fans and writers, many of whom didn't like the closed-practice policy O'Leary instituted at various times during the season.
Tech athletic director Dave Braine wanted someone who could patch up those bridges. During his introductory remarks at the press conference announcing Gailey's hiring, Braine went so far as to compare Gailey to Bobby Dodd, the legendary Tech coach famous for his rapport with reporters.
But it's become obvious that Gailey isn't going to cow-tow to the lowly fifth estate. He was badly burned by a Dallas media that painted him as bland and conservative, and it's clear that not all of those wounds have healed.
"I don't think people understand the real story," Gailey said, not referring to his Dallas situation specifically but media relations in general. "I think sometimes people try to make the news, not report the news."
It's not that Gailey is short or uncooperative with reporters, but he does seem a bit distrustful. He tries to answer most questions honestly. However, some topics he just won't touch. Example: He simply shakes his head and changes gears whenever his two-year stint with the Cowboys comes up.
Likewise, Gailey is friendly and courteous during his media obligations, but he could not be characterized as a "great quote." Nor does Gailey care to joke around much with reporters - on or off the record. Already, it's clear that the Dodd comparison went too far.
Interestingly, Gailey told the Tech beat writers recently that - just as O'Leary did - he would be closing practice during some of the Jackets' big rivalry weeks, most likely Clemson, Florida State and Georgia. What still remains to be seen is how Gailey responds to questions following tough losses. O'Leary was infamous for taking only a couple of questions at the podium after defeats and then bolting for the door.