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One-on-one With Georgia Tech Football Coach Chan Gailey

Thursday, September 11, 2008 11:41am
By: Accsports Staff

By David Glenn

September 25, 2007

Georgia Tech football coach Chan Gailey recently spoke with ACC Sports Journal editor David Glenn and offered his thoughts on life after Calvin Johnson, college versus the NFL, difficult schedules, high expectations, family life, his coaching staff, defensive coordinator Jon Tenuta, his program's running-game success, the "conservative" label, the Georgia rivalry and much more:

ACCSports.com: You've had experience as a head coach in the NFL and now in the college game. What do you like better about being a college coach?

Gailey: Well, I think the impact that you have on young men is irreplaceable in your life.

When I get to the end of life, and maybe you get up there to the pearly gates, and they ask you questions, probably not one time will I get asked what my record was or how many rings I got. But I might be asked, did I have an impact on lives and make a difference?

ACCSports.com: How about the flip side of that? Is there anything about the NFL, or your time as the head coach of the Dallas Cowboys, that you miss, or that you don't get as a college head coach?

Gailey: Well, there are a lot of distractions for the college guy. In pro football, there are very few distractions.

In college, you've got girlfriends. You've got academics. You've got family. You've got peers from high school. You've got peers on the team. You've got peers from school. And they all pull on the young man. So there's a lot of distractions that the young guy has from 18 to 22 years old.

ACCSports.com: Your former athletic director at Georgia Tech, Dave Braine, took a lot of heat not long ago when he talked about "reasonable expectations" for Tech football, and even overall in college athletics. I know some coaches and administrators kind of cheered when he did that. Others, including coaches and some ADs, thought it was a bad idea, and Braine certainly took a lot of criticism for his point of view.

As Tech's head coach, what did you think of Braine's comments about what should be expected from Tech's football program, and the reality that you're not going to win nine or 10 or 11 games every single year?

Gailey: Well, that's his reality. That's what he believes.

But I go into every season expecting to win every game. I mean, any leader worth his salt that doesn't go into every ballgame expecting and believing he can win, is not much of a leader.

I don't think our school is any different from other schools. I think expectations by fans in general are very high. The alumni want to win, and they're passionate about wanting to win. They see the salaries that people get, and they expect winners.

ACCSports.com: Let's move on to your coaching staff for a minute. You've been known to tell your assistants to go home when you believe that they're being too extreme with their hours at the office. That's not something you see every day in college football. What is your philosophy in that regard?

Gailey: Sometimes people forget that coaches have families, too. I've always tried to make sure that coaches (on his staffs) don't make their jobs drudgery. They have to put in a certain number of hours, but I don't want it to be where they never see their families, or they become poor husbands or fathers because of their work.

ACCSports.com: Defensive coordinator Jon Tenuta has been a big part of your success at Georgia Tech. He's often mentioned by the announcers on television, and even by fellow coaches who have to go against him in games. What is it that makes him one of the best defensive coordinators in the country?

Gailey: I think there are probably two or three things.

One, he's highly intelligent and knows the game extremely well. The second thing is, he's very demanding and very disciplined. I think he does a good job of teaching the overall perspective of the game, the overall idea of how to play defense, and he gets his players to understand that. That's why I think he's very successful.

ACCSports.com: On the other side of the ball, you made a change after last season from Patrick Nix (who left for Miami) to John Bond, who came from Northern Illinois. Give us an idea of exactly how that works. When Bond comes to Georgia Tech, does he take his Northern Illinois offense and bring it in wholesale, or does he have to make adjustments to your philosophy and what the pre-existing Tech offense was all about?

Gailey: The guys that I interviewed for the job, I explained it to them. We've rushed the ball pretty well around here for the last few years. We had the leading rusher in the ACC last year. We have had the leading rusher in years previous. I think we know how to run the football.

So I asked (Bond) not to change the running game, but to bring in some fresh ideas in the passing game. And that's what John has done. He's brought in some good, fresh ideas in the passing game for us, which is going to help because we now have more of a dropback passer (Taylor Bennett) rather than a mobile guy (Reggie Ball).

ACCSports.com: Toward that point, one thing even the amateur fan can appreciate is a phenomenal player like Calvin Johnson. When you looked at video of your All-American wide receiver during last season, or after last season, how steered toward Johnson were those defenses? What percentage of the time was there a "Calvin Johnson defense," or at least a tilt in his direction, and how does that change your approach now that Calvin is in the NFL?

Gailey: I would say that it was 75 to 80 percent that things were geared toward Calvin and stopping Calvin, and rightfully so. They should have done that.

The thing this year is that people will play us more balanced. I don't think we will have a dominant receiver. We will still be able to run the football. So I think our passing game will be much more diverse, and I think the numbers will show that at the end of the season.

ACCSports.com: How do you explain the success of your running game? So many college coaches pull their hair out when it comes to recruiting and developing offensive linemen especially, but you always seem to have a line that's solid or better, even when the personnel changes. Are you doing something different, either in recruiting or skills development, when it comes to the offensive line in particular?

Gailey: No. I don't think so.

I think the key to being successful is, one, you've got to be committed to something, and I'm committed to running the football. My staff knows that. The players know that. If we can't run, we're not gonna win, and I preach that from day one. You've got to be tough enough as a football team to be able to win. You've got to run it to be able to win the game. So I think the philosophy is important.

Then, what we do is, we put our offensive linemen in position to do what they do best. Three years ago, we were almost a total (zone-blocking) team, because we were big and strong and physical in the offensive line. The last two years, we've been more athletic and smaller, so we've gone to more trapping and pulling with our linemen. Part of our job is finding whatever it takes to be successful, and that may not be the same thing from one year to the next.

ACCSports.com: You mentioned the opportunity to be a more dangerous team when it comes to the dropback passing game. Taylor Bennett had very good numbers in your bowl last year. What does he bring to the Yellow Jackets?

Gailey: I think he progressed very well during the offseason. There's always the question of how do you know that. A lot of people can look good against their second-team defense during spring practice. The key is, how well do you look during the season?

I think time will tell on (Bennett), but I have a great deal of confidence in him. It's a lot different being the second-teamer going into the ballgame. When you're the first-teamer, now all the pressure is on you, and all the expectations are on you.

ACCSports.com: Your background is as an offensive coach, and you even served as Tech's offensive coordinator earlier in your tenure. Some have described your offensive philosophy as "conservative." How would you describe it?

Gailey: You do what you have to do to win. Now, somebody has put that (conservative) word on it out there, and it has stuck somehow. When I was in Pittsburgh, people called me imaginative because of Kordell (Stewart) and "Slash" and five-wides. So it doesn't matter what you're called, it's whether you win. The bottom line is, are you taking your people and finding the best way to win football games? And putting people in the best position to make plays?

I don't have a name for the offense. You can call it imaginative, you can call it conservative. I don't care what you call it, as long as we win.

ACCSports.com: Looking at your roster, everyone expects that you're going to have a strong defensive performance just about every week. Especially at defensive end, you might have as many as five really good players for two spots. Do you feel like you have as much depth as anyone in the country there?

Gailey: We feel like we do. Now, the key is to be able to use those guys and put them in position to be very successful on the field and keep them fresh. But we do.

I mean, Darrell Robertson and Adamm Oliver are our starters, but we've got two guys – Michael Johnson and Robert Hall – that have played extensively in the past. Then we have a guy who came here in January, a true freshman named Derrick Morgan out of Pennsylvania, that is another guy that really excites us here. We've got five defensive ends that we think can play and be successful in the ACC. So, yes, that's a strength of our football team this year.

ACCSports.com: Your schedule has been an interesting topic throughout your tenure at Tech. Some ACC teams will find four non-conference games they're pretty sure they can win, in part because of the difficult nature of the conference schedule. You have had, in some years, one of the five most difficult schedules in the country, and your non-conference games overall have been pretty difficult.

What is your personal philosophy about how far up that challenge ladder you should go? What's healthy in terms of wins and losses, what's healthy in terms of entertaining the fans, and how do you draw that line or find that balance?

Gailey: Well, I know one thing. Everybody loves the excitement and the anticipation of the Notre Dame-Georgia Tech game. I'm the same way. I love the excitement of the Notre Dame-Georgia Tech game.

But, at the same time, I'm realistic enough to realize that's traditionally a very tough, very physical football team. We opened with Notre Dame, we'll close with Georgia, and we play (mostly) the ACC in the middle.

I don't know that that's the smartest thing in the world, but that's the way it is. That's the way it is. You deal with it, and you go on. I mean, you can sit around and cry about what you don't have, or you can get excited about what you do have. That's your choice.

ACCSports.com: You're one of those guys who doesn't like to get too excited about a signing-day class, but you earned a lot of credit for your work on the recruiting trail last year. Some called your group the best in the ACC. What's your philosophy about playing true freshmen rather than redshirting them?

Gailey: We came in expecting to bring maybe eight (true freshmen) with us on the traveling squad this year, and it looks like it may work out that way. (The Yellow Jackets had played eight true freshmen through mid-September, including one walk-on.)

Here's the thing that you have to do: If you're going to play them, you have to play them a significant number of snaps, to make this year worth it. Some of those snaps, and maybe most of those snaps, end up being on special teams. That's OK, as long as they're going to be a regular part of our special teams, and you never know when you're going to need somebody (in the regular rotation) because somebody else gets hurt during the season.

ACCSports.com: Coach, that Georgia game is very important to Tech fans. That's one of the only areas that remains a hole on your résumé with the Yellow Jackets so far. Over the years, how have you come to appreciate the importance of that game, and how do you approach it with your staff and your players?

Gailey: I think that, if you're smart, you keep it in perspective.

It counts as one game, but we all know it means more than that. I'm not naïve enough to believe that (it's only one game). That was the one good thing about the pros, that all the games were equal. There wasn't any one that counted more than another.

The Georgia game does count more. You've gotta realize that. You go into it and approach it that you've gotta win that ballgame. It's gonna cost you your job eventually if you don't win it, but that's part of the job. You understand that.

If it's too hot, get out of the kitchen.


Name: Thomas Chandler Gailey Jr.

Born: Jan. 5, 1952, in Gainesville, Ga.

Family: wife Laurie; sons Tate and Andrew; one grandchild

High School: Americus (Ga.) High, 1970

College: Florida (Bachelor's, physical education), 1974

Playing Experience: Florida quarterback, 1971-73

College Coaching Experience (17 Seasons): Florida graduate assistant, 1974-75; Troy State defensive backs coach, 1976-78; Air Force defensive assistant, 1979-80, defensive coordinator, 1981-82; Troy State head coach, 1983-84; Samford head coach, 1993; Georgia Tech head coach, 2002-present.

Professional Coaching Experience (16 Seasons): Denver Broncos defensive assistant and special teams coach, 1985, special teams and tight ends, 1986-87, quarterbacks coach, 1988, offensive coordinator/receivers coach, 1989-90; Birmingham Fire (WLAF) head coach, 1991-92; Pittsburgh Steelers wide receivers coach, 1994-95, offensive coordinator, 1996-97; Dallas Cowboys head coach, 1998-99; Miami Dolphins offensive coordinator, 2000-01.

Year Record Team Postseason
1983 7-4 Troy State  
1984 12-1 Troy State NCAA Div. II Champions
1993 5-6 Samford  
2002 7-6 Georgia Tech Silicon Valley Classic
2003 7-6 Georgia Tech Humanitarian Bowl (W)
2004 7-5 Georgia Tech Champs Sports Bowl (W)
2005 7-5 Georgia Tech Emerald Bowl
2006 9-5* Georgia Tech Toyota Gator Bowl

*ACC Coastal Division Champs

Total, Georgia Tech (5 years) 37-27 (.578)
Total, College Head Coach (8 years) 61-38 (.616)

Year Record Team Postseason
1991 5-5 Birmingham Fire (WLAF) Playoffs
1992 7-2-1 Birmingham Fire (WLAF) Playoffs
1998 10-6 Dallas Cowboys NFL Playoffs/Div. Champion
1999 8-8 Dallas Cowboys NFL Playoffs/Wild Card

Total, NFL Head Coach (2 years) 18-14 (.563)

• • • • •

"How many times does a guy like myself get a chance to come to an institute like this? It's something that you can believe in, and when you talk to somebody you know what you're selling and you know what you're talking about. Every day I get to go to work with people that exude character and class. That's an enjoyable situation.

"I want to win a championship. That's why you play. That's why you line up, and that's why you go out and work and lift weights in the offseason, to have a chance to be the best of the best, and that's one of the goals. I get a chance to come back to my home state, and I get an opportunity to work in a great city and to be involved with an unbelievable institute.

"It is an honor for me to be the head coach at Georgia Tech, it really is. I look forward to a long tenure here. I don't want to move again. This coaching business takes you a lot of places. I hope to make this thing a great long tenure, and that we can win a bunch of football games, and a lot of people will be happy for many years. I thank everybody again that made this possible, and I can't believe that you would mention my name in the same sentence with Bobby Dodd, because I don't belong there. You've got to earn that, and hopefully as time goes on we'll do that."

Chan Gailey, Dec. 29, 2001

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