November 6, 2007
ATLANTA Frustration is losing the ACC's leading rusher, and his backup, to injury in a non-conference game.
Frustration is your promising quarterback throwing four interceptions in a season-defining game.
Frustration is fans booing the head coach while he makes a public service announcement on the stadium videoboard.
Georgia Tech's season unraveled on Nov. 1 with a national television audience watching. The Yellow Jackets lost 27-3 to Virginia Tech, a defeat that eliminated them from the ACC Coastal Division race. And the loss could very well endanger head coach Chan Gailey's future on The Flats.
The Jackets are 5-4 in a season in which many fans and pundits expected them to improve on last year's nine-win finish. And the Virginia Tech debacle came following a bye week. Preparation, even without tailbacks Tashard Choice and Rashaun Grant, should not have been an issue.
That's why the few thousand fans who stuck around for the fourth quarter of the Virginia Tech game jeered Gailey when his taped message about not drinking and driving aired on Bobby Dodd Stadium videoboard.
"I honestly didn't like it," wide receiver James Johnson said of the boo-birds. "Coach Gailey is doing as hard as he can to coach us. Whatever the fans think, it's not all him. I don't know why they think it's just him. It's a team thing. You can't put it all on one person. Everybody is trying to win every game. It's not like we're going into the game wanting to lose.
"When they saw Coach Gailey and booed, that hurt me. I'm sure it hurt every other player. That just hurts really."
The pain will only worsen over the final three weeks of the season as public scrutiny builds leading up to the Georgia game. Georgia Tech plays Duke, North Carolina and the Bulldogs, and a loss to any of them could cost Gailey his job. The Yellow Jackets will be heavy favorites against Duke and North Carolina.
But more than the other two, Gailey must beat the Bulldogs. Georgia Tech's failures in the annual grudge match have alienated Gailey from the fan base as much as anything else. He is 0-5 against the rivals. He's lost the last three by less than a touchdown.
A win against Georgia would end all the talk about Gailey's job security. But the Bulldogs, ranked in the top 10 of the Bowl Championship Series standings, could be the best team the Yellow Jackets play all year.
A loss could bring Gailey's tenure to an abrupt end, just one year removed from playing for an ACC title. Dan Radakovich, Georgia Tech's athletic director, has stopped short of giving Gailey a vote of confidence, saying only that his policy is to evaluate coaches at the end of each season.
Firing Gailey would be expensive for Georgia Tech. He's under contract through 2011 and is owed more than $1 million a year. And with all the other high-profile jobs expected to come open this offseason (Nebraska, Arkansas, UCLA, Michigan), the Georgia Tech Athletic Association would need to cough up a large salary to attract a top coach.
As for Gailey, he's not bothered by the talk or the boos. He's dealt with both before.
"It's a long season," Gailey said. "You get to the end. I think our true fans are there. And there for the team. You get upset when you lose. So do we."
GAILEY HAVING PRESS PROBLEMS
Gailey, however, was upset by a pair of recent media reports.
The first came in mid-October, on the eve of Georgia Tech's game against Army. Dennis Dodd, CBS Sportsline's college football columnist and blogger, wrote that Gailey had told one of his assistant coaches he expected to be fired at the end of the season.
Gailey called the report "asinine," and Dodd admitted to Georgia Tech play-by-play man Wes Durham his source for the information was a bowl game rep who supposedly talked to a Georgia Tech assistant. But the report did some damage, with at least one recruit withdrawing his verbal commitment because of the report.
Gailey's other media run-in came days before the Virginia Tech game. A local sports talk radio host ambushed Gailey with criticisms about the development of former QB Reggie Ball and the program's recent failures against Georgia.
The questions caught Gailey off guard, not only because Ball hasn't been in the Georgia Tech program since last December and the Georgia game was still only a month away, but also because the talk show was on Georgia Tech's radio flagship station.
Gailey held his temper throughout the interview, but the edge in his voice betrayed his true feelings.
CHOICE'S RETURN IS GOOD NEWS
The good news for Gailey and the Yellow Jackets is Choice will return for the Duke game. He injured his right knee early in the Army game when he was twisted to the turf at the end of a 7-yard run.
Choice initially thought he'd injured his iliotibial band, a string of tissue that extends from the pelvis down the thigh and the outside of the knee. He'd had lingering soreness in the area for weeks and had been wearing a small rubber-band like brace under his knee where the IT band connects to the bone.
But an MRI showed the damage to be more serious, and he underwent arthroscopic surgery three days after the injury. The scope revealed no ligament tears, however, and Choice was running on the sideline and riding a stationary bike during practice two days later.
Choice dressed for the Virginia Tech, but Gailey held him out to make sure he's healthy for the final three games, especially since Choice admittedly exaggerated the health of a strained hamstring earlier this season to play against Virginia and Clemson.
"We have to be smart about how we handle the situation," Gailey said. "And as we all know, he'll lie. So you have to make sure you understand the whole situation."
Quarterback Taylor Bennett clearly needs Choice in the game. He completed just 11 of 26 passes with four interceptions against Virginia Tech. And in the other two games Choice missed most of because of injuries, Bennett went 30 of 64 with an interception.
Gailey said it's the head coach's responsibility to make sure Bennett is better prepared to handle those situations.
"You have to make sure that he understands exactly what we're looking at and trying to get done, how to manage the game when you're in that situation," Gailey said. "At Maryland and Virginia, we had come back in the second half. (Against Virginia Tech), we just didn't get back there, and I have to do a better job of getting him to understand how not to play bad initially and then get us mentally back on the right track in the second half when we need to. It's a game-managerial (issue)."