December 4, 2007
ATLANTA Winning consistently and running a dignified program are not good enough at Georgia Tech.
First-year Tech athletic director Dan Radakovich wants a football coach who connects with alumni and fans, markets the Yellow Jacket brand, sells tickets and contends for championships, too.
That's why he fired Chan Gailey.
"Chan has done a very good job here," Radakovich said. "It's just a question not of today but of tomorrow. It's where we are going to go as a program. From an Xs and Os standpoint, he's a very, very good coach. It's more now. College football is more than just the Xs and Os. It goes beyond that, especially in the competitive market where we are."
His expectations for the next coach may be why he's finding Georgia Tech a hard sell to high-profile candidates.
Connecticut's Randy Edsall and Auburn defensive coordinator Will Muschamp already have withdrawn from consideration for the job. And Radakovich never had a chance at LSU defensive coordinator Bo Pelini, who will take over at Nebraska instead.
And with schools such as Michigan, Arkansas and UCLA still searching for coaches, Radakovich either will have to wait patiently or look at candidates beyond his A-list.
The Tech job apparently is not as attractive as those others, contrary to what a vocal part of the Yellow Jackets' fan base believes.
Tech's coach faces challenges uncommon at the major college level. Among them:
Facilities: Tech plays in a 55,000-seat stadium it fills only when Georgia, Notre Dame or Virginia Tech are in town. The practice fields are located the equivalent of five blocks from the team locker room, forcing players and coaches to walk across part of campus before and after practice. There is no indoor or covered complex.
Academic offerings: Tech is an engineering school, and every student must take two calculus courses as part of the curriculum. The closest thing Tech has to a "jock major" is management, much more challenging than the physical education and similar programs elsewhere.
Money: Tech owes Gailey $4 million, and the athletic association has operated in the red for at least three of the last four years. They paid Gailey a little over $1 million per year and might have to find as much as twice that for his successor.
For all of Tech's shortcomings, Radakovich wants a coach who can make the Yellow Jackets a "top-tier football program, with expectations to compete at the highest level and energize our fan base."
There are coaches with that potential. Navy's Paul Johnson is one. So is Boise State's Chris Peterson. Then there's Tennessee offensive coordinator David Cutcliffe and Gailey's defensive coordinator, Jon Tenuta.
But all lack the personality traits Radakovich claims to want.
Johnson can be personable, but he also can be curt. He responded to fan criticism at Navy earlier this year by saying, "I don't go down to McDonald's and start second-guessing his job."
Peterson is less than accommodating with the media and public, as was Cutcliffe during his tenure as the head coach at Mississippi.
Tenuta can be downright unapproachable. Asked if he had the personality to meet Radakovich's mandate, Tenuta said people would think so once they got to know him. But that would require him to let people get to know him, and in six years with Gailey, he kept the public at arm's length.
Radakovich likely will need a coach with good political skills, which is one reason some view Baltimore Ravens offensive coordinator Rick Neuheisel as a good fit. Neuheisel's tenures at Colorado and Washington were mostly successful on the field, but both ended in controversy. Nevertheless, he fits the young, attractive, smooth-talking, hand-shaking image some at Tech want to see.
NCAA sanctions have limited the Yellow Jackets' last three recruiting classes, and the talent shortage should catch up with them next fall, particularly along the offensive and defensive lines and in the secondary.
Matching Gailey's track record of at least seven wins per year will be tough no matter who's coaching the team. The new guy will need to inspire the masses regardless.
That was Gailey's greatest failure. He'd been a polarizing figure since succeeding George O'Leary following the 2001 season because, in large part, he was not O'Leary.
O'Leary possessed a domineering personality with a proven history at Tech: He won a co-national title as Bobby Ross's defensive coordinator in 1990 and an ACC co-championship as the head coach in 1998.
Gailey had no ties to the Yellow Jackets when he arrived, and his years of NFL experience made him guarded around folks outside the program. He also canceled one of O'Leary's most popular off-the-field traditions: an annual summer golf outing at Lake Oconee.
So Gailey's only chance to win fans over came on the field, and he lost them with his teams' underachievement this season and last, along with his 0-6 mark against archrival Georgia.
His situation ultimately became eerily similar to the one he faced as the Dallas Cowboys head coach. He led the Cowboys to the NFL playoffs in both his seasons at the helm, only to lose his job.
"I've got to be a little unique," Gailey said. "I'm not sure there's any coaches out there that were in the NFL, went to the playoffs both years and got fired, and went to a bowl game six straight years and got fired."
What Gailey didn't get about Radakovich was that the AD measures success not in bowl game appearances but in sellouts. Radakovich inherited Gailey as his coach from Dave Braine, who awarded Gailey a five-year contract extension two months before retiring.
Unlike Braine, a former coach turned athletic administrator, Radakovich is a new-age AD more CEO than Xs and Os.
The new coach had better be able to charm the media, schmooze with the fat-cat boosters and put an exciting product on the field.
Anything less will not be good enough.