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Gailey following familiar path

After spending much of the past two decades as an NFL coach, two as a head coach in Dallas and most recently as Miami's offensive coordinator, Chan Gailey figured he never would return to the college ranks.

It's not that schools wouldn't call. They did.

But Gailey, a self-described short, squatty quarterback from the University of Florida, told them he wouldn't take a new job until he completed the NFL season. With that lasting into late January, he would have little time to recruit before national signing date.

"And so college teams pretty soon quit paying attention or asking or wanting to talk to me," he said.

Georgia Tech athletic director Dave Braine, looking for someone to build on George O'Leary's success, accepted that condition. For the right guy, he would wait a few extra weeks.

"I knew I was dealing with the right kind of place and the right kind of people initially because they understood commitment and finishing your commitment," Gailey said Monday during the ACC Football Kickoff media session.

That appealed to him. So did a return to his native Georgia. So did Tech's position as a burgeoning power with five straight bowl appearances and Top 25 finishes.

At 50, Gailey's back in school, continuing a trend in the ACC.

Last year, former New York Jets coach Al Groh returned to his alma mater, Virginia, while former NFL assistants Ralph Friedgen and John Bunting took the same road to their alma maters, Maryland and North Carolina.

Now, like his one-time NFL brethren, Gailey is about to open his test packet.

"I don't see the fortunes of Georgia Tech football doing anything but getting better," Braine said.

But how much will pro experience help his new coach?

Dolphins receiver James McKnight, who played for Gailey in Dallas and Miami, thinks quite a bit.

"He'll bring a pro mentality and they'll get a pro-style system," he said. "It's not the West Coast offense. It's his offense. He's just a unique guru."

After never playing in the slot at any level, McKnight was moved to that spot last year by Gailey. McKnight had one of his finest seasons, finishing with 55 catches for 684 yards and three touchdowns.

But Friedgen, for one, downplayed the importance of his NFL experience in the success last season as a rookie coach.

"The NFL's a different situation," he said. "For one thing, they don't go to class."

Gailey understands he's in for other adjustments. He can't hold practices as long as he wants. He no longer has the luxury of meaningless exhibition games.

"The first one counts this year," he said.

And he's dealing with kids, not men. The first Yellow Jacket he met after taking the job was baby-faced senior return specialist, Kelley Rhino.

"My first thought was, "Wow, I'd forgotten how young they were,' " Gailey said.

But like all experiences, he's confident the years with Denver, Pittsburgh, Dallas and Miami will help him now, be it with designing offenses or delegating authority. In Dallas, he insisted on being offensive coordinator and calling the plays. He learned that was a mistake, one he won't repeat.

Most important, he learned how to manage people.

"Relationships and teaching and truth and integrity; those are good, I don't care where you're at, and they're necessary," he said.

"He's very personable," said Tech senior receiver Will Glover, a former Tampa Jesuit standout. "He's a guy we can go in and talk to any time. And he treats us like men. He's given the seniors a lot of responsibility. If we see any of the younger guys getting out of control, it's on us (first). If we're not going to do it, he let us know he will put his foot down."

"I can say that one of the reasons I would play for Chan Gailey any time is his word is his bond and he's a Christian person," McKnight said. " He's not one of those guys who's going to curse you. I definitely respect him. He likes guys who are coachable, guys he can challenge to take it to another level. In the college system, he's going to be a perfect head coach."

Chan Gailey coached the Cowboys for two seasons, capping an NFL career in which he was an assistant with the Broncos and Steelers. He later was the Dolphins' offensive coordinator before moving on to Georgia Tech.