Nov. 27, 2007
By JACK WILKINSON
Around 10 o’clock Monday morning, Gregg Garrett got a phone call. It was Frank Small on the line, with a last-minute request.
“There’s a lot of rumors going around,” Small told Garrett. “Would you mind speaking?”
Small is in charge of arranging speakers for the “Lunch Bunch,” the North Metro Georgia Tech Club which meets and eats every Monday throughout the school year at Frankie’s in the Prado. Garrett’s a fairly regular Lunch Buncher, too, but Small had a potential problem. Monday’s scheduled speaker was Chan Gailey.
“Frank,” Garrett told Small, “why don’t you call down to Teri and confirm?”
Small phoned Teri Anton, Gailey’s secretary in the Tech football office. “Frank,” Anton said, “he’s coming as far as I know.”
By then, Gailey had already met with athletic director Dan Radakovich. By then, he’d already been fired after six winning seasons on the Flats, a foregone conclusion which Radakovich announced at a 2 p.m. press conference. By noon, some 75 or so folks — mostly Tech regulars, some just curious — were already at Frankie’s.
“Chan was scheduled to speak and things were up in the air,” Garrett said. “And people wanted to see what was going on.”
When Garrett arrived, his services weren’t needed. The former Tech coach was already there.
“Chan stepped up to the podium, and was very classy,” Garrett said. “Regardless of what you think about his coaching ability, he was very classy. He said, ‘I made a commitment to speak to this group today. You guys have always been very loyal to me and my staff — although as most of you know, I’ve been relieved of my duties as coach.'”
How many coaches would do that? Speaking at an impromptu press conference, as Gailey did later Monday afternoon, is one thing. Showing up to speak at a weekly booster luncheon, barely an hour after you’ve been fired, is another. It’s something else.
“Everything Chan is, is everything you see,” Garrett said. “There’s nothing hidden. It’s him. He’s a very classy guy. I was impressed that he did it.”
When Garrett later spoke to the group, he said, “Regardless of which side of the fence you’re on with Chan as our coach, that it didn’t work out, well, it’s a disappointing day for Tech.”
Gailey shook hands with everyone as he left the Lunch Bunch. “He didn’t come there on an ego trip to get a one-up on everybody or prove anything,” Garrett said. “He’d made a commitment, and he fulfilled it.
“I don’t know of another coach who’d have done that,” he said. “He didn’t know what he’d face there, coming off a loss to Georgia. But it was a classy move.”
According to Garrett, Gailey said, “I know a lot of you guys supported me, and a lot of you guys didn’t support me. I understand that. When you’re in coaching that’s part of the deal.”
Who knows what might’ve happened had Tony Hollings — by then, the nation’s out-of-nowhere leading rusher and scorer — not torn up his knee against Brigham Young in 2002, in Gailey’s fourth game at the helm? Had Gailey not encountered an academic quagmire that was none of his making. Had the Jackets beaten Georgia just a time or two.
Gailey (44-32) is the only coach in Georgia Tech history who never had a losing season. He took the Jackets to six consecutive bowl games. He won the 2006 ACC Coastal Division title and nearly won the conference championship.
But he never finished in the Top 25, and never won a top tier bowl. No, he never filled up a reporter’s notebook with one-liners and quips. More to the point, he never filled up all those seats in Bobby Dodd Stadium on a regular basis. But he’s a good football coach and an exceptionally good man, yet one who never excited and energized the Tech fan base.
Ultimately, that cost Gailey his job. It didn’t deter him, however, from going out to recruit Sunday night. To continue to do his job, while the job was still his.
“First, I’d like to thank the Georgia Tech community for allowing me to be their head coach the last six years,” Gailey told the media Monday afternoon. He called it “an honor” to coach his players.
“Nobody likes to get fired,” Gailey said. “But all they can take is your job. They can’t take your faith, they can’t take your family and they can’t take your integrity.”
And as for his immediate plans? “I’ve got to clean out my office,” Gailey said. “Other than that, I don’t have any plans.”
And his decision to speak to the Lunch Bunch one last time? “I told ’em I’d be there,” Gailey said. “It was a commitment.”
He paused. Then, in typical Chan fashion: “Anything else? Thank you.”
“It’ll be what I’ll remember more than any of the games: what Chan did by coming to the luncheon,” Garrett said. “You can debate his coaching ability and whether he should’ve been coaching or not ad nauseum.
“But no one can dispute that Chan is a classy guy and classy man, from the very beginning all the way through to the end.”