The Georgia Tech baseball team, ranked in the preseason Top 20 for the fourth straight year by Baseball America magazine, opened its home season Feb. 15 against Tennessee Tech in the new, 4,354-seat, $7 million Russ Chandler Stadium. The
No. 13-ranked Jackets are coming off a 2001 season in which they won 40 games and advanced to the NCAA Tournament for the 17th time in the last 18 years.
"We have some talent, and I’m very comfortable with the position players that we can put on the field," said head coach Danny Hall, beginning his ninth season at Tech. "We have some guys that I can definitely count on, and there are some other players that will have the opportunity to step up this year. The biggest concern for me heading into the season is our inexperience on the mound, but I think we have the talent in that area to be very successful."
The Yellow Jackets have a consensus preseason All-American in junior catcher Tyler Parker. Parker missed much of the 2001 season with a broken thumb and fractured wrist, but still hit .327. Parker is joined on several preseason All-America teams by senior shortstop Victor Menocal and sophomore outfielder Matt Murton.
Other returning starters are senior infielder Matthew Boggs, Tech’s leadoff hitter who batted .345 last season; junior first baseman Jason Perry who hit .337 and 14 home runs; and senior outfielder Wes Rynders, a three-year starter.
The mound is anchored by 6-9 sophomore left-hander Kyle Bakker. Bakker will be joined in the starting rotation by a pair of junior right-handers, Jeff Watchko and Philip Perry, and sophomore right-hander Brian Burk.
The Jackets opened the 2002 season Feb. 9-10 and play 16 games against six teams ranked in Baseball America’s preseason Top 25 in 2002 Clemson at No. 2, Miami at No. 3, Florida State at No. 6, South Carolina at No. 14, North Carolina at No. 13 and Wake Forest at No. 21.
"Our goals winning the ACC, hosting a NCAA Regional and advancing to the College World Series never change," said Hall. "A lot of the faces have changed over the last couple of years, but these new players came to Tech to accomplish just that. Now that we have a new stadium, we feel like our team is in an even better position to reach those goals."
Chan Gailey is back home.
On Aug. 31, Gailey will lead the Georgia Tech football team out of the locker room and follow the Ramblin’ Wreck onto Grant Field, only the 11th person in history to have that honor. He said he hasn’t given any thought to it, said he knows about the history and tradition, but said he’s been too busy with other things to think about it. His faint smile said otherwise.
This will be a homecoming for the man who until January was the offensive coordinator for the Miami Dolphins. It’s the kind of return old sportswriters love to tell about. Hometown boy works hard and becomes a football star, spends years as a successful player and coach, then finally comes back to coach the home team.
Gailey grew up in Americus in southwest Georgia, where peanut farms compete with mobile home factories for land and where Jimmy Carter’s home in Plains, 10 miles away, is the most famous landmark. As in most small Southern towns, high school football is nearly a religion and the coach is a quasi-god.
Gailey was an All-State quarterback for the Americus High School Panthers back in the late 1960s, playing under the tutelage of Jimmy Hightower, a legend in south Georgia sporting circles. He lettered in three sports and, after graduation in 1970, accepted an athletic scholarship to play quarterback for the University of Florida.
Gailey began coaching in 1974 as a graduate assistant at the University of Florida, where he spent the next two years. He moved to his first full-time position secondary coach at Troy State in Alabama in 1976. He spent four years (1979-82) at the Air Force Academy as defensive coordinator, then returned to Troy State in 1983 and spent the next two seasons as head coach. He led the team to a Division II national championship in 1984.
Gailey got his start in the NFL coaching ranks in 1985 as an assistant with the Denver Broncos. He served as a defensive assistant and special teams coach in his first season before moving to offense in 1986. He served two years (1986-87) as the Broncos’ special teams and tight ends coach prior to being named quarterbacks coach in 1988. Next came a promotion to offensive coordinator and receivers coach in 1989 and two years service in that position.
During Gailey’s six-year stay in Denver, the team finished first or second in the AFC West on five occasions and made three Super Bowl appearances. In 1991, Gailey was named head coach of the Birmingham Fire and, in his two seasons there, the Fire qualified for the playoffs both times. After the World League went belly-up in 1993, he coached one season at Samford University in Birmingham.
Gailey next spent four seasons (1994-97) with the Pittsburgh Steelers, the last two as offensive coordinator. The team won the AFC Central Division crown in 1996-97, appeared in the AFC Championship Game on three occasions and made one trip to the Super Bowl. Pittsburgh finished second in the NFL in rushing offense in 1996, averaging 143.7 yards per game.
Gailey was named head coach of the Dallas Cowboys in 1998. Under his leadership, the Cowboys compiled a composite regular season record of 18-14 over two seasons, qualified for the playoffs both years and captured the NFC Eastern Division title in 1998. The Cowboys finished in the top five in the NFL in both fewest turnovers and fewest interceptions in each of Gailey’s two seasons as head coach, including a No. 1 ranking in both categories in 1998.
After Cowboys owner Jerry Jones fired him in 1998, Gailey joined the Miami Dolphins, and helped guide a running game that amassed 1,894 yards, the most by a Dolphins team since 1984.
Gailey’s style of football has changed over the years from a somewhat one-dimensional running game to a very balanced passing attack.
"When I grew up, it was run the ball and play good defense and special teams. I am still big on that, but I’m coming around to the passing game," he said. Gailey is devoted to a balanced running and passing game.
Gailey said he will have nine full-time assistant coaches, one football operations coach and a couple of graduate assistants.
Although the game is basically the same, there is a world of difference between college and professional football, he said.
"The Xs and Os don’t change much, but the atmosphere surrounding the college game is more energy packed," he said. "The college-age athlete is eager to learn, but you’re dealing with a person who has a lot of things going on in his life that can be distractions. On the pro level, they are focused in on just one thing."
Gailey takes over a Tech football program that is enjoying considerable success after George O’Leary’s seven-year rehabilitation.
"I’m smart enough to know that when Georgia Tech’s been winning football games doing what they’re doing, I’m not going to change it," he said. "I’m not real good at putting things in a nutshell, but I would say we want to win with class and character. When we run off the field after the game is over, our alumni will be proud to say they’re from Georgia Tech."