Chan Gailey was living the life of a retired grandfather in Georgia last winter when Miami Dolphins coach Brian Flores called unexpectedly to offer him the job as the team’s new offensive coordinator.
“I have five grandsons and I was watching them play all the sports that they play and going to school at their events, and playing a decent amount of golf for the last three years, so that’s what I’ve been doing,” Gailey said Saturday, the first time he talked about his hiring since it happened last January.
“I was doing really no football. My son coaches high school football, and I hung around there a little bit. I watched on TV some, college and pro. I watched some games. But working in football or doing anything, no I wasn’t really doing that.”
So, yeah, the call from Flores looking to replace former coordinator Chad O’Shea after one season was a surprise to everyone — including Gailey, who had been out of football since 2016 and didn’t think he’d ever be back.
“Right at the end of the season [Flores] called and I was kind of taken aback a little bit,” Gailey said. “But then we talked about it as a family. I had no idea. I didn’t think so. But we just felt we were being led to do this. And it’s something we felt very strong and very excited and very comfortable with.”
Gailey is a man of deep and abiding faith in Jesus Christ. So the decision to leave a comfortable retirement for the headaches and heartaches of the NFL required prayer. But Gailey says the pull to the rejoin the Dolphins (he was Dave Wannstedt’s offensive coordinator in 2000-2001) was strong.
Even if it surprised some folks who know Gailey best.
“I had no clue [returning to the NFL] was a possibility,” said Dolphins quarterback coach Robby Brown, who played for Gailey at Georgia Tech and later coached under him. “I wouldn’t say shocked, because he’s a football guy. He’s always loved the first down. I wouldn’t say shocked, but I had no idea that it was coming or that he was going to do that.”
Gailey’s decision was helped by knowing that Ryan Fitzpatrick, the quarterback he weaned from being a career backup into a starter with Buffalo and then again with the New York Jets, was awaiting him in Miami.
“I can’t say it was not a factor. It was,” Gailey said. “Knowing I’d be comfortable with a player that was here, I was actually more than comfortable. Very excited about working with Fitz again. That was something that did play a part. And if it hadn’t been a part of it, it might have been a different story, I don’t know.”
But the story of Chan Gailey’s return to the NFL won’t be written because of his unexpected un-retirement or reunion with Fitzpatrick. It’s going to be about two other things:
▪ How Gailey develops Dolphins rookie quarterback Tua Tagovailoa.
▪ How Gailey’s offense holds up because it’s generally the same offense he’s employed for decades.
Tua’s development is the most important of those. But Gailey obviously believes that development will be more decided by the player than by him as a coach.
“I don’t know how to answer that exactly,” Gailey said when questioned on the topic. “He’s going to develop quickly or slowly, depending upon how much he grasps the offense and how quickly he comes and, you know, how he develops as a football player.
“A lot of that is based on health. There’s a lot of factors in there. I hope I have a big impact on it. But you don’t ever know about that. You have to see how fast and how well a player comes on and you see what he does.”
The offense Tua and Josh Rosen will be learning and Fitzpatrick will be reacquainting himself with has not really changed. Gailey wasn’t in some lab mixing new compounds into his plays during his retirement.
But while the offense hasn’t changed, the players have. And that’s key.
“The terminolgy’s the same. Some of the plays are the same,” Gailey said. “But I think it changed from Buffalo to New York because of the personnel we had. And it’s going to make another change because of the personnel we have here.
“If you ask Fitz is the terminology the same, he’d say yes. Are the thoughts, some of thought processes the same? Yes. But we will be adjusting and adapting to some of the personnel we have. So it may not look the same to John Q. Public. “
Gailey wants to adapt his coaching to his players and his offense to their talents. But the basic philosophy of what he wants to accomplish hasn’t changed since his days as the Pittsburgh Steelers offensive coordinator in the 1990s.
“There’s two things: One thing, we try to stay balanced. I want us to be a balanced offense. I want us to be able to run the football and throw the football effectively. That’s the way I see offensive football,” Gailey said.
“And then the next thing is you adapt to the players you have. You have to adjust your schemes and see who you have and that sometimes is even on a week-by-week basis.”
About all that adapting ... it’s real.
Offensive line coach Steve Marshall said Saturday the blocking scheme “will be multiple,” meaning it won’t just be zone blocking or man-blocking. And Gailey wants to let his receivers improvise as they run their routes.
“You take an artist that knows how to get open, that knows what he’s doing versus a defender, and you try to fit him into a box, that’s where you make the guy less of a player than he really is,” Gailey said.
“I want guys to be able to go out and be creative. I tell them you got to be where you’re supposed to be when you’re supposed to be there. But how you get there? That’s up to you. We give them the freedom to go get open, and we think we have talented enough quarterbacks to get them the football.”