MIAMI (AP) — Living a life of golf and grandkids, Chan Gailey was three years into a pretty typical retirement when it took a twist.
Miami Dolphins coach Brian Flores called and offered Gailey a job as offensive coordinator.
“I was taken aback a little bit,” Gailey said Saturday, reflecting on that transformative phone conversation seven months ago.
Now he’s back in an NFL training camp at age 68, tasked to oversee the development of a potential franchise quarterback in Tua Tagovailoa, and to upgrade an offense that ranked last in the league in rushing yards and sacks allowed in 2019.
The job is new, but the camp routine is not — lots of time in the bright August sun and dark video rooms.
“I’ve been doing this for 40-something years now,” Gailey said.
Not consecutively, however. His head coaching resume includes jobs with the Dallas Cowboys and Buffalo Bills, and in college at Georgia Tech. He also has extensive experience as a coordinator, including with the Dolphins in 2000-01, their most recent back-to-back playoff seasons.
After the 2016 season, when he was offensive coordinator for the New York Jets, Gailey settled into retirement in his native Georgia.
“I’ve got five grandsons,” he said. “I was watching them play all the sports they play, and going to school events, and playing a decent amount of golf.”
Gailey said his religious faith was a factor in deciding to accept Flores’ job offer.
“We talked about it as a family,” Gailey said. “We just felt like we were being led to do this.”
First-year Dolphins quarterbacks coach Robby Brown, a walk-on QB for Gailey at Georgia Tech more than 15 years ago, was among those surprised his mentor came out of retirement.
“I had no clue that was a possibility,” Brown said. “I wouldn’t say I was shocked, because he’s a football guy and has always loved the first down. But I had no idea it was coming.”
The success of Gailey’s comeback will depend on how many of those elusive first downs the Dolphins can rack up. After going 5-11 last year in Flores’ first season, they got busy in free agency and the draft and appear to have better talent on offense.
That includes at quarterback, where top draft pick Tagovailoa will be groomed to replace 37-year-old incumbent Ryan Fitzpatrick.
“You look at the success Tua has had, and he’s obviously a very good leader,” Gailey said. “Then there’s his ability to throw the ball, his touch, his game management. We were very glad to get Tua.”
Even so, Gailey said, the chance to work with Fitzpatrick again was one reason he accepted the job. They spent five seasons together with the Jets and Buffalo Bills and are fans of each other’s work.
“Guys love playing for Chan,” Fitzpatrick said, “because one of the biggest things with him is he wants you to be yourself. He gives them a certain amount of freedom, and he really cares about the end result, not necessarily how you got there.”
Flores was in high school when he first met Gailey, who tried unsuccessfully to recruit him to play at Georgia Tech. They were AFC East rivals when Flores was an assistant coach with the New England Patriots.
“Chan was always somebody who was tough to deal with schematically, and good situationally,” Flores said last winter after hiring Gailey. “And then I’ve just heard many great things about him as a teacher.”
Gailey said the offense he’s teaching has the same terminology and some of the same plays as when he worked for the Dolphins two decades ago. He stresses a run-pass balance, which will be a change for a team that threw 66% of the time last year, most in the NFL.
As for fitting personnel into specific roles — say, at quarterback — Gailey said he’ll be flexible.
“You adapt to the players you have, and adjust your schemes,” he said. “That sometimes is even on a week-by-week basis. This year it may be more important than ever — to have a system in place you can adjust to make the players you have be successful.”
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