Cowboys Flashback: Chan Gailey, The Forgotten Coach


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This week is “Dallas Cowboys” week on the NFL Network.  The NFL Network is showcasing for one week a team that was a dynasty so Dallas was selected as one of those for dominating the 90’s.  One person that has been forgotten to coach in that time period was Thomas Chandler Gailey, or as he known to all, Chan Gailey.  Gailey was the head coach for 2 seasons in 1998-99 and led the team to the playoffs each of his two seasons.  Incidentally, he was the only Cowboys coach in franchise history to lead his version of the Dallas squad to the playoffs in every season he was a coach.

Despite his best efforts and going to the playoffs each of those years, the Cowboys could never win a playoff game under Gailey’s tenure.  During that time though, he had a team that won three out of four Super Bowls that was as good as they were in the earlier part of the decade.  Quarterback Troy Aikman missed five games in 1998 due to injury, wide receiver Michael Irvin was lost in 1999 with a career-ending spinal cord injury, and running back Emmitt Smith was the only true bright spot having back-to-back 1300-yard seasons.

Gailey’s beginnings as a head coach started at Troy State in 1983.  After only spending 9 years in his coaching career, he became the main man in Troy, where they won the Division II championship with a 12-1 record.  From there he jumped to the NFL in 1985 with the Denver Broncos serving as their tight ends and special teams coach to eventually wearing the title of offensive coordinator in the latter part of the 80’s.  From there he moved on to the World League of American Football to serve as the head coach of the Birmingham Fire.  Ironically enough, both of his Fire teams in the two seasons coaching, made the playoffs each year.

After being in the pro ranks for almost ten years, he decided to go back to the college arena of coaching but for only season as the head man for Samford.

The NFL got their clutches back into Gailey as he spent time with the Pittsburgh Steelers as their wide receivers coach then offensive coordinator.  After his two-year stint in Dallas, he was named the offensive coordinator for the Miami Dolphins.  In another twist of irony, he was hired by former Dallas Cowboy defensive coordinator, Dave Wannstedt who replaced the retired former Cowboy skipper Jimmy Johnson.

Gailey went back to the college ranks to lead Georgia Tech for six seasons in which they were taken to postseason play with a bowl bid every season he was there.  He won two bowls (the Humanitarian Bowl in 2003 and the 2004 Champs Sports Bowl) but he couldn’t defeat the biggest rival the school had, the Georgia Bulldogs.  Losing to the Bulldogs every year might as well had been the Cowboys losing to the Washington Redskins every year.  In 2007, he was bought out of his contract despite going to another bowl and still losing to the hated Bulldogs.

The Kansas City Chiefs saw that he was available and scooped him up for a season as the OC.  It was a rough go in KC as the offense bottomed out to being the worst in the league and head coach Toddy Haley relieved him of play-calling duties by the end of the preseason.

Gailey left football for the 2009 season only to be hired in 2010 by the Buffalo Bills as their head coach.  He coached two seasons and for the first time in his head coaching career, his team didn’t make the playoffs and he was fired after going 6-10 in 2012.

In 2013, he was hired as the National squads head coach for the Medal of Honor Bowl.  It pits lower tiered draft picks who are college all-stars against each other in a game between two teams, the American against the National. Gailey is 0-1 in the game as the American team won, 20-3 this past January 11th.

With the “Triplets” playing their last season as a group in 1999 and not winning in the postseason, Gailey was shown the exit door by management.  Many fans including this one, seem to think he was fired prematurely.  Gailey made the playoffs each year and even though he couldn’t win, it wasn’t as bad as all would seem because the next year, the braintrust (owner/GM/President Jerry Jones) hired defensive coach Dave Campo and suffered through three straight 5-11 seasons.

Tags: Chan Gailey Dallas Cowboys Emmitt Smith Jerry Jones Michael Irvin Troy Aikman

  • SmartThinking

    Big Jones’ selection of HC’s is just as overwhelmingly bad as his piss poor selection of draft choices. Here’s just one more telling reason why this team will be a perennial loser as long as big Jones is the GM!!!!!!

    What a waste!

  • Earl Robertson

    I remember that year they were 3 and 0 and beating up on the Eagles and then Irvin went down and after that Aikman never was the same

  • Todd Vorenkamp

    Gailey was my neighbor for years in Denver when he was coaching with the Broncos. Super guy. Great family. Great kids. Great neighbor.

    Thanks for the article and giving him some deserved praise from his days with the Dallas Cowboys.

    • Jeff Magnia

      I love hearing a different side of him. Thank you for sharing and he deserves much more than what history remembers of him as the Cowboys coach. I hated his departure from the team. He was doing good things!