After four head coaches, two programs and many struggles, Joe Dailey has seen it all. As he finishes his career at UNC he is moving to WR and taking notes
Posted: Friday May 11, 2007 12:29PM; Updated: Friday May 11, 2007 2:07PM
Joe Dailey left his New Jersey home for the Heartland four years ago in search of gridiron glory. Two schools, four head coaches and five offensive systems later, his only enduring legacy is likely to be that of a trivia answer to the question: Who was the quarterback when Nebraska's streak of 35 straight bowl appearances ended in 2004?
That is, until he begins his next career.
From touted option quarterback at Nebraska to backup wide receiver at North Carolina -- sandwiched around two unanticipated and unsuccessful stints as a West Coast, drop-back passer -- Dailey's college football career has not gone remotely as planned. All the while, he's had a front-row seat to the ugly, often inhuman side of his sport.
"The way our economic system is," says the cerebral 23-year-old, "you're easily replaced."
Dailey learned that the hard way when his first head coach, Frank Solich, was fired despite going 9-3 in 2003 simply because a new athletic director wanted to bring in "his guy." After struggling in Bill Callahan's West Coast offense the following season, Dailey transferred to North Carolina and sat out a year for the chance to play in system which would better suit his skills only to have the architect of that system, offensive coordinator Gary Tranquill, step down before Dailey could take a snap. Following another losing season, another regime change and another "big splash" hire (out went John Bunting, replaced by the acclaimed Butch Davis), he watched the one coach he'd become closest with, defensive coordinator Marvin Sanders -- Dailey's only link to both programs -- lose his job just a year after receiving an extension and a raise.
At this point, one might reasonably assume Dailey to be bitter -- about his career, about football, but most of all, about the coaching profession. But that's not the case.
"My true desire is to become a football coach," he says. "I want to move on to become a graduate assistant or somehow get involved in the NFL."
It's hard to imagine any aspiring coach gaining exposure to as wide a variety of coaching styles and systems as Dailey will have by the end of his playing career.
At one time, Joe Dailey was the next Donovan McNabb. Or at least that's what Syracuse fans thought. In June 2002, the dual-threat quarterback from St. Peter's Prep in Jersey City, N.J. -- a terrific athlete who ran a 4.46 40 and wound up setting school records for both running and passing touchdowns -- announced his commitment to the Orange. His coach and longtime father figure, Rich Hansen, told the Syracuse Post-Standard that more than 40 Division I schools had pursued the player ranked No. 13 at his position by Rivals.com. "Joe Dailey probably has the strongest arm of any quarterback I've seen in the last 10 years of high school football," Hansen said at the time.
In the first of what would be numerous twists to Dailey's college journey, however, he did not end up signing with Paul Pasqualoni's program. "I went on my trip there [an official visit in mid-December] and didn't enjoy it as much as I anticipated," says Dailey. "Things weren't run very well. People were complacent. [The program] was on the downhill."
More than anything, Dailey wanted to play at a school where he could be a running quarterback. "I wasn't one of those guys who was going to throw the ball 50 times a game," he says. He'd heard through the grapevine that Nebraska -- the standard-bearer at the time for running QBs -- was in desperate need of one. Dailey surprised Nebraska's coaches, who had long ago stopped recruiting him, by taking a visit there. In mid-January, he switched his commitment.
Dailey spent his first season in Lincoln running the scout team while learning the intricacies of Nebraska's old-school, belly-option offense. Sanders, a Nebraska safety in the late '80s, was the Huskers' defensive backs coach during the 2003 season.
"Joe would have been one of the great Nebraska quarterbacks," Sanders says now. "Watching him run the old Nebraska option system, he was something special. He had the arm strength, the speed, the physical quickness, very similar to one of my teammates, [1986-88 starting quarterback] Steve Taylor. You knew it was only a matter of time before he exploded on to the scene in that offense. Unfortunately he never got a chance to run it."
Following a 9-3 regular season (the Huskers had gone an uncharacteristic 7-7 the year before), newly hired athletic director Steve Pederson, fearing that Nebraska's program was "gravitating toward mediocrity," made the stunning decision to fire Solich, who was just two years removed from an appearance in the BCS championship game.
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