Dailey lessons (cont.)
Posted: Friday May 11, 2007 12:29PM; Updated: Friday May 11, 2007 2:07PM
Following a five-week search and several high-profile rejections, Pederson wound up hiring Callahan, the former Oakland Raiders coach who pledged to install his preferred, NFL-style West Coast offense at a place that had been running the option for decades. Suddenly the onus was on Dailey -- one of just two returning scholarship quarterbacks at the time and the only one who'd demonstrated any passing ability -- to learn one of the sport's most complicated offensive schemes and master it within a matter of months.
"It was a difficult transition for him. He thought he could handle it," said Sanders. "The West Coast offense is a very difficult scheme to understand, especially in one year. If a guy like Joe Dailey, with his intellect, struggled with it his first year, any quarterback would have."
Not surprisingly, Dailey and the rest of his teammates -- all of whom had been recruited with a different system in mind -- struggled. During a disastrous 2004 season in which the redshirt freshman completed just 49.4 percent of his passes for 2,025 yards, 17 touchdowns and 19 interceptions -- and the Huskers' NCAA-record streak of 35 straight bowl appearances came to an end -- Dailey quickly went from potential star to inevitable scapegoat for the team's historic demise.
The following spring, Dailey went looking for a new home. "I was like, 'Hey -- it can't get any worse," he says. "They pawned that whole thing on me, but I accepted the fault. I accepted 100 percent responsibility. If anything else happens to me, it's on me."
By now, Dailey's old pal Sanders was at North Carolina, and it seemed like the perfect fit. The quarterback admired the way Tar Heels offensive coordinator Gary Tranquill had employed quarterback Darian Durant as both a runner and a passer. "I figured it was going to be a good time here, a great way to finish out my career," says Dailey. "I was looking forward to it." As Dailey watched from the sideline during his 2005 transfer season, however, the Tar Heels struggled to a 5-6 finish, raising doubts about head coach John Bunting's future and prompting Tranquill -- Durant's mentor and the man Dailey had signed on to play for -- to retire. (Tranquill recently came out of retirement to work for the Rhein Fire in NFL Europe).
To replace Tranquill, Bunting hired Fresno State's Frank Cignetti, who brought with him his own version of that dreaded West Coast offense. Dailey, caught in a season-long quarterback shuffle with redshirt freshman Cam Sexton, struggled once again (completing 57.4 percent of his passes for 1,316 yards, seven TDs, 10 INTs) and UNC lost nine of its first 10 games, resulting in Bunting's inevitable ouster.
Faced with impressing yet another set of coaches and learning yet another new offense -- and with little chance of reclaiming his starting quarterback job -- Dailey, who was on course to finish his degree this spring, initially decided enough was enough. "Towards the end of [last] season, I was like, 'You know what? Something's telling me this is not going my way," he says.
But when he made his intentions known to Sanders, who was not retained by Davis, the longtime defensive backs coach made a suggestion. "I had always spoken to Joe about possibly playing defensive back," Sanders says. "Because of his size and speed, I thought he'd be good. I told him to see what Coach Davis had in mind for him and talk about possibly switching to another position."
As it turns out, Davis had a similar idea. The former Miami and Cleveland Browns coach did not want Dailey to leave and presented a plan to pique his interest to return for another season: He wants to use Dailey as a slash-type receiver this fall.
"We're a young team. We need Joe's senior leadership and his character and integrity," says Davis. "I called him in shortly before Christmas and said, 'I'd like to talk about the possibility of you coming back and changing positions.' He said he was kind of fascinated and intrigued by it. Antwaan Randle El, Hines Ward -- a lot of guys have done what we're talking to him about doing."
In the Tar Heels' spring game on April 14, a newly energized Dailey caught a game-high four passes for 30 yards, including a 9-yard touchdown from UNC's spring sensation, redshirt freshman quarterback T.J. Yates. Observers close to the program say Dailey's entire demeanor has changed along with his coach and position, and in speaking with him, his general enthusiasm is obvious.
"The thing I love about the receiver position -- there's absolutely no thinking behind it," he says. "I'll leave practice after playing wide receiver and not be tired. When I played QB, I'd be mentally exhausted."
For once, it appears Dailey is taking part in a coaching change that may actually help his career -- that is, his next career.
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