Full Pursuit

Former Tar Heel Joe Dailey returns to Kenan Stadium on Saturday as part of the Liberty coaching staff. The Inside Carolina Magazine recently profiled Dailey's career path.

Full Pursuit

Inside Carolina Magazine
by Jack Morton

Joe Dailey gravitates toward principled men. Raised by a step-father who also happened to be his high school football coach and athletic director, Dailey was reared to balance a competitive thirst with a prioritized approach to life, a juggling act he maintains today as the passing game coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Liberty University.

"Being a coach's son, I liked being challenged," said the Jersey City, N.J. native. "We had no issues sharing a relationship on the field and at home; everything he instructed me to do was done so for a reason, and he was mainly reprimanding my behavior and the results of it, but not me as a person."

Dailey commuted two hours a day for his four high school years with his step-father, Rich Hansen, providing the young mind with ample time to glean all he could from the long-time, successful head man. Absorbing information about life and the X's and O's of football, Dailey knew early on that coaching was inevitably a personal goal. As a player, his self-awareness of his own competitive nature came at an early age; according to Dailey, he knew he possessed a unique set of instincts by the time he was ten years old.

"I realized early on in Pop Warner football that I had competitive instincts," said Dailey, whose mother was a Buffalo native and a football fanatic. "Being a minority in New Jersey, I think we just thought athletics would be an avenue out of our social and economic situation. Academics and athletics—those were the keys."

By the time he arrived as a freshman at Saint Peter's Prep, Dailey had discarded baseball and basketball from his athletic diet, encouraged by Hansen to focus entirely on football. He spent the season quarterbacking the freshman team until being called up to varsity for the season's final game; Dailey guided the team to a 45-14 win and would be the starting quarterback on the varsity for the remainder of his preparatory education. Collegiate recruiting began in earnest during his junior year, with Dailey fielding offers from the ACC, Big East, and MAC. He committed to Syracuse during the summer before his senior year, but a campus visit marked the first of a series of football changes that would lie ahead for the QB.

"I was excited to go to Syracuse and play in an option/spread system—I felt like that would really allow me to display my talents under center but also be an athlete and use my feet," he explained. "I decommited in December. The staff there was phenomenal, but after a visit I felt a real sense of mediocrity had set in with the players. I wanted to be associated with excellence, and simply didn't feel that at Syracuse."

Enter the Cornhusker. Turner Gill, a former standout quarterback at Nebraska, contacted Dailey and sold the Jersey native on the football empire in Lincoln, where he then served as quarterbacks coach. A 'phenomenal man' by Dailey's account, Gill explained why the opportunity to add to football knowledge among the pageantry of Husker football was too great to pass up. Dailey was sold, and in 2003 he headed to a world dramatically different from Jersey City.

"It was a huge cultural transition, for sure," Dailey laughed. "But I am and always was constantly trying to improve myself. I was there for two seasons and enjoyed nearly every moment; football was the primary focus for everyone in Lincoln, and in a lot of respects that focus combined with the commitment to pursuing excellence reminded me a lot of my household in New Jersey.

"Frank Solich was the coach my first year, and we ran a true spread, option offense," he continued. "We started 2003 5-0 but lost some late games and Coach Solich was fired; they brought in Bo Pelini to coach the bowl game, which we won, but then the AD decided to hire Bill Callahan who had just been fired by the Oakland Raiders. He was the coach my sophomore season and brought the West Coast offense with him, which is a very complicated system requiring tons of study and a certain type of skill player at each position. I started that year at quarterback and was captain—we went 5-6 and there was some disagreement with the coach. I didn't feel that the offense and Nebraska, in general, were right for me at the time."

Deciding to transfer, Dailey considered Ohio University and his home-state Rutgers in addition to North Carolina. Lured by fellow Jersey native Jesse Holley as well as Gary Tranquill's offense, Dailey arrived in Chapel Hill in the summer of 2005. Almost immediately, Tranquill retired and was replaced by Frank Cignetti as offensive coordinator, who once again presented Joe Dailey with his virtual nemesis, the West Coast offense.

"At that point I focused on my optimism—I was thinking 'Oh man, not again," laughed Dailey. "I was determined not to let a system determine my success, so I redshirted in 2005 and then played my junior and senior years at Carolina in '06 and '07; of course John Shoop was brought in for my senior year with Butch Davis, bringing an entirely different offense—all told, I played for five offensive coordinators in five years of college football, but I learned a great deal from all of them and feel like it has made me a more complete coach as a result. My entire life, I've tried not to dwell on the negative aspects of anything—that prevents you from being successful."

John Bunting was the Heels' head coach during Dailey's redshirt season and junior year, after which he was fired following a 3-9 campaign. Dailey had backed up Matt Baker in 2005 and split quarterback duties with Cameron Sexton in 2006; Butch Davis would move him to wide receiver for his senior season.

"Being the head man of a football program is so hard," said Dailey, when asked about a coach's ability to keep a proverbial fence around his program. "You're responsible for everything. You have to know where everyone is, where they should be, what they're doing, how their academics are holding up, how's their nutrition, their health—it never ends. The coach has to know, at all times, what's going on with his team, and also set a philosophy of standards for the program.

"You have to keep the players level-headed and motivated," he continued. "You have to be a psychologist and mold them, mentally. Everyone has to buy into your philosophy of culture, and you have to be persistent and resilient with your enforcement of that culture. It's a very hard job, and I look at a coach like Nick Saban, for example, constantly trying to maintain a level of discipline and respect amongst all of the attention Alabama gets—it's amazing."

Turner Gill, the head coach at Liberty University after previous stops at Buffalo and Kansas, is a 'man of faith and commitment,' according to Dailey, at his third university as Gill's quarterbacks coach.

Daily's coaching stops before Liberty were Buffalo, Kansas and Bethune-Cookman.

"I feel very fortunate to have crossed his path at Nebraska and to still be in it," said Dailey. "Liberty (had) won four of the last five conference titles, and their former head coach, Danny Rocco, is now at Richmond—he's a disciple of Jim Grobe and his system that he left in place, the players we inherited, are perfect for Coach Gill's philosophies."

As for recruiting players to a faith-driven university such as Liberty?

"Liberty sells itself," said Dailey. "The order of operations here is faith followed by academics followed by football, and that's always been my order of things, too.

"It's like any other institution; it's not for everybody," he continued. "Not everyone has to be saved in their faith to be recruited—we have kids from all demographics and backgrounds, and many are saved after they arrive here. It's a wonderful, wonderful university."

Dailey, his wife Carrie, and their two children have settled nicely in Lynchburg, Virginia. The former quarterback is in full pursuit of his coaching goals, his whistle and hitch hooked onto a promising head coach. Dailey's life has been a balance of integrity and football, both of which were harvested during his three years spent in Chapel Hill.

"I really enjoyed UNC," he said. "The administration is phenomenal and the program is great, and the students and fans represent the University in a very classy way.

"I know we didn't win a ton of games those three years, but I'll never forget our trip to Notre Dame in 2006," said Dailey, fondly recollecting the Tar Heels' loss in South Bend during which the quarterback hung throw-for-throw with Irish QB Brady Quinn for much of the contest. "They had all these studs out there, all the pageantry of Notre Dame football—we were struggling that year and all we wanted to do was go out there and play and try to win. You go in there outmanned in front of 80,000 people but you realize that the game still has to be played, and that those guys across the line are no different from you. That game—even though we lost—was a real bonding moment for us. The game has to be played, regardless of the size of the opponent or the name on his helmet." <

This article is from the November 2012 Issue of the Inside Carolina Magazine. To learn more about the publication and how to subscribe, CLICK HERE.

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