ATLANTA - Twenty-two years ago, Chan Gailey was riding so high on top of the Division II college football world that he had to think twice about a jump to the NFL.
Troy - then known as Troy State - had been only 2-8 in 1982 before hiring Gailey, 31. In only two years Gailey took Troy to the 1984 national championship.
Denver Broncos coach Dan Reeves, a man Gailey had known since his childhood in Americus, then called to offer a position in the NFL.
Troy was offering a one-year extension to Gailey's contract, giving him two years of security on a Division II pay scale compared with a move to the big time in the NFL. Even so, for Gailey, Troy felt like home.
''It was not an easy decision,'' Gailey, now Georgia Tech's coach, said this week. ''I loved the kids and the community.''
Tom Ensey, then Troy's sports information director and now the Game Day editor for the Montgomery Advertiser, says it was obvious Gailey was leaving.
''I think everybody realized we could have offered to name the building after him and he was going to the Denver Broncos, and if he didn't he should have his head examined,'' Ensey said.
Acknowledged Gailey: ''Professionally, it wasn't a hard decision.''
Gailey, now in his fifth season at Georgia Tech, has been taken back to his college roots for the second straight week as the Yellow Jackets prepare to play host to Troy on Saturday. Last week Tech beat Samford, another Alabama small college coaching stop for Gailey.
Troy has stronger memories for Gailey, who worked at Samford for only one season, 1993.
Gailey's first college coaching job came when he was hired as Troy's secondary coach in 1976. ''That seems like a long time ago,'' he said.
After three years at Troy and four years as an assistant at Air Force, Gailey returned as Troy's head coach in 1983.
''When Chan came in we had gone 2-8 the year before, and the first year we went 7-4 and the year after won the national championship, which was an incredible turnaround,'' Ensey said.
Gailey, now known for his conservative run-first philosophy, was more daring at Troy, molding the Air Force wishbone attack into a scheme designed to overcome Troy's lack of size.
''The things that he did at Troy as a really young coach were the things that led to his quick rise,'' Ensey said.
''He was not a terribly conservative coach. Even though we ran the wishbone, we broke out of it in double slots and three wides and it was a no-huddle wishbone. The option gave us a chance because we were such a small team.''
Said Gailey: ''We brought the wishbone from Air Force but we started the no-huddle stuff.''
Gailey's move to the Broncos began a 16-year career in professional football that included two years as the Dallas Cowboys head coach, from 1998-99.
''I am grateful for the opportunity that Troy gave me,'' Gailey said when asked if facing Troy will be fun. ''I am fortunate to have been a part of it. A fun game? I'll tell you if it's fun about 4 o'clock Saturday.''
Troy, only in its fifth season in Division I, already is dangerous as it proved in last week's close 24-17 loss at Florida State.
The foundation built by Gailey helped set up Troy's move up to I-AA in 1992 and then to Division I in 2001.
''I was one of those in the background talking about trying to get all these moves done at Troy,'' Gailey said.
''I think there are some positives to it, if you do it the right way, going from Division II to I-AA and from I-AA to (I-A) if you do it the right way, and that was the thing I always talked about. Obviously they have, they've done it the right way.
''We still have some great friends at Troy who were part of that move all the way through, and they've done a great job.''