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New challenge awaits Reeves at Georgia State

ATLANTA - Dan Reeves has the perfect cheer for Georgia State.

'P-A-N! P-A-N! P-A-N-T!

'H-E-R! H-E-R! H-E-R-S!

'That's the way you spell it! Here's the way you yell it! Panthers, Panthers, go Panthers!'

Actually, that's the way they used to yell it when Reeves played quarterback at Americus High School, where his wife-to-be was the head cheerleader. But it works just fine in his latest pursuit, helping build a football program from scratch at Georgia State.

The downtown Atlanta university has the same nickname as Reeves' old high school and even the same colors, blue and white. And, starting in 2010, it'll have a football team as well.

Georgia State officially unveiled plans Thursday to start a program that will play in the NCAA's Football Championship Subdivision (the former Division I-AA). The Panthers will compete in the Colonial Athletic Association, play home games at the 70,000-seat Georgia Dome and may just consider the 64-year-old Reeves as their first coach.

'I don't have that college experience,' said Reeves, who spent his entire coaching career in the NFL. 'But I do know football is football. I could do it if it comes down to that. I just don't know. I don't want to commit to something unless I'm darn sure that's what I want to do.'

Lack of college experience notwithstanding, he could be just the right guy for the job. After all, the odds of building a successful football program at a largely commuter campus with little athletic history or fan base can't be much more daunting than taking the Atlanta Falcons to the Super Bowl, as Reeves did in 1999.

He certainly meets one of the main criteria: name recognition. Reeves is a Georgia native who took the Denver Broncos to three Super Bowls, led the Falcons to their only appearance in the title game and engineered trades for both John Elway and Michael Vick.

'That's definitely a consideration,' athletic director Mary McElroy said. 'People will second guess and say, 'Oh my gosh, who is this?' It has to be someone with some recognition. At the same time, he's got to have a work ethic. We're doing this from the ground up.'

Reeves has been out of football since the Falcons fired him late in the 2003 season, and he's had both knees surgically replaced over the past year. But it's clear he's not ready for retirement, even if that's helping Georgia State hire a new coach rather than pursuing the job himself.

McElroy has already heard from numerous candidates, and she'd like to have someone hired by this summer. The new coach will quickly assemble a staff to hit the recruiting trail, because the Panthers want to bring in their first group of signees next February.

Those players would spend a redshirt year on the practice field, then be joined the following year by another signing class - enough players to actually take the field in 2010.

Up to now, Reeves has served as a consultant to McElroy and university president Carl Patton - a role that technically ended with Thursday's announcement, though both school officials stressed they want the former coach to remain on board in some capacity.

Reeves spent the past year meeting with alumni and business leaders, gauging potential interest in a new program and lining up financial support. He helped raise $1.2 million in pledged funds, though the school still needs to bring in millions more to handle the massive startup costs of a new program, which include a new practice field, training facilities, offices and meeting rooms.

'He convinced people it was real,' Patton said. 'He opened doors and helped us raise a lot of that money. The bulk of that money came from people who had never given us a dime, and they were giving it to us for football. Oh, we'll have a job for Dan Reeves. He's a great ambassador.'

Reeves sure seems attached to a school he never attended, never played for and never coached at - not yet, anyway. He's already referring to Georgia State as 'us' and said he looks forward to playing Georgia Southern, which has won six national titles in the Football Championship Subdivision.