By Matthew Postins
Dallas Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones announced earlier this week that Bill Callahan, not Jason Garrett, would call plays for the Cowboys in 2013.
Here are five things you might want to know about Callahan:
Influences: He has two big ones. First is former Wisconsin head coach Barry Alvarez, who was Callahan’s boss from 1990-94 when Callahan was the Badgers’ offensive line coach. Alvarez pointed to Callahan as one of the key reasons the Badgers turned things around in the 1990s. The other big influence is Jon Gruden. Callahan met Gruden in Philadelphia in 1995 when he joined the Eagles as offensive line coach under Ray Rhodes. Gruden was the offensive coordinator. When Gruden left to take the Oakland job in 1998 Callahan followed him and was elevated to offensive coordinator. So Callahan has a background in both power running and the West Coast offense.
He was a quarterback: Callahan, like Gruden and Garrett, was a quarterback. Callahan was a four-year starter at Illinois Benedictine, a NAIA school, from 1975-78, earning Honorable Mention All-America honors twice.
A couple of his former Raiders don’t seem to like him too much: Earlier this year Tim Brown – who played for the Raiders under both Gruden and Callahan – accused Callahan of sabotaging the Raiders’ chances of winning Super Bowl XXXVIII against Tampa Bay by making a huge shift in the game plan just a couple of nights before the game. Jerry Rice, who also played for that team, piled on with a more incendiary quote in support of Brown — “I was very surprised that he waited till the last second, and I think a lot of the players they were surprised also, so in a way maybe because he didn’t like the Raiders he decided ‘Hey look maybe we should sabotage just a little bit and let Jon Gruden go out and win this one.'” Callahan denied any sabotage.
The folks in Lincoln might not like him all that much either: Callahan came in after Frank Solich, who took over for Tom Osborne. Callahan introduced the West Coast offense to the Cornhuskers after generations of Huskers fans watched them run the option attack. So, they were pre-disposed to not like Callahan’s on-field approach to begin with. But Sam McKewon of Big Red Today, which is the Nebraska coverage portal for Omaha.com and the Omaha World-Leader, wrote quite a bit about Callahan on Wednesday and it’s worth reading. The article is revealing, as McKewon covered Callahan’s final year at Nebraska. Callahan has plenty of good points, McKewon writes – he’s a blue-collar worker who is loyal to his staff and recruits the best possible players. But there is also another side to Callahan, as McKewon writes:
Hardened by years of being a grunt and a position coach – of knowing how to mask frustration for the sake of job security and advancement – Callahan knows how to play the thoughtful, “oh, boy, yeah” role to the press. That conceals a ferociously organized, demanding persona that rubbed superstars in Oakland wrong enough for them to still grind an axe a decade later. This same persona ultimately had a tin ear for Nebraska culture, a tin ear for the commitment of his 2007 team and a strange need, in his final weeks, to sacrifice his defense at the altar so his offense could run up massive yards/points in losses to Kansas and Colorado. I can still recall when, on a Big 12 teleconference call, Callahan stepped all over Joe Ganz’s record-breaking performance against Kansas State, touting Ganz as a “product of the system” more than the individual achievement.
He knows how to build offensive lines: Last year’s poor showing in Dallas notwithstanding, Callahan’s top trait is how he develops offensive linemen. With the New York Jets he oversaw the development of Nick Mangold and D’Brickashaw Ferguson, and helped keep veteran Alan Faneca playing at a high level. While at Wisconsin Callahan developed seven All-Big Ten selections, including tackle Joe Panos, who was a second-team All-American, and center Cory Raymer, who was a first-team All-American. That bodes well for a Cowboys line that has several young players who, if developed properly, could become starters down the road.