John Rauch, Oakland.
Red Miller, Denver.
Don McCafferty, Baltimore Colts.
Ray Malavasi, Los Angeles Rams.
Jeff Fisher, Tennessee.
There have been some anonymous Super Bowl coaches in the last 36 years. Men of minor previous accomplishments, men who caught lightning for one time, men who were still young or who were old stalwarts.
And now we have Bill Callahan.
What do you know about Bill Callahan, coach of the Oakland Raiders?
You know he succeeded Jon Gruden. You know that he is a Jon Gruden protege. You think you know that Gruden taught Callahan everything Callahan knows. You don’t know much else.
You might not know that Callahan has a son at UCLA, a freshman walk-on quarterback. Brian Callahan is 5 feet 11 and 197 pounds and will never be the Bruin quarterback. But Brian is a student of football. Just like his father.
You probably don’t know that Bill Callahan paid a summer visit to former UCLA basketball coach John Wooden.
Callahan arrived at Wooden’s Encino home with a list of 40 questions and a free afternoon so that he could soak up all the knowledge he could about teaching men, leading men, pushing men to be better at their game in January than they were in September.
“Coach Callahan reminds me, in his mien, of Walter Alston and Michael Scioscia,” Wooden says. “I found that Coach Callahan has a quiet leadership. He wants the team to get the attention and not himself.
“I noticed that when the Raiders had that period of struggle, when they lost four straight games and were 4-4, Coach Callahan had the same kind of calmness that comes from believing in yourself as Scioscia had when the Angels started out 6-14.”
How much more don’t you know about Callahan?
He is the son of a Chicago cop. Donald Callahan was a sergeant on the vice squad, which is not easy duty on the South Side of Chicago. You don’t know that Bill Callahan grew up 10 minutes from Comiskey Park or that he might have been a Marine had he not suffered a shoulder injury while playing in a semipro football game.
You probably don’t know that Callahan played football at Illinois Benedictine College. Or even that there was an Illinois Benedictine. Callahan was an NAIA All-American quarterback there, a small, skinny, slow quarterback who dreamed of being a coach, not an NFL quarterback.
Callahan, 46, has lived that anonymous assistant coaching life. It started simply. Callahan was a substitute teacher and assistant football coach in suburban Chicago. Eager to learn, always eager to learn, Callahan went to coaching clinics taught by Illinois’ Mike White. White eventually hired Callahan as an assistant, which led to jobs at Northern Arizona, Southern Illinois and Wisconsin, where Callahan became the offensive line coach for Barry Alvarez.
At Wisconsin, Callahan met a Green Bay Packer assistant named Jon Gruden. He was also involved in a minor scandal. Callahan was caught scavenging around the visiting coaches’ box at Wisconsin when an Illinois student manager claimed Callahan seemed to be looking for notes. Which wouldn’t be a surprise.
Callahan said he was interested only in seeing the field from the perspective of the visiting coaches. Illinois officials were more suspicious and protested to the Big Ten. Callahan was dealt a one-game suspension.
“The whole thing was blown out of proportion,” Alvarez says. “Illinois made a big deal out of something that was nothing. I think if we had appealed the suspension we would have won. But we didn’t want to disrupt the season so we accepted the punishment. It was against Minnesota. And we lost the game.”
Something else you don’t know about Callahan. He is a note-taking maniac.
“Let’s put it this way,” Alvarez said. “I could call Billy up right now and say, ‘Billy, I need the notes from the staff meeting of the first Tuesday of our second season together,’ and Billy would go out to the garage and find those notes. And it would take him about 10 minutes to find them.”
It is impossible to find the essence of Callahan by listening to him talk. He would prefer to say nothing at all for public consumption. And he almost does.
Callahan speaks in cautious cliches. This Super Bowl isn’t about him. “It is about the game,” he says.
He has been polite in giving Gruden plenty of credit for building the Raiders even as some Raider players have vocally supported the stay-in-the-background behavior of their current coach.
“Jon brought me to the NFL,” Callahan says. “I’m grateful for that.”
While Callahan was still at Wisconsin, Alvarez was pursued by Philadelphia Eagle owner Jeffrey Lurie.
“Billy really wanted me to take that job,” Alvarez said. “He wanted to come along with me.”
Alvarez didn’t take the job. Ray Rhodes did, and Gruden became Rhodes’ offensive coordinator. Gruden called Callahan and asked Callahan to become the Eagles’ offensive line coach. “I couldn’t keep him after that,” Alvarez said. “He took his notes and left.”
The rest you probably know. How Gruden went to Oakland as head coach and how Callahan became his offensive coordinator. And how Gruden left the Raiders abruptly for Tampa Bay last winter and Callahan quietly stepped up.
Raider players have surrounded Callahan with approval.
His expressionless sideline face has settled well with the veteran Raiders. Jerry Rice, Tim Brown and Rich Gannon say they don’t need a rah-rah, facial contortionist on the sidelines, during games or practice.
“He’s all about the spoken word,” Brown says. “He’s about just telling us what we’re doing in an organized, professional manner. But, boy, those notes. I tease my teammates in the back of the room. I ask ‘How many sheets of paper does he have?’ Because if he has four sheets, we might as well get comfortable. We’re going to be in there for a while.”
Gannon says all credit for this Super Bowl appearance should go to Callahan. “When we lost four in a row,” the quarterback says, “this team could have broken apart. But Bill did some of his best coaching at that point. He kept this team together, kept our focus and he did it quietly and without any histrionics.”
And that’s all you need to know about Bill Callahan.
Diane Pucin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.