Callahan vows to chase title
Published: Saturday, January 10, 2004 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, January 10, 2004 at 12:52 a.m.
LINCOLN, Neb. - Nebraska broke tradition by hiring Bill Callahan as its new football coach.
Callahan, the first outsider in more than 40 years to coach the Cornhuskers, will bring an NFL-style passing offense to a program that built its success on a dominant running game.
"I can't guarantee that the ball will be flying through the air 60 times a game," Callahan said Friday. "But the system does have tremendous flexibility and ability to adapt to conditions and the ability to feature the run more and pass less."
Callahan, the former Oakland Raiders' coach, said he would unveil the West Coast offense, which typically features a short, controlled passing game.
That's in complete contrast to the option running attack former coach Tom Osborne used with so much success in Lincoln during his 25-year Hall of Fame coaching career.
"He's the coach, and he'll have to determine what game is best for Nebraska," Osborne said. "There are lots of ways to win ballgames."
The switch in offensive styles mirrors a similar change made when Oklahoma hired Bob Stoops before the 1999 season. The Sooners have become the dominant team in the Big 12 under Stoops, winning one national championship and playing for another this season.
Slipping behind conference rivals Oklahoma and Texas prompted athletic director Steve Pederson to fire coach Frank Solich on Nov. 29, after a 9-3 regular season.
Pederson said he expects the program to be in the running for a national championship every year. Since 1970, the Huskers have won or shared five national titles, most recently in 1997.
Callahan inherits a program that has won only 17 of its last 29 games, including a 7-7 campaign in 2002 - the Huskers' worst record in 41 years.
"If you're afraid to play for the championship, that's a tough way to go through life," Pederson said. "We're going to continue to strive to be at the top of college football. At Nebraska, that's the way it should be."
Callahan is used to high expectations after spending two years as head coach of the Oakland Raiders.
Callahan took the Raiders to the Super Bowl his first season before alienating players during a 4-12 campaign that led to his dismissal last week.
"Winning the national championship - that goal will never change," Callahan said. "The aspiration to measure up to the legacy of the previous success here is critical. When I met the players today, I felt that they wanted to do that again."
Callahan is only the fourth Nebraska coach since 1962. He is the first from outside the Nebraska family since Bob Devaney came from Wyoming to resurrect the program after Bill Jennings was fired at the end of the 1961 season.
Callahan's hiring ended a long search in which at least three candidates withdrew their names from consideration. He agreed to a six-year contract that pays a base salary of $325,000. His total annual package is worth $1.5 million.
He said he has always wanted to return to the college game, where he was an assistant from 1980-94 at Illinois, Northern Arizona, Southern Illinois and Wisconsin.
Callahan said he would handle the play-calling himself, which excites some of his new players.
"I can run, but I can throw, too, so this is something that is going to fit me fine," quarterback Joe Dailey said.
Callahan said he planned to meet with the current staff on Monday and will decide quickly whether to retain any or all the assistants.
Callahan met with the Cornhuskers players earlier Friday.
"I'm excited about having coach Callahan. I'm just excited to have a coach again," offensive lineman Mike Erickson said.
Before Callahan emerged as a candidate, Kansas City chiefs offensive coordinator Al Saunders, Arkansas coach Houston Nutt and Dallas defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer all withdrew their names from consideration.
Others reportedly interviewed for the job were interim coach Bo Pelini and quarterbacks coach Turner Gill.
Callahan entered the picture on Monday and interviewed Wednesday and Thursday. Chancellor Harvey Perlman said negotiations extended into Friday morning.
Pederson hearkened to his days as a recruiting coordinator when describing the search for Callahan.
"In recruiting, there are great days when something happens and others when you get a little in the dumps," he said. "The important thing as you close recruiting is that difference-makers come at the end. We've got a difference-maker."
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