Three weeks after Jon Gruden left the Raiders for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Oakland offensive coordinator Bill Callahan was promoted to head coach, the Raiders annnounced March 12.
Callahan, 45, becomes the fifth Raiders head coach since 1994 and 13th in franchise history. He's the seventh Raiders assistant to be promoted to head coach since 1966 (the others: John Rauch, John Madden, Tom Flores, Art Shell, Mike White and Joe Bugel).
Callahan, who has no previous head coaching experience, reportedly was the leading candidate after team owner Al Davis traded Gruden's contract rights to Tampa Bay on Feb. 18. Davis received two first-round draft choices, two second-round choices and $8 million from the Bucs to release Gruden from the final year of his contract with Oakland.
Callahan received a two- or three-year contract with a club option for two years, according to published reports. He'll earn $1 million annually, ranking among the lowest paid head coaches in the NFL. By contrast, Gruden signed a five-year, $17.5 million deal with the Buccaneers.
Speaking at a news conference March 13 to announce his appointment at the Raiders training complex in Alameda (Calif.), Callahan said, "This is a day I've looked forward to my whole life."
Callahan (right) was Oakland's offensive coordinator under Gruden from 1998-2001. He coached tight ends in 1998 and the offensive line the last three seasons. Callahan, the offensive line coach for the Philadelphia Eagles from 1995-1997, has a reputation for getting the most out of his players. Despite season-ending injuries to Oakland starters Barret Robbins and Mo Collins, the offensive line was one of the Raiders' strengths in 2001. Backup center Adam Treu showed he's a capable starter as Robbins' replacement while Barry Sims, an undrafted free agent, has emerged as an outstanding left tackle.
The Raiders offense made major strides since Callahan took over as its offensive line coach. The Raiders allowed 49 sacks in 1999, 28 in 2000 and 27 (a franchise low) in 2001. In 1998, the year before Callahan became Oakland's offensive line coach, the Raiders surrendered a whopping 67 sacks. The Raiders led the league in rushing and ranked third in scoring and yards allowed in 2000. They ranked fourth in points in 2001.
Davis told reporters March 13 that Callahan was appointed "captain of the coaches" shortly after Gruden's departure. Davis observed Callahan as the coaching staff pursued free agents and evaluated draft prospects at the Indianapolis scouting combine. "I wanted to see Bill function in that role to see how the organization would operate, see how we would do in the free-agent market," Davis said.
The Raiders reportedly didn't ask another team for permission to interview an assistant coach for the opening. Former Raiders coach Art Shell and ex-Vikings coach Dennis Green were among the rumored candidates to succeed the popular Gruden, who had a 40-28 record in four seasons with Oakland.
During Callahan's on-the-job tryout, Davis said the Raiders received inquiries from potential candidates with impressive resumes. "I can honestly say some fine head coaches wanted to come," Davis said. "I can honestly say some assistants wanted to come. And I can say some people who are on the fringe, who are not coaching right now, contemplated it. But that wasn't what we wanted at this time and in this place."
Callahan said he didn't object to an evaluation period, even if another coach was chosen as Gruden's replacement.
"I just tried to feel as comfortable as I could be and be myself," he said. "Whatever was going to happen was going to happen. I was very hopeful, but I wasn't going to be disappointed."
Callahan and Gruden are driven, detailed coaches with contrasting public demeanor. Callahan kept a low profile on the sideline as a Raiders assistant, just the opposite to the animated, camera-friendly Gruden.
"I'm not concerned about the effect of charisma or what people think of that," Callahan said. "I'm more concerned about our team being charismatic on the field. I'm more concerned that the product on the field is an exciting product and one that the fans can embrace."
Callahan was a three-year starting quarterback at Illinois-Benedictine. He worked as an assistant at Illinois from 1980-86, coached the offensive line and special teams at Northern Arizona in 1987-88 and was offensive coordinator at Southern Illinois in 1989. In 1990, Callahan went to Wisconsin and then joined the Eagles in 1995.