LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) - Ten days after getting run out of Oakland, Bill Callahan walked into Lincoln and took over one of the nation's most high-profile
college football programs. Time will tell whether it's a soft landing for the man who two years ago led the Raiders to the Super Bowl.
But one thing's for sure.
"It's a fresh start," Callahan said.
A fresh start for Callahan and the Cornhuskers, who despite playing for a national title in 2001 have lost their place among college football's elite
since the championship years of the mid-1990s. Athletic director Steve Pederson took a calculated risk by firing Frank Solich, who had a 58-19 record
after serving as Tom Osborne's right-hand man for 19 years, and hiring Callahan, an outsider who had never visited the state before his job
It didn't help Pederson when the usually stoic Osborne appeared weepy during a news conference the coach turned-congressman called to criticize the
decision to dismiss his hand-picked successor. The 48-year-old Callahan has tried to appease the old-guard fans, promising to stay true to the past.
He invites former players to visit practice, and he's keeping alive traditions such as calling the defensive starters "Blackshirts."
But Callahan has made fast and decisive changes.
Nebraska's signature, stop-us-if-you-can triple-option offense is out. The modern-age West Coast offense is in. A stable of assistant coaches who
loyally served Osborne and Solich are out. In are new lieutenants who, except for receivers coach Turner Gill and tight ends coach Scott Downing, have
no previous ties to the Huskers. A roster that often numbered 200-plus in the Osborne and Solich days has been trimmed to 126, raising concerns among
Nebraska high school coaches that homegrown players will have reduced opportunities to play for the Big Red.
"I knew the history of Nebraska," Callahan said. "I will say that the more you're immersed in this position, you get a real appreciation and a deep
respect for what these fans are all about and what Nebraska football means to the state."
He says he's not wary of working at a place where his predecessor was fired after posting a .753 winning percentage.
"Expectations are high, and I embrace that," he said. "That's part of the folklore here."
Callahan was a college assistant for 15 years before going to the NFL in 1995, and he built a reputation as an outstanding recruiter.
Quarterback Joe Dailey said the players have taken to Callahan's more gregarious style.
"Coach Solich was a silent guy," Dailey said. "Coach Callahan is a very vocal guy. He talks up a storm and gets you excited."
Callahan went to Oakland as offensive coordinator in 1998. After Jon Gruden left for Tampa Bay after the 2001 season, Callahan was promoted to head
coach. In his first year the Raiders led the NFL in offense and reached the Super Bowl, where they lost to Gruden's Buccaneers. Callahan's second
season as head coach ended with his firing on Dec. 31 after a 4-12 campaign. A team that initially appeared primed to make another run at the Super
Bowl was beset by injuries, and by the end of the year a vocal group of veterans had turned on Callahan.
Callahan won't discuss his departure from Oakland other than to say, "Any time you spend too long a time in one place, it can wear on you. My time was
up in Oakland. It was time to move on, move forward." Pederson contacted Callahan after at least three other candidates withdrew from consideration.
Callahan said it was an easy decision to come to Nebraska. He signed a six-year contract that, with incentives and perks, is worth $1.5 million a
"He's a Nebraska kind of guy," Pederson said. "My hope would be that I would never have to hire another football coach. I think we've got a guy who
will have a tremendous career at Nebraska."
Although things ended badly for him in Oakland, Callahan said he doesn't have anything to prove as a coach.
"Something to prove? That's a revenge factor, and that's not in my makeup," Callahan said. "There are good coaches in this conference, and I come in
here humble and respectful."
At the same time, Callahan knows he must win soon and often.
"There is a history of winning here that you have to measure up to," he said. "Being a national champion and having that goal is no different than
shooting for the Super Bowl each year you're in the National Football League."