NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Brian Callahan felt an immediate connection with the Tennessee Titans, so much so he wanted their job as head coach as he wrapped up his first Zoom interview.
The feeling was mutual.
That's why Callahan didn't leave Tennessee's headquarters Monday without agreeing to be their next coach after his in-person interview.
“This is the place that I wanted to be," Callahan said Thursday when introduced as the sixth coach since this franchise moved to Tennessee in 1997 and 20th all time. "And again, I’m very thankful that they felt the same way.”
Titans controlling owner Amy Adams Strunk noted both she and Callahan shared a connection of fathers who worked in the NFL and passed down their love of the game.
The late Bud Adams, founded this team in 1960 as the Houston Oilers in the AFL. Her new coach grew up around the league with his father, Bill, currently coaching Cleveland's offensive line who coached the then-Oakland Raiders to an AFC championship by beating the Titans in January 2003.
Callahan, 39, was the first man the Titans interviewed starting the process of replacing Mike Vrabel, who was fired by Strunk on Jan. 9 after six seasons with 18 losses in his final 24 games. Strunk said Callahan exceeded all expectations, especially an immediate connection with general manager Ran Carthon.
“It was clear how the meeting quickly shifted from your standard interview to a player breakdown session that he and Ran had a very special chemistry between them,” Strunk said. “Honestly, watching that interaction unfold made us even more confident that he was our next head coach.”
Callahan becomes the seventh son to follow his father as a non-interim head coach in the NFL. That group includes Wade and and the late Bum Phillips, the Jim Moras, Dick and Mike Nolan, Don and Dave Shula, the late Buddy and Rex Ryan and Mike and Kyle Shanahan.
Telling his father he's now a first-time NFL head coach was “very cool.” Callahan said he knows not many fathers and sons have had this experience.
“Just the fact that I’ve been able to stand up here and he’s been able to do the same thing, for me that’s a huge honor,” Callahan said. “Obviously, you want to be like your dad, you know?”
Callahan spent the past five seasons as Cincinnati’s offensive coordinator. He helped the Bengals win two AFC North titles and reach two AFC championship games. They lost the Super Bowl after beating the AFC’s then-top-seeded Titans in the 2021 season.
The Titans are counting on Callahan to develop Will Levis, the 33rd overall pick in 2023, based on his work over his 14 NFL seasons with quarterbacks ranging from Joe Burrow, Derek Carr and Matthew Stafford to Peyton Manning. Levis went 3-6 as a rookie.
Callahan said Levis was part of the draw to Tennessee as well. He also saw real growth and learning in Levis’ limited playing time as a rookie. Callahan said he can’t wait both to help Levis develop further and score more points for the Titans.
“The NFL is hard. It’s hard on quarterbacks,” Callahan said. “It’s particularly hard on young ones. And so, I saw a lot of really positive things, some of the throws, some of his competitive instincts that he put on tape, were really impressive.”
The Titans also have the seventh overall pick in this April’s draft and the second-most salary cap space in the NFL to speed up their rebuild. Carthon now has roster control and final say over Callahan's coaching staff under a promotion announced Wednesday also making him an executive vice president.
Tennessee has 24 pending free agents led by two-time NFL rushing champ Derrick Henry. Two other AFC South teams, Indianapolis and reigning division champ Houston, also rank fourth and fifth for most cap space for 2024.
But Callahan helped Burrow rank fifth in the NFL, averaging 270.8 yards since entering the league in 2020. Burrow also has tied for the third-best completion percentage and has the seventh-best passer rating at 98.6.
Callahan worked with Cincinnati coach Zac Taylor who handled the play-calling with the coordinator’s input. The Bengals have been the NFL’s sixth-best scoring offense, averaging 24.9 points a game since 2021, and they have had three different 1,000-yard wide receivers led by Ja’Marr Chase.
The Titans? They've had only five total 1,000-yard receiving seasons by a player since 2013, and the most recent time this franchise had a pair of 1,000-yard receivers in the same season was 2004.
Callahan plans to follow Taylor’s example and call plays himself. He credited his former boss with helping prepare him for this moment over the past five seasons. He has to fix an offense that was among the NFL's worst in 2023, including 29th in passing and tied for 27th scoring 17.9 points a game.
First, Callahan has to fill out his coaching staff. He couldn't discuss his father as a possible hire since he's under contract with Cleveland. He will be working with Carthon to fix a roster for a franchise that has led the NFL in most players used each of the past three seasons.
“Hunting at the same time isn’t the same as hunting together,” Carthon said. “Under Brian Callahan, we will be going out and hunting together.”
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