Bill Callahan Having Success in Dallas
For many Nebraska fans, the name Callahan is almost a four-letter word. He broke a string of 35 straight bowl appearances by NU, had the first losing season for the school in more than four decades (and then did it again), and allowed the Husker defenses to deteriorate to some of the worst in school history. His NFL resume isn't nearly as undistinguished. After taking the Raiders to the Super Bowl in his first year in Oakland, things fell apart a year later and he ended up in Lincoln. His stint with the New York Jets as offensive line coach saw him send 3 players to a combined nine Pro-Bowls in just four years. Now as offensive coordinator for the Dallas Cowboys, he's got the team third in the NFL in scoring behind only Denver and Seattle. As important, the Cowboys are doing an outstanding job of avoiding turnovers. It's hard not to give the man credit as an offensive mind in the NFL. How might we look at his Husker offenses in hindsight?
A Rocky Start
It's fair to say his initial season was doomed from the outset. His best quarterback was Joe Dailey, who despite two years of experience as a starting quarterback was ultimately relegated to the role of reserve wide receiver at another school by the end of his college career. Still, Callahan managed to improve the Husker offense in terms of scoring and total yards. That improvement felt a bit hollow given his team's 5-6 record. Still in his hastily assembled first recruiting class, he managed to hold the commitment from receiver Nate Swift and lineman Mike Huff, and add Terrence Nunn, running back Brandon Jackson, linemen Cornealius Thomas and Lydon Murtha, and quarterback Joe Ganz.
Laying a Foundation
With a full season to recruit, Callahan assembled an outstanding class that featured most notably Ndamukong Suh. Quarterback Zac Taylor was the big get offensively along with running backs Marlon Lucky and Cody Glenn, wideout Frantz Hardy, and linemen Matt Slauson and Jacob Hickman. After struggling to a 5-4 start, the team finished strong (particularly on offense) ending three years of futility against Kansas State, "restoring the order" at Colorado, and upsetting Michigan in the Alamo Bowl.
Hitting its Stride
His next recruiting haul added four o-linemen including Ricky Henry, D.J. Jones, Carl Nicks, and Keith Williams, along with tight end Mike McNeil and wideout Maurice Purify. By the end of the 2006 season, the offense had climbed into the top 20 and Zac Taylor had become the Big 12 offensive player of the year. Brandon Jackson was also a first-team all-conference running back and Slauson and Purify also gaining recognition. As important, the Huskers had won their first division title in 7 years.
Hopes were high heading into the 2007 season. Callahan added some offensive firepower with recruits like wideout Niles Paul, running backs Roy Helu and Quentin Castille, and tackle Marcel Jones. The offense climbed into the top 10 for total yards. But defensive problems led to five straight losses (many of them ugly) after a 4-1 start. Joe Ganz had become a bright spot by season's end, but another losing season cost Callahan his job. Lucky, Purify, and the entire offensive line would get some kind of all-conference recognition.
While Callahan's overall legacy at Nebraska is poor, his recruiting paid dividends after his departure. More importantly was his modernization of the Husker offense. While many fans grew up loving the triple option, there was still some envy of the outstanding wide receivers churned out by other programs. Even power rushing schools like Michigan had their Anthony Carters and Desmond Howards. While young recruits may not know the Huskers as the national power it was under Tom Osborne, it's now recognized as a viable if not promising destination for a receiver with NFL aspirations. There's a momentum at the position that's been established that's brought an inflow of talented wideouts. Two four-star receivers are visiting just this weekend and one's already committed. The Huskers have shown that they can not only lure big talents but also develop them.
Callahan's success with the Jets and Dallas hold little relevance to what happens in Lincoln these days. But some of his offensive achievements as NU's head man have allowed the Huskers to become a team that can feature the pass in a way it never had before his arrival.