Brian Callahan said he would have followed Zac Taylor anywhere to be on his staff, though the two had never actually talked about potentially working together until last month when it became apparent Taylor would be named the Cincinnati Bengals head coach.
The Bengals announced Callahan on Thursday as Taylor’s offensive coordinator, putting to rest another long-awaited hire that had been leaked weeks ago. Raiders coach Jon Gruden spilled the beans at the Senior Bowl last month that Callahan had left his position as Oakland’s quarterbacks coach to join Taylor’s staff in Cincinnati.
Callahan, 34, had never coached with 35-year-old Taylor before but had come to know him through his father, Bill Callahan, who was Taylor’s college coach at Nebraska. He, like his dad, admired Taylor as a peer quarterback, and the two would often meet up at the NFL Combine and kept in touch over the years to talk football and shared opponents.
“I think we communicate really well together and we have a really good foundation for what we see football as and how we see football,” said Callahan, who also spent time as quarterbacks coach with the Detroit Lions (2016-17) and offensive assistant for the Denver Broncos (2010-15). “We see it the same way, and I think our relationship is really going to allow us to communicate effectively.”
The two former quarterbacks grew up as coaches on the offensive side of the ball, and Callahan said they both developed their offensive mindset based around the West Coast offense Bill Callahan used at Nebraska.
Taylor effectively ran the offense during his two years as starting quarterback for the Cornhuskers from 2005-06 and was the Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year as a senior. Callahan grew up around his dad’s coaching career, which included a six-year stint with the Raiders.
“I’ve been going in football locker rooms since I was a kid,” Callahan said. “I’ve been around it a long time, and when I was old enough to really start enjoying football, not just because I was tagging along with my dad to work, I started sitting in meetings. I sat in Jon Gruden’s meetings when I was 14. When I was in high school, I would throw at training camp and OTAs. I threw passes to Jerry Rice and Tim Brown as a 15-year-old in training camp. I would work in training camp, and it was really cool. That’s kind of where my love of football started.”
Though Callahan and Taylor learned from some of the same coaches, they also bring their own unique experiences to the Bengals’ offense. Taylor will be calling the plays but Callahan will serve as an offensive coordinator every other day of the week besides game-day, when he will more or less serve as Taylor’s eyes and ears from the booth.
“ “I think the relationship between him and I, regardless of the play-calling structure, is just as important if I was calling the plays and he was the head coach and vice versa,” Callahan said. “If he’s calling the plays, I still have to function as the offensive coordinator as far as with the staff and how we implement things and how we game-plan. The play calling thing is really irrelevant to what the relationship is going to be and the function of my job here. Outside of just the game day, I think it would be the same as any offensive coordinator in the league.”
Because Taylor is calling the plays with help from Callahan upstairs, it’s important they be on the same page, but Taylor said he didn’t want an offensive coordinator who would always agree with him. Callahan, he said, is a good listener but isn’t afraid to think outside the box and express his ideas.
“He’s been around a prolific offense in Denver and operated in similar systems that we did in L.A. (with the Rams), so I think it will be a great blend of ideas and cohesion,” Taylor said. “It’s important to hire people challenging you.”