Callahan fired by Raiders
ALAMEDA, Calif. — Bill Callahan went from the Super Bowl to the unemployment line in less than a year.
The Oakland Raiders announced Callahan’s firing Wednesday, just one season after he took the team within a victory of an NFL championship as a rookie head coach.
The team told Callahan a day earlier. He asked to delay the announcement because his son Brian’s college team, UCLA, played in a bowl game Tuesday night.
Openly criticized by his players, Callahan went 15-17 overall and 4-12 this season, the Raiders’ worst record since 1997 and the biggest drop by a Super Bowl team.
He was fired shortly after quarterback Rich Gannon criticized Callahan and offensive coordinator Marc Trestman for a bad offensive system.
Owner Al Davis — his team unable to live up to his motto of “Just Win, Baby!” — is not known for patience with coaches. Callahan, who earned $1 million a season, completed the second year of a two-year contract, and Davis declined a series of one-year club options that could have kept Callahan in Oakland through the 2006 season.
Callahan, a seven-year NFL assistant with no previous head coaching experience, was promoted from offensive coordinator when Jon Gruden went to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers after the 2001 season. Gruden’s Bucs beat Callahan’s Raiders 48-21 in the 2003 Super Bowl.
This season, though, the Raiders tied for the worst record in the NFL with the Chargers, Cardinals and Giants. They ended their season with a 21-14 loss Sunday at San Diego.
There was speculation for weeks that Callahan would be dismissed. Now the Raiders are the seventh NFL team without a head coach — nearly a quarter of the league.
“I don’t think he was happy there, and I don’t think everybody was happy with him,” left guard Frank Middleton said Wednesday. “I felt like something had to be done, either with the players or with the coach.”
Callahan’s agent, Gary O’Hagan, declined comment. Calls to the coach’s office weren’t returned and he reportedly packed up days ago. Callahan is thought to be headed to Tampa Bay to join Gruden’s staff.
Some potential replacements are former Vikings and Stanford coach Dennis Green, former Raiders coach Art Shell, and the other recently fired NFL coaches. Also mentioned are several top assistants — including 49ers defensive coordinator Jim Mora and Jets defensive coordinator Ted Cottrell, who was fired Tuesday.
The Raiders released a statement expressing appreciation for Callahan, calling the Super Bowl his “shining hour.”
Several players earlier said they expected and welcomed a coaching change. Last month, Callahan called his squad the “dumbest team in America,” and he then suspended stars Charles Woodson and Charlie Garner for the season finale for missing curfew.
Woodson was among Callahan’s harshest critics, saying the coach is stubborn and lost control of the team.
Gannon, who met with Davis on Tuesday, believes he — not the coaching staff — unfairly took the blame during the early weeks of the season before he was injured.
“Here I sit today feeling like in some small way I have to defend myself and defend my performance over the last five years here. … It’s a disgrace. It’s disrespectful to me,” Gannon said.
Callahan faced tough circumstances, with 12 players going on injured reserve.
“I don’t think he should have been fired. He coached through a lot of injuries this year,” Middleton said. “I don’t think it was all his fault.”
Still, with so many players back from an AFC championship team, Callahan acknowledged the Raiders underachieved.
The Raiders made costly mistakes in all phases of the game, and often beat themselves with penalties. After Oakland’s 22-8 loss to the Denver Broncos on Nov. 30, Callahan was incensed.
“We’ve got to be the dumbest team in America in terms of playing the game!” Callahan shouted to reporters. “I’m highly critical because of the way we give games away — we give ’em away! Period. It’s embarrassing, and I represent that. And I apologize for that. If that’s the best we can do, it’s a sad product.”