“This is different territory for me,” Callahan said. “Bittersweet in a lot of ways. To replace a veteran coach in Jay and to be asked to lead a program, now, in Week 6. Unchartered waters for me, real privilege and an honor to lead this team.”
Callahan, 63, begins his second stint as an NFL head coach under less-than-ideal circumstances, after Gruden was fired with a 35-49-1 career record. He will face the task of coaching a team still searching for its first win and featuring an unsettled quarterback situation involving veterans Colt McCoy and Case Keenum and first-round rookie Dwayne Haskins.
Previously Washington’s offensive line and assistant head coach, Callahan was head coach of the Oakland Raiders from 2002 to 2003, a stint that included a Super Bowl appearance, before spending four seasons as the head coach at the University of Nebraska. He returned to the NFL in 2008 as an assistant with the New York Jets before moving on to the Dallas Cowboys in 2012 and joining the Redskins in 2015.
The decision to go with Callahan marks a bit of a shift in coaching styles. One current player, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said that while Gruden’s firing was “sad” and the coach hadn’t lost the locker room, many players could welcome the hard-charging style of Callahan, whom the player referred to as a “hard a--.”
That change in style might be what is needed for a team seeking its first victory ahead of a road game against the winless Miami Dolphins. Gruden was known as a players’ coach and not necessarily a disciplinarian, though players noted a more intense Gruden this season.
Callahan is known for pushing his players aggressively. The offensive linemen are routinely the last position group on the field after Washington practices — something that elicits different opinions. Some believe the extra work is positive, while others wonder if it leads to increased injuries. The offensive line has been one of the more injury-prone positions on a team that has had 20-plus players on injured reserve the past two seasons. Pro Bowl right guard Brandon Scherff and starting center Chase Roullier have missed the past two games.
“I envision ourselves as a running team,” Callahan said Monday. “I’d like to get our run game going. That’s important because everything else is complementary off it.”
The biggest decision Callahan faces may be centered on Haskins. With the team unlikely to compete for a playoff spot, many have called for the team to play Haskins in hopes of evaluating him and accelerating his development. However, the coaching staff previously didn’t deem him ready to play, and Allen said in remarks Monday that Callahan has free rein to choose his starting quarterback.
Callahan said that while he doesn’t know who will start against Miami, he isn't ready to start Haskins.
“He will be [the starter] at some point in time,” Callahan said. “We’re going to continue to develop him and heighten his maturation process, try to get him on schedule so he is prepared.” He added that Haskins could be active or inactive on game days. “We’ll see as we move along.”
Callahan declined to detail all of the changes he would like to make, but he did say there would be adjustments to schedules, the way the team practices and what will be demanded in meetings. He said he will keep the current defensive staff and that offensive coordinator Kevin O’Connell will call plays.
Callahan would not say whether he wanted the job permanently, saying: “I’ve been auditioning for over 20 years in the National Football League. I’m not auditioning [for] nothing but trying to get our team better. … I’m not worried about me.”
Callahan and Allen were adamant Monday about wanting the team to improve and have immediate success.
“As we go forward, I’m going to rely on the staff … and the leadership of our team to change the course,” Callahan said. “There’s no magic formula to all of a sudden [turn] into a winning team. But I do think the formula of working hard and preparing hard and preparing better, I think those things are in the control of the staff and players. … We need more consistent effort.”