There was plenty of grumbling from the players in that first month, too. Callahan implemented longer, more physical practices, and he made tweaks to the schedule. And he installed a run-first philosophy that leaned heavily on Adrian Peterson.
Not all of the changes were welcomed, but the Redskins have found a way to win three times in Callahan’s tenure.
“It was different at first and kind of hard to adjust to,” running back Chris Thompson said. “It took a while, but then guys got used to it. Guys’ bodies got used to it as well. I felt like it got a lot smoother after going through it for a few weeks or a month. It was a big change. It was totally different from what we had been doing. Just took guys a little minute to get adjusted.”
The Redskins will conduct a wide search for their next coach, and Callahan is unlikely to be the choice, but a shift within the locker room and on the field cannot be brushed aside. Washington won back-to-back games, beating Detroit and Carolina, for the first time since before quarterback Alex Smith broke his leg last season. More importantly, the young offensive core of quarterback Dwayne Haskins and wide receivers Terry McLaurin, Steven Sims Jr. and Kelvin Harmon took significant steps forward.
Callahan said he is proud of the team’s progress.
“I look at the fight of our players,” he said. “I look at the resiliency, and [I] tried to bring back a work ethic into the program that I thought was lacking. I thought our players could have been better fundamentally. … I saw our players get better and compete for four quarters. I saw our players have stamina through four quarters of play. I thought long and hard about improving the team and what aspects I would really focus on. A lot of that was the second-half finish, and I thought we did that.”
Callahan said he has stressed focus, attention to detail and understanding that the margin for success in the NFL is narrow. Under Gruden, multiple players bemoaned a lack of accountability throughout the organization, with individuals freelancing outside the scheme as losses piled up. That continued well into Callahan’s tenure but seems to have been cleaned up some recently.
“We made those adjustments immediately so they could get acclimated to the new schedules, to the new way of doing things,” Callahan said. “I thought that the team responded, actually, really well in terms of the routine, the scheduled meetings, how we were preparing. It was just different from what they were accustomed to."
A youth movement throughout the roster certainly had an effect. The young players, particularly the high draft picks, are safer in the immediate future thanks to their potential — and affordable contracts. There has been a widespread feeling that some veterans wanted to put together good individual tape for future employers, which led to some players operating outside specific play-calls. Much of that seemed to lessen in recent weeks, bringing about some optimism for the future. Yet despite those good feelings, the team still ranks 31st in scoring offense and 24th in scoring defense.
Callahan probably will coach his last game in charge of the Redskins on Sunday, but there has been improvement down the stretch of a season that Thompson called “a terrible situation.”
“It’s a brutal business,” Callahan said. “I always say, ‘It’s a great game, but it’s a brutal business.’ I tell that to the players every day, and that’s where we’re at. … But I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished in the sense of accountability, in the sense of our responsibility day in and day out on the practice field. I’m proud of that aspect from our team.”