Before he was Joe Burrow’s offensive coordinator, he was Matthew Stafford’s quarterbacks coach. And now that Cincinnati Bengals assistant Brian Callahan is on the verge of coaching in another Super Bowl, the former Detroit Lions position coach said he might not be where is if not for his time in Detroit.
“That was really a formative time for me,” Callahan said Tuesday at Super Bowl 56. “My relationship with Matthew was outstanding. I loved coaching him, loved going to work with him every day. He’s a phenomenal competitor. It’s no surprise to me that we’re playing him in this game on Sunday.”
Callahan, in his third season as Bengals coordinator, spent two years as Lions quarterbacks coach in 2016-17, his first full-time gig as a position coach in the NFL.
The son of longtime college and NFL coach Bill Callahan, Brian got his start coaching as a graduate assistant at UCLA, where the Bengals are practicing this week ahead of their game Sunday against Stafford’s Los Angeles Rams.
He entered the NFL as a low-level assistant with the Denver Broncos in 2010, won a Super Bowl with the team in 2015, when he worked closely with then-quarterback Peyton Manning, and joined Jim Caldwell’s staff with the Lions as quarterbacks coach the next season after his former Denver colleague, Jim Bob Cooter, took over full-time as offensive coordinator.
Just 31 years old at the time, Callahan called his time in Detroit “a blast” and said he learned invaluable lessons about coaching from Stafford and then-Lions backup Dan Orlovsky.
The Lions traded Stafford to the Rams last January for Jared Goff and three draft picks.
“They really made me a better coach, the two of them,” Callahan said. “And Matthew in particular, just getting to know a different style. He was a different style than I had been around previously. His leadership style was different. His preparation was different. Everybody has things that work for them and I just really learned how to communicate with Matthew and with the quarterback position and what that should look like for a guy that’s in his 10th year or 11th year, and now I get to do it with Joe Burrow who’s in his second.”
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Callahan does not call offensive plays in Cincinnati. Those duties reside with Bengals head coach Zac Taylor.
But he is considered a rising star in NFL circles and interviewed for the Broncos head coaching job earlier this winter.
Burrow praised his coordinator Monday for the collaborative approach he’s taken to putting together game plans. The Bengals had the NFL’s seventh-highest scoring offense this season and Burrow threw for 4,611 yards and 34 touchdowns in his return from a torn ACL.
“My relationship with Brian is great, just like it is with all of our offensive coaches,” Burrow said. “I really feel comfortable expressing my opinion on certain plays and I’ve really appreciated that they take my opinion into account when formulating the game plan, and it’s worked out for us.”
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Stafford, who texted with Callahan after both clinched a trip to the Super Bowl, said he is not surprised by the success his old coach has had since leaving Detroit.
Callahan spent a year as Oakland Raiders quarterbacks coach before landing the coordinator job in Cincinnati.
“Cally’s a special guy, was a great coach for me,” Stafford said Monday. “He’s a rising star, man. He’s a great mind and just happy I got to spend some time with him and I know the Bengals got to be extremely happy to have him on staff, doing what he’s doing, helping out their guys.”
For Callahan, the admiration is mutual.
“I was hoping he would get a chance to get here,” Callahan said of Stafford. “I didn’t necessarily want to play against him, but I’m really happy for him and all the things that he’s done and gone through to be where he’s at is pretty awesome. And he’s one of my favorite players I’ve ever been around and he was a lot of fun to work with.”