Brian Callahan had six years of NFL coaching experience when he arrived in Detroit ahead of the 2016 season, but it would be his first season running his own position group.
After spending the past four years working with Peyton Manning in Denver, Callahan was tasked with heading Detroit’s quarterback room, led by Matthew Stafford and Dan Orlovsky, two guys close to the same age as the then 31-year-old assistant.
Now in his third season as the Bengals offensive coordinator, preparing for a Super Bowl matchup against Stafford’s Los Angeles Rams, Callahan reflects fondly on that formative experience in Detroit.
“They really made me a better coach, the two of them, and Matthew, in particular,” Callahan said. “Getting to know a different style — he was a different style (quarterback) than I’d been around previously. His leadership style was different, his preparation was different. Everybody has things that work for them and I really just learned how to communicate with Mathew and with the quarterback position and what that should look like for a guy in his 10th year, his 11th year.
“Now I get to do that with Joe Burrow who is in his second (season),” Callahan said. “That was a really formative time for me. My relationship with Matthew was outstanding. I loved coaching him, I 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.”
Stafford said earlier this week that the two had stayed in regular communication, while Callahan said he’s naturally continued to pull for his former pupil.
“I was hoping he’d have a chance to get here,” Callahan said. “I didn’t necessarily want to play against him, but I’m really happy for him, and all the things he’s done and gone through to be where he’s at is pretty awesome. He’s one of my favorite players I’ve ever been around and he was a lot of fun to work with.”
Callahan isn’t the only Bengals coach who previously worked with Stafford. Linebacker coach Al Golden had the unique opportunity to work collaboratively with the quarterback as part of Detroit’s offensive staff, coaching the team’s tight end from 2016-17. The next two seasons, after a role change under coach Matt Patricia, Golden had to prepare the Lions linebackers to battle against Stafford daily on the practice field.
“Incredible character, team guy, just an incredible four years and an honor to be with him,” Golden said. “It’s always a challenge to defend Matt and it’s a great opportunity for our defense to go against Matt. So much respect for Matthew and just the incredible person he is. It was such an incredible experience to be in the same locker room with him, watch him operate on a daily basis and watch him operate on game days.”
Golden also highlighted Stafford’s toughness, which is well-known locally, starting with the quarterback returning to the field to throw a game-winning touchdown with a separated shoulder as a rookie. That reputation only grew over time as he pushed through a number of injuries and ailments during an eight-year, 136-game ironman streak for the franchise.
Callahan said that type of toughness is a necessary quality to be a great quarterback in the NFL and it’s something both Stafford and Burrow possess.
“I do think that the trademark of guys who have made their mark in this league playing quarterback are guys that can demonstrate the toughness and the ability to stand in there to make the really big throw when the moment requires it, knowing they’re going to get hit, knowing it’s not going to feel good and they’re going to have to pick themselves up off the turf,” Callahan said. “That’s going to happen a few times a game, and I would say, in my experiences, there’s not going to be too many guys, at any position, that are tougher than Matthew Stafford.
“Then I got a chance to work with Joe and he’s right there with him, as far as some of the toughest players I’ve ever seen and ever been around,” Callahan continued. “They do a great job displaying their toughness at a position where it’s sometimes difficult to do that. They’re both warriors. They are both hardnosed, tough dudes. They can stand in the pocket, they’re unafraid to make a big play when it’s necessary and take a hit when they need to.”