Austin On Dallas: Bill Callahan Owns Impressive Resume As Play-Caller


As far as professional titles go, Bill Callahan is already the offensive coordinator of the Dallas Cowboys.  However, an offensive coordinator with zero play-calling responsibilities is roughly an inferior assistant OC.

He helps design the game plan during the week, provides ideas and suggestions just as other assistants do, yet final authority rests solely with the play-caller and his prepared strategy.

Come kickoff, Callahan is little more involved with coordinating the overall offense than WR coach Jimmy Robinson, or any other offensive assistant for that matter.

Furthermore, I don’t recall anyone blasting Bill Callahan when the Cowboys ran a 2-yard draw on 3rd and goal from the opponent’s 7 yard line.

To sum it up without all the fluff of extra titles, Callahan is the offensive line coach and Jason Garrett is the offensive coordinator, that’s the tart reality void of Jerry Jones’ sugar coating.

COWBOYS’ FUTURE DIRECTION (Offensive Coordinator)

Since the expected course of action in Dallas leans towards replacing Jason Garrett as play-caller in the very near future, Callahan certainly moves to or near the top of the list.

Especially since the predicted front-runner, Norv Turner, recently signed on as the new OC for the Cleveland Browns.

So let’s take a closer look at Bill Callahan in regards to being the potential new play-caller for the Cowboys.

During his 14 years spent coaching within the NFL ranks, he spent 4 consecutive years (1998-2001) as the sole offensive coordinator and play-caller for the Oakland Raiders.

This translates into Callahan neither sharing nor assuming other duties beyond his title.  His job was intently focused on planning and coordinating the offense during the week, followed by calling the games during showtime.

Since this is the exact position Callahan would be assuming with the Cowboys through a promotion to play-caller, let’s take a close look at the 4 Raider offenses he directed and the circumstances involved.

Below are charts showing the results of the 1998-2001 Raider offenses in data form. Following each section I will discuss the details behind each season to illustrate some of the adjustments, personnel changes, and strategy decisions Callahan made annually.

OAKLAND RAIDERS’ NFL TOTALS (Bill Callahan, Play-Caller)

The dramatic increases in production from season 1, and the constant success achieved for the final 3 years are simply undeniable.  I will get into the differences between 1998 and the following years in the subsections below.

Let’s just say Bill Callahan inherited a roster with second-hand store value, and had to build a Neiman Marcus for a year to get things cranking.

The results he produced are more than impressive…breaking the Top 10 in both scoring and total yards in 3 consecutive seasons.  Even cracking the Top 5 in points scored his final 2 years .

Points scored is crudely the only offensive statistic that counts when the game is over. Achieving beyond 24 points per game in 3 of 4 years consecutively is worthy of heavy praise and serious consideration in itself.

Below is a more detailed look at the rushing and passing results in each year and the circumstances surrounding the players and performances.

RAIDERS’ RUSHING STATISTICS (Bill Callahan, Play-Caller)


Napoleon Kaufman was already the starting running back when Callahan arrived.  He was a first round draft pick in 1995 that never lived up to his draft selection.  At 5’9, 185 Kaufman was a smallish back with quickness but no overly impressive running skills.

His size prevented him from heavy rush loads for the most part.  In 6 years he broke 1,000 yards only once.  It’s no surprise the 1998 rushing offense would finish averagely at 16th in the league.  In the years following, Callahan used him nicely as a change of pace back.


After being cut by the Dolphins in camp, the Raiders snagged former first round pick Tyrone Wheatley.  With Wheatley, Callahan put more emphasis on the run (39 more total carries) and it paid big dividends.

He increased the rush total by 357 yards from 1998, and also tripled the rushing TD’s from 6 to 18.  For a man without a job, Callahan and Gruden plucked a gem from the waste basket in Wheatley.


With even more focus on Wheatley and the run game (32 more carries than 1999), Callahan’s Raider offense had the #1 rushing offense in the entire NFL.  He once again increased the rushing TD total from the year before by adding another 5 to reach 23 total TD’s.

Clearly Callahan found his feature back the year prior and began to utilize his offenses’ strengths right away.  Having a team with a solid QB, and potent receiving targets, Callahan stuck with his bread and butter RB to carry the majority of the load.


The new arrival of WR Jerry Rice and all-purpose, talented receiving back Charlie Garner signaled a shift in offensive philosophy back towards the passing game.  Another example of Callahan adjusting his strategy to fit his players.

Garner was not your average RB.  In 2001, he ran for 839 yards yet caught another 72 balls for 578 yards.  Pair that with legendary WR’s Tim Brown and Jerry Rice (both broke 1,000 receiving yards), and it would’ve been absurd not to tilt focus towards the passing attack.

RAIDER’S PASSING STATISTICS (Bill Callahan, Play-Caller)


Callahan inherited QB Jeff George, Donald Hollas, and Wade Wilson from the previous regime.  While George had been productive in the Raiders’ prior vertical attack, the West-Coast offense was a poor fit for his skills.

Through 8 games George threw 5 INT’s to only 4 TD’s.  It’s also said he was changing plays and calling his own in the huddle.  Callahan and Gruden had enough of George’s poor attitude and injury issuess, and made the switch to Donald Hollas midway through the season.

Hollas was no prize in his own right, being only a year removed from playing arena football.  In his 6-year NFL career he threw 13 TD’s to 21 INT’s, and had an awful 61.8 QB Rating.

The only other option was 39 year old Wade Wilson (current Cowboys’ QB coach) who’s better years were in the rear view mirror.

To compound matters, the offensive line handed to Callahan allowed a league leading 67 sacks.  Needless to say, Callahan gets a pass on the 21st pass ranking, simply for inheriting a dysfunctional cupboard of QB’s and pass blocking o-line.


After 11 mediocre years in the NFL with Minnesota, Washington, and Kansas City, Rich Gannon signed a free agent contract with the Raiders to run their West Coast Offense. Gruden and Callahan somehow knew his skills would translate into gold in their offense.

After never breaking 2,306 yards passing in any of his first 11 years, Gannon went nuclear under Callahan.  He cranked up his production over 1,500 yards higher than the 2,305 the year before with Kansas City (his best season to that point).

In his first season in Oakland, Gannon finished with 3,840 total yards, 24 TD’s to 14 INT’s. The Raider’s passing game jumped 10 spots to 11th in the NFL.

Rich Gannon made the Pro-Bowl 4 straight years (1999-2002), was the AFC player of the year 3 seasons running (2000-2002), and Bill Callahan had saved his star QB from prolonging a lengthy career of mediocrity.

Not to be overlooked, in his second year Callahan’s o-line reduced their sack total from 67 to 49, not ideal but definite progress.


Callahan turned to Tyrone Wheatley and the much improved running game to plow the way in 2000.  Naturally the choice was optimal as they finished 1st in the run.

The passing game remained very effective while lowering it’s total attempts.  Gannon improved his completion percentage from 58.8% to 59.8%.  He became more precise in his TD/INT ratio, jumping from 24/14 to 28/11.  His QB Rating also increased strongly from 86.1 to 92.0.

Not to mention the offense allowed 21 less sacks (49 down to 28).  Even with a reduction in focus on the aerial assault, the passing attack became even more efficient and dangerous.


Enter prized free agents WR Jerry Rice and RB Charlie Garner.  Rice is a Hall of Famer and had plenty left in the tank at that point.  Maybe not as threatening as the icon we all remember in San Francisco, but enough to still post back-to-back 1,000+ yard seasons.

Garner is widely known as one of the top receiving backs in NFL history, he amassed 3,711 receiving yards in 11 NFL seasons.  The year before in 2000, Garner made the Pro Bowl.

Having Tim Brown, Jerry Rice, and Charlie Garner catch 246 balls for 2,882 yards was an impressive feat from only 2 WR’s and a RB.  Clearly Callahan knew the potency of his receiving players and rightfully got the football in their hands often.

Gannon threw 78 more passes than 2000, while improving his completion % to an astounding 65.8%.  Total TD’s barely decreased from 28 to 27, yet INT’s lowered from 11 to 9.

Once again, Callahan’s passing offense improved efficiency.  In his 4 years as OC in Oakland, his passing offense markedly became more efficient each following year.


Before intently researching his time as OC and play-caller in Oakland, I was very concerned about Bill Callahan’s ability to effectively lead the Dallas Cowboys’ offense.  That concern and hesitation has now vanished.

It’s very clear the man knows how to tailor his offenses to magnify the strengths of his players. After washing his hands of the poor talent he inherited in 1998, Callahan began to make huge steps of improvement in all areas.

In points per game he ranked 22nd, 8th, 3rd, and 4th.  His offense cracked the top 10 in points by his second season, and held it above 5th in the NFL both the following two seasons.  No doubt he did an excellent job producing the #1 rushing offense in the NFL in 2000.

From 1999-2001, he finished in the top 10 in both scoring and total yards per game all 3 years.  What more could Dallas ask for from the production of their new OC?

Apparently this guy can coach offenses to score often, and he also significantly improves his quarterback.

He displayed this talent by raising Rich Gannon’s QB rating all 3 years the two paired as OC and QB in Oakland.

Don’t we want the same improvement in efficiency from Tony Romo?

It’s an odd fact that Bill Callahan was OC for Tony Romo’s current QB coach, Wade Wilson. Wade played QB under Callahan during his first year as OC in Oakland. It makes a plethora of sense to have both of them working together with Romo.

The numbers speak for themselves and the progressive improvement in production from year to year is far too much to overlook.  This guy seems to be highly capable of forming strategy around his players’ strengths, and calling/tweaking it during games.

I’m sold on Bill Callahan as the Dallas Cowboys’ new play-caller.  I can guarantee one thing, his 4 years calling plays in Oakland were far more impressive than the best 4 years produced by his boss.