Nebraska hires Callahan

Published 12:00 am Saturday, January 10, 2004

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) - Bill Callahan's West Coast offense is bound to give Nebraska a new look.

Cornhusker fans will still be able to recognize their team, however.

''He likes nothing more than to play physical football,'' said quarterback Rich Gannon, who played under Callahan for the Oakland Raiders. ''I don't think any of the Nebraska fans have to worry about that.''

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Callahan, who became the first outsider in more than 40 years to be hired to coach the Cornhuskers, will bring an NFL-style passing offense to a program that built its success on a dominant running game.

''There's the ability to feature the run more and pass less or pass more and run less. That will be predicated on matchup factors, weather factors and our talent base," Callahan said.

Callahan said that he would unveil the West Coast offense, which typically features a short, controlled passing game.

That's in complete contrast to the option running attack former coach Tom Osborne used with so much success in Lincoln during his 25-year Hall of Fame coaching career.

''He's the coach, and he'll have to determine what game is best for Nebraska,'' Osborne said. ''There are lots of ways to win ballgames.''

While athletic director Steve Pederson said Callahan's success as a recruiter was one of the reasons behind his hire, Callahan hopes his offense will do some recruiting on its own.

''The product appeals to a lot of young players who are looking for the opportunity to someday enhance their career as a professional,'' Callahan said. ''To bring the West Coast system into Nebraska will be pivotal. But it's also a system that is very flexible and tailor-made and fashioned to a player's talent.''

The switch in offensive styles mirrors a similar change made when Oklahoma hired Bob Stoops before the 1999 season. The Sooners have become the dominant team in the Big 12 under Stoops, winning one national championship and playing for another this season.

Slipping behind conference rivals Oklahoma and Texas prompted Pederson to fire coach Frank Solich on Nov. 29, after a 9-3 regular season.

Pederson said he expects the program to be in the running for a national championship every year. Since 1970, the Huskers have won or shared five national titles, most recently in 1997.

Callahan inherits a program that has won only 17 of its last 29 games, including a 7-7 campaign in 2002 - the Huskers' worst record in 41 years.

''Winning the national championship - that goal will never change,'' Callahan said. ''The aspiration to measure up to the legacy of the previous success here is critical. When I met the players today, I felt that they wanted to do that again.''

Callahan's hiring ended a long search in which at least three candidates withdrew their names from consideration. He agreed to a six-year contract that pays a base salary of $325,000. His total annual package is worth $1.5 million.

Pederson hearkened back to his days as a recruiting coordinator when describing the search for Callahan.

''In recruiting, there are great days when something happens and others when you get a little in the dumps,'' he said. ''The important thing as you close recruiting is that difference-makers come at the end. We've got a difference-maker.''