- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 22, 2003

SAN DIEGO If Jon Gruden is the star, Bill Callahan is the dark matter. If Gruden is the design, Callahan is the negative space. If Gruden is the fiery red fluttering on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers flag, Callahan is the muted silver accessorizing all that Oakland Raiders black.

Gruden's intensity and "Chucky" visage might be dominating talk of Super Bowl XXXVII, but Callahan's subdued persona and gee-whiz grin were just as key in getting his team this far. Raiders players, to a man, swear by their first-year coach, saying his ability to put them before himself propelled this club not to mention this offense to the top.

"All he cares about is winning," veteran linebacker Bill Romanowski said yesterday. "It's not about his ego; it's not about how much face-time he can get. It's about getting his team prepared."

Said offensive tackle Lincoln Kennedy: "There's no showboating about his personality. He'd rather remain in the shadows."

Even yesterday, at a podium on Super Bowl Media Day what he called "the ultimate" Callahan continued to play down his role in the Raiders' return to this stage after a 19-year hiatus.

Only twice previously had a coach gotten this far in his first year as an NFL head coach Don McCafferty with the 1970 Baltimore Colts and George Seifert with the 1989 San Francisco 49ers. But Callahan just smiled at his accomplishment and offered, "You can call it beginners' luck, I guess."

Many, though, believe there was no luck at all. Callahan runs a disciplined program and, behind the scenes, is said to have intensity to spare. He is willing to spend any amount of time and energy to get his team prepared; Gruden, for his part, described a coach who keeps studying film until he figures out the mismatch that will beat his opponent.

"He's a grinder, and that's the best compliment I can give him," Gruden said. "He watches film fanatically. I don't think he's spending a lot of time on the golf course. I don't think he does the restaurant circuit. He knows everything about your team, and he gets the most out of his team."

To be honest, Callahan looks like he spends a lot of time watching film. While Gruden is one of People Magazine's 50 Most Beautiful People, Callahan is a bit pallid and hardly photogenic. His shoulders are slightly hunched, his hair an afterthought, his eyes grey. And as an orator, he's 100 percent coach-speak, delivering answer after answer in that monotone that makes a 24-point loss to Cincinnati sound no more astonishing than a well-played win over Cleveland.

That monotone, though, was just what Oakland needed when it lost four straight to fall to 4-4 this season. The Raiders then won seven of their last eight and whipped the New York Jets and Tennessee Titans in the playoffs to get here.

"He never wavered," defensive tackle John Parrella recalled. "All he did was make us stronger. We were 4-4 and staring at the toughest part of our schedule, and you never would have known it. He was like, 'We're going to go out, we're going to work hard and we're going to win.' He was the same every single day."

Callahan's no-frills personality has ended up a great replacement for Gruden, who departed the Raiders last winter in a high-profile swap for draft picks and cash. The media, though, talked of a "charisma gap" when Callahan was promoted.

"When I took the job, I said I wanted the charisma to be on the field," Callahan said. "I also said I wanted the product to reflect the players."

It has. Callahan took a gifted offense under Gruden and elevated it to the NFL's No. 1 unit. The effect of his promotion has been like opening the damper in a heat stove, stoking the flame hotter and brighter. The Raiders scuttled Gruden's power running game and went unabashedly to a pass-happy attack, and the result was 279.9 passing yards a game an average of more than 20 yards greater than the No. 2 St. Louis Rams.

"I wanted to transform the offense, to make it more explosive," Callahan said.

His work has erased any doubt that he would coast to victory with the talent and system left behind by Gruden.

"They obviously don't miss me very much," Gruden said with a laugh. "You can't deny that Bill Callahan did an unbelievable job as a football coach."

Few would have predicted it given his low-key background mostly as an offensive line coach and always, in the NFL, in Gruden's shadow. But he felt no pressure, saying his obscurity made him take the job "with nothing to lose."

All he's done, in turn, is win.

"The guy has been right on," Romanowski said. "From the first time I stepped into the facility, the guy has been right on. It's just a feeling you get when you're around him."

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