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Inside the Titans’ Hiring of Brian Callahan, and Why It Makes Sense

Tennessee’s new head coach confirms an age-old NFL truth: Teams reach for the exact opposite of the person they just fired.

The Tennessee Titans wanted to pivot from what they may have internally described as a monarchy into something more democratic. So the hiring of Brian Callahan, known for his affability and desire to connect to players as the first head coach of the post–Mike Vrabel era, makes a lot of sense in that way.

Here’s what we know the morning after the Titans fired the second shot on the head coaching carousel:

Some in the industry believe Callahan was among the favorites in more than one location (see: Carolina Panthers), so there was a sense of urgency to get his hiring done. Callahan had interviews scheduled at the homes of David Tepper and Arthur Blank in Atlanta in subsequent days, and his candidacy may have been a bit understated and “hotter” (to use the absolute worst terminology in our business) than we thought.

Brian Callahan ushers with his hand as players walk toward him

Callahan flew under the radar the past few years.

Callahan’s hiring happened quickly enough that there were some whispers of concern from others on the periphery of the process wondering whether the Titans either became infatuated and acted quickly on Callahan, or felt all along that Callahan would be their strongest option. Again, Callahan didn’t make it to any of his other interviews.

His hiring also shows the reality of a thin offensive coordinator pool. This is not to suggest that Callahan is a bad coordinator. Rather, it’s quite the opposite. But his hiring does show how some organizations felt the pressure to snag one immediately. The other OC options still available are Ben Johnson, Frank Smith and Dave Canales. And Canales, I know, interviewed well in Carolina.

While it would be cool to reunite Callahan with his father, Bill, the Browns’ offensive line coach, it doesn’t sound like that is going to happen. The Browns have been fiercely protective of Bill in recent years, and he is among the highest-paid assistant coaches in the NFL.

When I met with Joe Burrow last year for our football preview issue and inquired about the offensive coaching staff, Burrow talked about Callahan and Taylor’s ability to be hands-on without being hands-on. Burrow, a notoriously unique character who is immensely private and internally driven, doesn’t need a coach draped around his shoulders like a wet jacket. Instead, the quarterback credited Callahan, whose specialty was turning “laid back” into an art form. Burrow said Callahan made his presence known with a sense of humor—in one example, after discovering that Bengals wide receiver Trenton Irwin had been in a soup commercial as a child, the coordinator embedded it into a weekly installation meeting.

Callahan’s hiring cements an age-old truism about the coach-hiring world: You reach for the exact opposite of the person you just fired, and it plays out in almost comical uniformity. Out the door in Nashville goes a defensive-minded head coach in Mike Vrabel, who desired a hand in every cranny of the organization and was fiercely protective of his relationships with the players. In comes an offensive-minded head coach from the family-run business in Cincinnati, where a more universal culture centered around the whole organization is en vogue.

Brian Callahan, Doug Rosfeld and Zac Taylor stand together

Brian Callahan (left) worked under Zac Taylor (right), who has helped bring the Bengals to new heights.

There will be challenges for this job, though, and Callahan is going in with his eyes wide open. The Titans are going to have to, in effect, start over from an identity standpoint. Some first-time head coaches find that prospect daunting. Others view it as an opportunity.

There is no doubt that Cincinnati’s success without Burrow made an impression. While Callahan had interviewed for head coaching jobs before Burrow’s 2023 injury-marred season, his candidacy reached a new level this winter. In fact, this was a season for offensive play-callers everywhere to showcase their ingenuity with a rash of quarterback injuries.

Jake Browning, Burrow’s backup, went 4–3 as the team’s starter with a stunning 70% completion rate, 12 touchdowns and seven interceptions. This should also place a lot of industry eyes on Bengals quarterbacks coach Dan Pitcher, who is very highly regarded in NFL circles, and would be a sensible replacement for Callahan in Cincinnati.