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Coaching Education of Titans’ Brian Callahan Has Roots in Storied High School Program

Once upon a time, Tennessee Titans coach Brian Callahan was a backup quarterback warming the bench with the greatest high school football program ever. He never did play much, but the coaches who nurtured him say he was always a brilliant student of the game.
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NASHVILLE — When he was an aspiring high school quarterback 20-plus years ago, newly hired Tennessee Titans coach Brian Callahan got his start with the type of honest player evaluation necessary to be successful in coaching. He took a hard look at himself.

Callahan was competing unsuccessfully for playing time at De La Salle High School in Concord, Calif., one of the most storied high school football programs in prep sports history. Callahan was talented, but he would never be good enough to displace starting quarterback Matt Gutierrez, who would go on to play college football at the University of Michigan and Idaho State before spending two seasons in the National Football League. 

De La Salle's celebrated coach, Bob Ladoucer, never forgot how Callahan handled the situation. 

"He stuck it out at De La Salle because he loved the school and our program," Ladoucer told "I told him before the season started, ‘The chances of you beating out Matt are very slim. You could transfer and we won’t hold it against you.’ He said absolutely not. He was great running our scout team. He loved the game. He was a tough kid and a good runner. He was the kind of kid you want on your team.”

Leaving De La Salle would have taken remarkable gumption for a teenager. Callahan was the backup quarterback in 2000 and 2001 when the high school was nationally renowned for its years-long winning streak, and his coach was already a legend.

Ladouceur would post a remarkable 93.4% winning percentage — 399-25-3 — in his 34-year career. The De La Salle Spartans set a national record of 151 consecutive wins from 1992 to 2004.

Sixteen De La Salle players have reached the NFL as players. Only one De La Salle kid, the scout teamer with a love for the game, has become an NFL head coach.

"(Brian) always had a brilliant mind for the game," said Ladoucer, 69, who retired as a coach in 2013. "You never had to tell him anything twice. He could see things on the field that other people couldn't. It's not surprising to any of us who knew that he's accomplished so much in coaching at such a young age."

Callahan's journey to the Tennessee Titans — his first head coaching job ever — is rooted in his willingness to learn and face obstacles directly. In Tennessee, he encounters a Titans roster that includes a developing quarterback, a struggling offensive line, and 24 free agents.

Bob Ladouceur head coach of De La Salle's nationally renowned football team stands with his players during the national anthem Friday October 7, 2011.

De La Salle High School football legend Bob Ladouceur: "Brian always had a brilliant mind for the game."

De La Salle dynasty

When Callahan arrived at De La Salle, the school was nine years into the longest winning streak in American high school football history. The program has produced 16 NFL players, including Callahan teammates Gutierrez and running back Maurice Jones-Drew, former Titans tight end Austin Hooper, New York Giants wide receiver Amani Toomer, and linebacker D.J. Williams. 

Mark Panella spent over 30 years on the Spartans staff before retiring and was the quarterbacks coach when Callahan was a player. Panetta still chats regularly with his former student. 

"It still hasn't sunk in yet," Panella told AllTitans. "Seeing him accomplish this and (me)  having even the smallest role in it means the world to me. None of us who saw him coming up are shocked because we always knew he'd be a head coach one day. It's amazing, but we aren't surprised because he always had a unique way of seeing the game."

Adding to Panella's satisfaction, he now lives in Nashville. He came out of retirement to help coach quarterbacks at Ravenwood High School. 

"I'm excited to see him here," Panella said. "It was cool when he was with the Bengals because Cincinnati is a short drive. This is even better. My family and I are thrilled." 

Learning from the sidelines

Callahan never started a high school game, but the De La Salle coaching staff did their best to play him as much as possible.

"It didn't matter when we'd put him in because he was always ready," Ladouceur said. "He would move the team down the field and was so competitive. I hated it for Brian that he was in the same class as Matt. I felt so bad that I wanted to apologize to him because there wasn't anything more he could do. He meant so much to us."

Panella said Callahan was just determined to contribute — even if he couldn't start.

"I asked him years later why he stayed, and his answer stuck with me," Panetta said. "He said he wanted to be a Spartan. He wanted to be part of our program because he believed in what we were doing, even if it meant he wasn't going to play as much as he would've wanted. He never complained. He just kept grinding."

“I learned what sacrifice and real hard work looked like – I learned how to compete with everything I had,” Callahan said in a 2023 interview. “I lean on the lessons from De La Salle every day. I’ve used them with our players currently, I reference Coach Lad on multiple different occasions to our offense. There are traits that championship teams share that carry across all levels and all sports. I learned them all as a Spartan. They have only been confirmed on my coaching journey through three Super Bowl appearances.”

Starting at the bottom 

Callahan went to UCLA as a walk-on quarterback and eventually earned a scholarship. He appeared in 13 games as a holder on PATs. Callahan earned a bachelor's degree in sociology in 2006 and added a master’s in education in 2008 while working as a graduate assistant.

After leaving UCLA, Callahan wrote letters to every NFL team but didn't get any traction. He needed a job and ended up calling Patrick Walsh, who was an assistant at De La Salle when Callahan was a player and now was head coach at Serra-San Mateo.

Callahan became the offensive coordinator for the high school freshman team at Serra, whose most famous alum is another quarterback, Tom Brady. Callahan's first coaching job paid $1,800, stipend plus his teaching salary at the school.

"I felt bad, but that was all I could offer him," Walsh told AllTitans. "He treated it like an NFL job. He was excited to be coaching. He went from coaching the freshmen to offensive coordinator for the varsity team to next year coaching Tim Tebow with the Denver Broncos.

"I joke with him that I wish we had rules like the NFL that would've let me deny him the interview," Walsh said. "But seriously, him becoming an NFL head coach was always his destiny. We saw it way back when. He had the work ethic and the skills."

Walsh and Callahan are still friends. In fact, Callahan recently helped Walsh install a new offense at Serra.

"He's so down to earth," Walsh said. "He loves talking ball. He helped us develop our offense here. It's hard to explain how much of a blessing it is to have a guy who's coached so many greats and been to Super Bowls still willing to come back and help us out."

From boys to men

Broncos video coordinator Steve Scarnecchia had worked with Callahan's father, Bill, a former NFL head coach and currently offensive line coach for the Browns. Scarnecchia believed in Brian, and when then Broncos head coach needed an offensive quality control coach, Scarnecchia put the resume in then-head coach Josh McDaniels' hands.

Callahan would make the unusual jump from coaching high schoolers to working with NFL Hall of Famers.

“I leave tomorrow – which is so sad because I love it here at Serra – but it’s a dream come true for me,” Brian said in a 2010 interview with the high school newspaper. “I’m in shock, but I’m elated. There are only 32 jobs like this in the NFL. It was a situation that happened very fast and an opportunity that is exceptionally rare. It’s a job I am very excited about, but it is bittersweet because of the wonderful people I will be leaving here at school. Serra has set the foundation for my professional life."

In the next 13 years, Callahan would teach and collaborate with quarterbacks named Joe Burrow, Derek Carr, and Peyton Manning.

"I'm very happy for Brian," Manning said, per "Brian was extremely helpful to me during my four years playing for the Broncos, when he and I were together. Extremely hard working, extremely intelligent and just overall a great person. Not only did I benefit from his coaching and all the help that he gave me as a quarterback for the Broncos, but also just thoroughly enjoyed being around him and coming to work every day."

Manning had four of the best seasons of his Hall of Fame career with Callahan in Denver, winning league MVP and a Super Bowl.  

Time will tell how Brian Callahan will fare in his first head coaching job. He has a lot of work to do to get the Titans back to contender status.

"(Titans quarterback) Will Levis hit the lottery," Walsh said. "He's getting a great teacher. The city of Nashville is getting a great coach and a better man."

  • HIGH SCHOOL REUNION: Jacksonville Jaguars assistant Nick Holz will become the Tennessee Titans' offensive coordinator. Holz and Titans coach Brian Callahan were teammates at De La Salle High School in California. Bill Callahan, Brian's father, gave Holz his first coaching job at Nebraska. CLICK HERE
  • TOM BREW COLUMN: Brian Callahan has worked with some of the best quarterbacks in the NFL, and most recently has helped turned Cincinnati Bengals QB Joe Burrow into a star. He's the next head coach of the Tennessee Titans, and his first job will be to turn Will Levis into that same kind of star. This is a great hire for the Titans. CLICK HERE
  • PEYTON MANNING ON CALLAHAN: Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning is raving about his former collaborator and the Tennessee Titans' new coach. He's a "great hire." CLICK HERE
  • TITANS NFL DRAFT DAILY: ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. released his first mock draft of 2024 this week: The Tennessee Titans will select Notre Dame offensive tackle and two-time All-American Joe Alt with the No. 7 pick. CLICK HERE