Brian Callahan’s arrival marks shift in philosophy, direction for Titans

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Brian Callahan didn’t want the message to get twisted: His team will pride itself on physicality in the run game. 

The new Titans coach knows it’s long been part of the team’s identity. He wanted to stress that the ground game will continue to be part of the equation to win football games. 

But when asked about his offensive philosophy, the former Bengals offensive coordinator first discussed the aerial attack. 

“We want to be of great detail in the passing game,” Callahan said at his introductory press conference Thursday. “Route definition, route spacing. We want to be able to complete balls at a high percentage. That’s always going to be the goal.” 

The remarks show how Callahan’s hiring marks a significant shift in philosophy for Tennessee. 

As the 39-year-old first-time head coach alluded to, the franchise has a history of running the ball successfully. It was that way during the Mike Vrabel era, with Derrick Henry being the focal point of the offense the past six years, including Henry’s 2,000-yard rushing season in 2020. This is a franchise that has also built offenses around Eddie George and Chris Johnson, who, like Henry, is one of eight players in league history to reach 2,000 rushing yards in a season. 

But the Titans/Oilers franchise has never been known to have an explosive passing attack for a sustained period of time, at least not in Tennessee. There’s just one 4,000-yard passer in franchise history: Warren Moon, who threw for more than 4,600 yards in back-to-back seasons with the Oilers (1990-91). 

That could change with Callahan. Asked about offensive balance, he explained that he’ll do whatever it takes to win a game. 

“There are games where you may end up running the ball for a bunch of yards and you’re lopsided in the run,” Callahan said. “There are games where it’s hard to run the football and you may push it in the pass game.” 

What hiring former Bengals OC Brian Callahan means for Titans

But that is also a change. 

Vrabel’s offenses, even with big-armed Will Levis taking over from Ryan Tannehill as QB1 midseason in 2023, were focused on establishing the run to open up the play-action game and everything else. What Callahan indicated Thursday is that he’ll bring a more fluid, analytical approach to offense. 

Callahan expanded on his philosophy in a scrum with Bengals media last year, which further accentuated his differences from the defensive-minded Vrabel. 

“The teams that win the most games are generally the teams that pass the ball the best,” Callahan said, via WKRC in Cincinnati. “That’s usually because they have really good quarterbacks and because they have guys that can make plays on the football on the outside. … The passing game has become the focal point.

“However, that does leave opportunities to be really effective and efficient running the football,” he continued. “Defenses do the same thing. They still give the resources to the pass game, which gives you opportunities, hopefully in the run game — running against light boxes and numbers advantages and stuff like that.”

Callahan’s hiring is a clear investment in Levis and building out the offense around him. 

The former Bengals assistant’s extensive track record with quarterbacks is well documented. He has coached Peyton Manning, Matthew Stafford, Joe Burrow and Derek Carr, who had his first 4.000-yard passing season with Callahan as the Raiders‘ quarterbacks coach in 2018. 

From working with a variety of different signal-callers with varying strengths and weaknesses, Callahan said he has learned to let the quarterbacks be themselves. He has learned to communicate with them to get a feel for what they like conceptually and schematically and cater to that. During the lean years in Cincinnati, at the start of Burrow’s career, Callahan learned that it’s invaluable to keep the message consistent. 

He said he called Levis a couple days ago. The two met Thursday at Titans headquarters as the rising second-year quarterback was working out. 

“I can’t wait to get to work with him,” Callahan said. “He’s got a lot of really special physical talents that I’m excited to see if we can make better.” 

If that happens, we could see the birth of an explosive Titans passing game — a change from what Nashville is used to.

Ben Arthur is the AFC South reporter for FOX Sports. He previously worked for The Tennessean/USA TODAY Network, where he was the Titans beat writer for a year and a half. He covered the Seattle Seahawks for SeattlePI.com for three seasons (2018-20) prior to moving to Tennessee. You can follow Ben on Twitter at @benyarthur.



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