Callahan, the Media, and the “Death Watch”


For the past several weeks Bill Callahan has found himself fighting for his job and facing increasingly difficult questions from the media. Bill Walsh called this process, the “Death Watch.” In his book, Finding the Winning Edge, Walsh states:

“No matter what your record; no matter how well chronicled your accomplishments; no matter how much everyone (the media, fans, etc.) seems to like you at some point, as the head coach you will be put “on the bubble” and a “Death Watch” for your firing will begin. The cycle begins and ends hundreds of times around the country each year…The basis for the “Death Watch” is quite simple: losing games.”

Walsh then notes that as the death watch cycle begins to take shape, the head coach can make a number of all too common mistakes. Today I want to list some of the mistakes coaches should avoid, and try to assess how Callahan is doing at handling the media during his “Death Watch.”

Here is Walsh’s List of things a coach should never do, along with Callahan’s related comments:

Engaging in an ongoing ridicule of the team. Comments such as: “They don’t understand what it takes”; “They just haven’t learned how to win”; never help.

Despite his critics that assume otherwise, I think Callahan excels at avoiding ridicule when it comes to the players. At the time I was extremely impressed with these comments following the USC game.

“It wasn’t so much discouraging as it was disappointing. I was disappointed in the obvious performance of the defense and how we played. I think that was obvious. I think it was concern going into the film study, but after the film study, I came out encouraged that it’s correctable. There are a lot of areas that we were a player off or a technique off that we didn’t perform exactly correct. I’m not trying to deflect any type of criticism to the players. I accept the full responsibility in that regard. It still falls on my shoulders. I do accept that. We have some things to clean up. It’s still a team effort, a team game. We’re all in this together.”

Trying to reach and influence the players through the media. Comments such as “I believe in these men”; “They’re a great bunch of guys”; “Believe me they’re playing their hearts out”; while well intended are inherently hollow.

Callahan from the November 6th Press Conference on the 2007 seniors:

“I think these kids have been great. I’m disappointed for them that they haven’t had the success they’ve wanted to at the end here. They’ve been great. They’ve been a lot of fun. They’re great guys and great kids. They’ve worked hard. They’ve poured their heart and soul into their preparation. You go back and think about all the efforts and time and energy that they’ve put into the program, from the time they’re recruited until the time they’re seniors, it’s phenomenal. You have to respect that. I certainly appreciate all their efforts. It’ll be great to see them honored on Saturday. There’s a lot of great kids and I hope the best for them. I hope we can do something positive for them on the way out.”

Oops. But seriously, what else can he say in response to a question like that?

Asking the press and public for more time by promising things will get better next year. If such comments are repeatedly made, they can be perceived as a “plea”. Subsequently the media may view them as a “weakness” on your part.

I’ve never heard or seen Callahan ask for more time. In fact, he was asked pretty directly about this in this Tuesday’s press conference. His response isn’t exactly a plea, but did approach asking for more time.

“I sincerely want to be here. I think I indicated that when I signed a contract extension that I want to be here. If I didn’t want to be here, I wouldn’t have signed the extension. I love our team, I love our kids, I like Nebraska, I love Nebraska and I’m trying to do the best I can right now, so absolutely I want to be here.”

Unknowingly displaying out of control emotions. All factors considered, neither the press, nor the public will respond well to such a display. In fact, most see it as a sign of weakness.

I’d argue that some Nebraska fans are looking for more emotion from Callahan. Lately he’s come across as a bit haggard and morose, but certainly not full of rage or hostility. Are fans being fair with him here?

Insinuating that a coordinator is at fault in an attempt to try and gain some time. It is highly unprofessional and unethical to use an assistant as an available scapegoat. If you continue to lay blame for lack of success on one of your assistants, even if by inference, the media will view it as an excuse.

Again Callahan has avoided this almost to a fault. Fans would love to see Cosgrove scapegoat-ed right out of town. I’m sure much of this relates to Callahan’s friendship with Cosgrove, but he’s definitely been professional in this respect.

From this week’s press conference he discusses Cosgrove:

“I visited with the defensive staff and Coz and everyone. I just tried to encourage them to continue to work hard and press on and make the necessary adjustments and go through the film, analyze it and learn from it. That’s all you can do. There’s not much else you can do. I think it’s unfortunate at times when things get snowballed and start steamrolling on you. It’s very hard when you’re on the short field. I think we were on the short field seven times on defense. We turned the ball over three times inside the 25 or the drive start was inside the 25 three times, and when you put a defense on a short field like that and things start to steamroll and have an effect. It’s tough. In the final analysis, people just want to look at the final score and say, ‘there’s 76 points’, well, yeah, that’s true, that is reality and we have to get better. But there are other circumstances that lead to those 76 points. We didn’t do a very good job on offense. We put up some numbers, but we didn’t do the job that we should’ve done in securing the football. We turned the ball over three or four times inside the 50 on the short field. You can’t continually do that against a good team like Kansas that has the ability to score at any range. It’s hard. That’s putting the defense in a bad position. We take this loss as a football team. We don’t point to offense or defense or special teams. We just look at it as ourselves and that we have to get better in every aspect. We have to get better in every area. When those types of games happen like it did at Texas Tech our first year, we threw some picks inside the 50, when they get on a roll, get momentum and you’re trying to play catch-up and not sit on the ball, you’re vulnerable. That’s what happened down at Kansas. I have no excuses, but I’m telling you the reality of that. That’s the reality of what happens. We have to get better, no question.”

So overall, it appears that Callahan has done a reasonable job while facing a great deal of adversity and negativity in his dealings with the media. I just thought it was an interesting topic given the increasing amount of attention his weekly pressers have been receiving.

What say you loyal DXP fans? I know most of you heard yesterday’s rumors and tuned in to the PC to see for yourself. What are your impressions of Callahan and the media?

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