ASHBURN — Bill Callahan received a call Sunday night and was soon visiting with owner Dan Snyder and team president Bruce Allen. They informed the 63-year-old that they planned on firing Jay Gruden, gauging the offensive line coach’s interest in becoming the interim coach.
By that evening, Callahan had a new job. By Monday morning, Gruden did not.
With the Redskins 0-5, Callahan will now be tasked with leading an NFL team — a role he hasn’t held since the Oakland Raiders fired him in 2003. And in his new capacity, Callahan made his priorities clear: He wants to re-establish the run.
Through five games, the Redskins have the third-fewest rushing attempts in the NFL with just 88. The ground game has been largely ineffective, averaging just 68.8 yards per game.
As for who will hand off the ball, Callahan said Sunday’s starter has yet to be decided — except for the fact it won’t be rookie Dwayne Haskins. Like his predecessor, Callahan views Haskins as not quite ready to start games, adding he plans on giving the 22-year-old more practice reps first.
That means Colt McCoy or Case Keenum will start against the winless Miami Dolphins. And get ready to see a lot more of Adrian Peterson.
“I envision ourselves as a running team,” Callahan said. “I’d like to get our run game going. I think that’s important because everything else is complementary off it — the run-action, passes and protections off of it complement your running game. If we can play two down football and go from second down to first down, that would be huge.
“In order to do that, the consistency of the running game is going to have to take place.”
Callahan will make other changes to the Redskins’ preparation, although he didn’t disclose what those might be. During Gruden’s five-plus seasons, the 52-year-old coach was knocked for his team’s lack of discipline. Former safety D.J. Swearinger often suggested the team didn’t practice hard enough.
That critique hasn’t been lobbied toward Callahan — if anything, he’s faced criticism for running the offensive line too hard after practice. The linemen are routinely the last position group off the field. As injuries have piled up at that position over the last few years, some have wondered if that’s been the result of Callahan pushing them too far.
Allen called Callahan, who has been with the Redskins since 2015, a “seasoned veteran.”
“He has a track record as a head coach,” Allen said. “He is already implementing a plan for this team and schedules are going to change and things of that nature. It is 0-5. We have 11 regular season games left and we still can accomplish many of our goals.”
One aspect Callahan won’t change, for now at least, is the defensive staff. Callahan and the Redskins elected to keep oft-criticized defensive coordinator Greg Manusky, despite the defense giving up more than 30 points for the fourth time in five games.
Elsewhere, offensive coordinator Kevin O’Connell will take over play-calling duties with Gruden gone.
The rest of the season is essentially an audition for O’Connell, a 34-year-old offensive guru who has been compared to Rams coach Sean McVay. If the offense performs well, the former quarterback will be floated for the Redskins’ job.
It wouldn’t be unheard of for the offensive coordinator to be named head coach over the interim, either. The Cleveland Browns did exactly that over the offseason, replacing Gregg Williams with Freddie Kitchens.
Callahan, meanwhile, called his promotion “bittersweet.”
Ironically, this isn’t the first time he has replaced a Gruden — taking over for Jay’s brother, Jon, in 2002. In two seasons, Callahan went 15-17 — making the Super Bowl his first year — but was fired following a 4-12 campaign the next year. He then coached four years at Nebraska at the collegiate level.
Now leading the Redskins, Callahan said there’s no “magic formula” for a turnaround.
Asked if he was angling to be named to be Washington’s next coach on a permanent basis, Callahan dismissed the idea.
“I’ve been auditioning for over 20 years in the National Football League,” Callahan said. “I’m not auditioning. Nothing but trying to get our team better and really be focused on Miami. It’s a good opportunity to help improve our team and to lead the team forward.
“I’m not worried about me; it’s not about me. It’s about our team, and it’s about what we can do to get us out of this rut that we’re currently in.”
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