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Neil Callaway played under Bear Bryant and has coached with Pat Dye. Now he is in charge of taking the UAB football program to the elite level among colleges.
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Neil Callaway played under Bear Bryant and has coached with Pat Dye. Now he is in charge of taking the UAB football program to the elite level among colleges.

The next step
Callaway ready to move UAB forward

By Bradley Handwerger
bhandwerger@decaturdaily.com 340-2462

BIRMINGHAM — Neil Callaway reclines in a wooden office chair, shoeless feet propped up on another seat.

A glass canister of peanuts at his hand, Callaway appears relaxed, much more so than a first-time head coach probably should be.

But Callaway has been around, seen the best.

And UAB is the beneficiary, hoping nearly 40 years of football experience under Paul "Bear" Bryant, Pat Dye and Mark Richt will pay off in the form of wins and championships.

Callaway believes the Blazers can compete on par with the Alabamas and Auburns of the world. That's why he relaxes so easily.

"I don't see any reason we can't be equal on the football field," Callaway, 51, said. "You look at Florida State. They came from nowhere. Louisville, recently, has come from nowhere."

UAB went 3-9 a year ago, ending on a six-game losing streak that all but pushed Watson Brown to leave the program for Tennessee Tech. Brown had coached the program since 1995 when it moved from Division I-AA to I-A.

Now it's up to Callaway to coax the Blazers to take the next step.

Though he appears relaxed in his office following practice, spying him on the practice field during spring drills gives a different impression.

You can see that he's already got a jumpstart on changing the culture of UAB football long before the 2007 season begins.

Callaway roams the small practice field near Interstate 65 and UAB's downtown campus, eyes moving from drill to drill. He barks instructions for players to move quicker between drills.

No longer a position coach — Callaway oversaw offensive linemen at Georgia, Alabama and Auburn — he is free to view all of practice.

"When you have someone who is not coaching you but evaluating everything you do, it makes you work a lot harder," senior receiver Nick Coon said. "You don't know where he's at, but he knows where you are at all times."

For a few players, this is a change.

"It's a shock to some people, for sure," said Adam Truitt, a junior offensive lineman. "There have been guys who have been run off the team. It's definitely a shock at first."

Truitt added, "They won't let anything get by them. If they tell us to walk on the pavement and not the grass, you're going to run for it if you walk on the grass."

This level of discipline is nothing new for Callaway.

"We're practicing like we've always practiced. ... Everywhere I've been, we've worked like this," Callaway said. "I don't know what they did here last year and don't really care."

Tim Bowens, who coaches UAB's receivers, played at Alabama from 1996-99, overlapping with Callaway's time as coach of the Crimson Tide's offensive line. He remembers a man who was hard on his players, but also the first to "love them up."

Now coaching with him, Bowens knows why the players will listen.

"His records and where he's been, as a coordinator, assistant coach, the teams he has been on have been successful for the most part," said Bowens, a former Tanner High head coach. "He knows how to win. He comes from that tradition."

Callaway got his start as an Alabama player for Bryant in the mid-1970s. He moved on to coach for Dye at East Carolina, Wyoming and Auburn throughout the 1980s and early '90s. After three seasons as the assistant head coach at Houston, Callaway moved to Alabama for four seasons.

And then he moved to Georgia, where he spent the past six seasons as the offensive coordinator and offensive line coach under Richt.

In all, he has been a part of seven SEC championship teams as a coach and has coached on 12 bowl teams.

"I think anytime you've been around winning like Coach has, and you've seen a blueprint, whether it's Coach Bryant, Coach Dye or Coach Richt, you know bottom line is our job as coaches is to build character and instill discipline," UAB linebackers coach Tyson Summers said. "The rest of it is easy."

Back relaxing in his office, Callaway ponders the future of the UAB program, the one he took over Dec. 17, 2006 that wasn't in good shape. He sees only good things.

"There's a lot of potential here to build this thing into an organization to compete with anybody in the country," Callaway said. "That's our goal."

The Neil Callaway File

  • Named UAB head football coach Dec. 17, 2006.

  • Served six years as offensive coordinator at the University of Georgia.

  • Served as offensive line coach/coordinator at Alabama from 1997-2000.

  • Served as offensive coordinator at the University of Houston 1993-1996.

  • Served as offensive line coach at Auburn from 1981 to 1992.

  • Served as offensive line coach at Wyoming in 1980.

  • Served as offensive line coach at East Carolina from 1978 to 1979.

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