Callaway, Georgia’s offensive coordinator for the last six years, accepted the University of Alabama-Birmingham job Sunday morning, returning to the state where he played for Bear Bryant and spent more than half his career as an assistant coach.
“It’s something I’ve been wanting to do for a while, and to be honest, I had some thoughts about what if it doesn’t happen, what direction would we go, but fortunately it did happen,” Callaway said, “and I’m excited to be here at UAB.”
Callaway, 51, will remain with the Bulldogs (8-4) throughout preparation for the Dec. 30 Chick-fil-A Bowl against No. 14 Virginia Tech and will coach in the bowl game. He was introduced at a press conference Sunday in Birmingham, Ala., and will be back in Athens this morning for Georgia’s fifth bowl practice.
“Neil has been an integral part of our program since arriving, and he’s contributed to a lot of victories over the last six years,” Bulldog coach Mark Richt said in a statement released by the school. “We’ll miss him for sure, but I know he’s wanted to be a head coach; so in that regard, we’re excited for him and his family that he has the opportunity. He’s been with some outstanding programs during his career, and he knows what it takes to be successful.”
The Bulldogs will immediately begin the search for a replacement, Richt said in the statement, but he did not indicate a timetable to make a hire. It’s possible quarterbacks coach Mike Bobo will be promoted to coordinator, leaving Richt to find just an offensive line coach. Bobo was given play-calling duties before Georgia’s final game of the regular season.
“I’m confident we’ll come up with an outstanding coach to bring in,” Richt said in his statement.
Chattahoochee High School offensive lineman Clint Boling, who has committed to play for the Bulldogs next year, immediately heard Art Kehoe’s name mentioned in connection with the job. Kehoe, 47, was a teammate of Richt’s at the University of Miami and went on to earn a national reputation as the Hurricanes’ offensive line coach for 20 years. He coached the offensive line at Ole Miss last year.
“I was just talking to my uncle today, and he mentioned the name,” Boling said.
Boling talked with Bobo on Sunday night, he said, but no specifics were mentioned in terms of a successor.
“He just said Coach Richt is going to be able to bring somebody in who’s going to do a good job,” Boling said. “He just wanted to make sure I was OK with it.”
Callaway has yet to announce any hires for his staff, and he didn’t rule out the possibility of reaching out to members of the Bulldog staff.
“I do have some thoughts on who I want to hire, but I do want to keep everything under wraps here for a little bit, and at the proper time we’ll make those announcements,” he said.
Callaway coached Georgia defensive line coach Rodney Garner at Auburn, and the two men remain very close. However, even if Callaway wanted to hire Garner as his defensive coordinator, it may be hard for the Blazers to match the $231,000 salary of Garner, who also is the Bulldogs’ recruiting coordinator and assistant head coach.
Callaway made $203,500 at Georgia. He signed a five-year deal with the Blazers, but financial terms were not released. UAB paid former coach Watson Brown $350,000 annually, but Brown also served as athletic director.
The Blazers went 3-9 in Conference USA this season, prompting Brown’s resignation. Georgia beat Brown and UAB 34-0 on Sept. 16.
“Coach Callaway brings to UAB a hard-nosed attitude, both on the field and
in the classroom,” UAB interim athletic director Richard Margison said. “He knows how to win. He has been connected with winning programs everywhere he has been, and he will bring that attitude and experience to UAB. He delivers to our football program
exactly what we need to successfully move us forward.”
Callaway has lofty goals at UAB. He said Sunday he’d like to follow the course plotted by Louisville, which went from Conference USA to the Big East and is playing this year in the Orange Bowl.
“Alabama and Auburn both are very good football programs, but all we can worry about is what we’re going to do here at UAB,” he said.
Callaway played for the University of Alabama from 1974-77, and he coached for 12 years at Auburn under Pat Dye and then for four years at Alabama under Mike DuBose.
“Probably most of my adult life I’ve been in Alabama, and it’s a good place,” he said. “It will benefit us the fact that I do have a background of recruiting in this area, but the biggest thing is we have to get a bunch of good coaches on board and get started here.”
Callaway, who has won 11 SEC Championships as a coach or player, was inducted into the Macon Sports Hall of Fame in April. He planned to call all of the offensive linemen who have made verbal commitments to the Bulldogs as well as all the players he personally recruited on his drive from Birmingham to Athens on Sunday night.
“That’s always the hard part of coaching,” he said. “You make a commitment to coach young men and you want to fulfill that commitment, but I’ve been honest with everybody in the past that if I had the opportunity to be a head coach I’m probably going to take that. But that’s always a hard thing, to leave guys you’ve been around. It’ll be tough in those regards, but we’ll work our way through it.”