When Western Kentucky opens spring football practice Tuesday, Macon native Neil Callaway will begin his second season as the Hilltoppers offensive line coach. He joined the Western Kentucky staff last year accepting Bobby Petrinos invitation to move to Bowling Green, Ky.
When Petrino left after just one year to return to Louisville back in January, Callaway was not offered a spot on the Cardinals staff. That went to Chris Klenakis, who had been Petrinos line coach for two seasons when he was at Arkansas. New Western Kentucky head coach Jeff Brohm asked Callaway to stay on his staff. While Western Kentucky has a fine program, Callaway should be at a program in one of the power conferences. He is that good.
He has more than 30 years of college coaching experience, primarily as an offensive line coach but also serving as the head coach at Alabama-Birmingham for five seasons. During his career, he has produced more than 60 linemen who made it to the NFL, including five first-round draft choices.
Callaway was an all-state performer for Godfrey Steiner at Central in the early 1970s before signing a scholarship at Alabama for the legendary Paul Bear Bryant. Callaway played five different positions for the Crimson Tide, including guard and tackle on offense and end, nose guard and linebacker on defense. He received the Frank Thomas Award in 1977 as the teams most outstanding athlete.
Interestingly, Callaway was recruited to Alabama by then-assistant coach Pat Dye, which was the start of a relationship that led to Callaways career as a college coach. Dye left Alabama prior to Callaways enrollment to take the head coaching job at East Carolina. After Callaways college career was complete, he joined Dye at ECU as a graduate assistant in 1978 and 1979, and when Dye departed to take over at Wyoming, Callaway got his first full-time assistant coaching position as the offensive line coach with the Cowboys, which proved to be just a one year stay.
Dye resigned at Wyoming, hoping to get in the hunt for the Auburn position, which as we all know he did, and Callaway joined him on The Plains, where he stayed from 1981-1992. During the Dye years, the Tigers won four SEC championships, and Callaway produced three first-team All-Americans and 14 All-SEC players.
Since Dyes retirement, Callaway has coached at Houston, Alabama and Georgia, and he was the offensive line coach and offensive coordinator at all three institutions. He left Georgia in 2007 to take over at UAB and during the 2013 season worked with Petrino at Western Kentucky.
While at Georgia, he helped lead the Bulldogs to SEC championships in 2002 and 2005. Since he left Georgia the Bulldogs have not won another conference title, and I believe that is not a coincidence. Callaway provided a disciplined approach that appears to be lacking at times in Athens. His mentors, Steiner, Bryant and Dye, were all believers in discipline. No matter what you think of Dye and his controversial comments (remember back in 2002 he said the Georgia football team was not man enough to beat Alabama or most recently that Condeleezza Rice shouldnt be on the selection committee for the College Football Playoff and the 2012 quarterbacks at Auburn were cowards) he was an outstanding football coach.
Callaway has been involved with championship teams the majority of his career, with the lone exception being UAB, but it is doubtful that Bryant, Dye or even Nick Saban could be successful with that program. During Callaways five seasons with the Blazers, they had the lowest recruiting budget in Conference USA annually as it was just more than $100,000. He had an 18-42 record as a head coach, but since his departure two years ago, the teams record is just 5-19, including a 2-10 mark in 2013. One of those losses was 62-27 to Southern Miss in last seasons finale before just 6,386 fans at Legion Field, which snapped a 23-game winless streak by the Golden Eagles.
Callaway enjoys coaching and being at Western Kentucky, but I think a big-time program is missing out on one of the best offensive line coaches in the country.
Bobby Pope is the executive director of the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org