He may not have Jon Gruden's sideline scowl, but Bill Callahan, the Raiders' low-profile, first-year coach, has a killer instinct. With Oakland leading by 11 and 6:32 remaining in Sunday's game against the Bills, Callahan told offensive coordinator Marc Trestman, "Remember, we're here to play wide-open football. We want to finish the game on offense, so let's put it in the hands of our players and move the ball."
From his own 32-yard line, quarterback Rich Gannon threw a 12-yard pass to Jerry Rice over the middle. Two plays later Gannon hit wideout Jerry Porter on a post for 36 yards. On the next play Gannon connected with Rice for a 20-yard score, and Oakland left Buffalo with a 49-31 win and the NFL's last unblemished record (4-0).
It's still early—remember, Mike White won eight of his first 10 games as Raiders coach in 1995 before losing his last six—but the 46-year-old Callahan is emerging as one of this season's biggest success stories. In the wake of Gruden's celebrated jump to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last February, Callahan, Gruden's offensive coordinator, was portrayed as the second coming of Joe Bugel, who went 4-12 in his lone season as Oakland's coach, in 1997, and earned a reputation among players as an Al Davis sycophant.
Though he had never been a head coach above the high school level, Callahan attacked his new job without trepidation. "He wasn't walking on eggshells, and he wasn't into experimenting," Trestman says. "He knew exactly what he wanted to do, and he started carrying out the plan immediately."
Many of his players appreciate Callahan's organized and steady approach. Says veteran safety Rod Woodson, "What I like is that he's a down-to-earth, straight-shooting, blue-collar guy." And he has a sense of humor: Callahan cracked up players in training camp when he walked into a meeting wearing a gas mask in response to the rank smell emanating from veteran defenders Trace Armstrong and Bill Romanowski, who often cover themselves with a pungent anti-inflammatory ointment.
Now that the Raiders have replaced the St. Louis Rams as the NFL's most explosive team—Oakland is averaging 40.5 points and 461.5 yards, both league bests—their coach has been just as likely as Mike Martz to flout conventional wisdom and try to win big. Among the criticisms leveled at Gruden after his departure was one from veteran wideout Tim Brown, who said that the Raiders "lost too many close games last year" as a result of Gruden's tendency to play it safe when holding second-half leads.
With Wild Bill in charge, the approach has been much riskier. "The only way you stop this offense," Callahan says, "is if we stop ourselves."