"It's great, a great opportunity,” he said. “I obviously love this school it was a part of me… in my time before. (I’m) extremely excited to be back and ready to get to work."
Was he surprised at the chance to make it back to Florida?
“Obviously that was the plan from the beginning – no,” he said jokingly. “No, it was just timing and everything worked out the way it was. I was blessed to be, wherever I’ve been I’ve been with really good coaches, and I’ve been very thankful for all the opportunities (and) who I’ve been with. And then, just the path – you do things the right way and I think good things happen for people that do that. I think that I am.”
The youngest guy on a staff full of coaches with rich and extensive resumes, it wasn’t a surprise that a lot of what was asked of him this week was about learning from the others. Confidence isn’t an issue for Callahan and believes he will add to the staff room as well.
“Obviously I’m blessed to be here,” he said. “I actually knew (Defensive Coordinator) Geoff (Collins) at UCF, I was a GA as he was coming in and I was on my way out heading to North Carolina. I mean it’s great. The knowledge in that room, the success in that room… I’m like a sponge. I know my world and the secondary and I’m trying to take in as much information as I can and also bring the things that I can bring to the table to help those guys as well.”
The son of legendary Seffner (Fla.) Armwood High School head coach Sean Callahan, Kirk has been embroiled in football his entire life. His fast path to the big leagues of college football actually started way before he became a college graduate assistant.
“That’s where it all started,” Callahan said of his father. “I grew up as a water boy, a ball boy in that environment. My whole life I wanted to be a coach. I’m a physical education major. He’s won enough state championships so I figured the one way to outdo him was to go to the next level.
I always converse with him on things and talking to him he’s seen a lot of things. Part of the reason why I think I’m successful in recruiting is because of my father. Not just because he’s a coach, but he tells me the pros and cons of what he sees with everybody that’s come through there. I mean it’s like a coaches’ convention going through that school sometimes. And getting to hear the things that he likes – ‘this guy did this really well’, ‘hey you might want to use that’ – that’s some of the things we talk about as well as just X’s and O’s.”
UCF head coach George O’Leary is known as a big time defensive coach and the contributions that O’Leary has made to the knowledge bank of Callahan are plenty.
"I really appreciate Coach O'Leary and the opportunity there, and the things that I got you know is structure, toughness discipline, and that’s what that program was about,” Callahan said. “The thing that was really good about those kids in the ones that we had there is they were not the most talented, but they were extremely hard workers and they could sit there and show me how you can still win with players that are disciplined, do the right things, that are coachable and take the things that you want them to do and go out there and you can see it out there on the field."
"Obviously that’s a great situation there and I learned a ton of things while being there from him obviously that he's a defensive minded himself and I like to accumulate all the coaches that I've worked for in terms of the defensive minds and take the things that I like and try to put it towards me, and definitely took a lot of things while I was there.”
Callahan also spent a year as a graduate assistant under Urban Meyer’s watch at Florida and worked with Chuck Heater in the secondary. He also spent another year on campus and under the tutelage of former Gator head coach Will Muschamp and defensive back coach Travaris Robinson.
"It was good, obviously they're both secondary guys,” he said of his last year spent in Gainesville. “Their track record speaks for themselves in the secondary. I learned a ton of things under them in terms of drills and techniques and I think that'll be helpful with me being back in terms of the terminology and the things that I say it’s obviously very similar from what they know."
With all of the different styles he has learned under, in a short time Callahan has been able to hone his own ways of coaching up the secondary. His one year on campus under Muschamp should help make the transition a smooth one.“I’ve kind of got my own philosophy that I’ve taken from everybody,” Callahan said. “Certain things that I’ve probably used (under Muschamp), there’s some drills that we carried over, the terms that we use and trigger words and things of that nature are probably the most that I’ll bring back.”
Callahan had three Gator Greats come back and visit with him on Thursday this week. Janoris Jenkins, Josh Evans, and Marcus Roberson are all NFL guys that heard the news of Callahan’s return to the Gators and came to Gainesville to reunite with one of their favorite mentors of their still fledgling careers.
That kind of loyalty certainly helps back up what he calls his philosophy about coaching up the players in his unit.
“My philosophy as a coach is coach hard, but love them hard,” he said. “So I’m going to chase them around and get after them when I need to get after them, but I’m going to love them up when I need to.
“But we like to be aggressive, we want to play fast… the ball is the issue. The ball is ours. When the ball is in the air, it should be ours. At the end of the day when that thing is in the air, we should be acting like it’s ours. So we’re going to do as many drills as on offense and the wide receivers catching the ball. That thing’s got to be ours.”
Mental errors were a constant theme in the secondary, especially early on in 2014. Smart play is a necessity to get on the field for Callahan.
“I like DB’s that are smart, I don’t like dumb DB’s,” he said. “Anybody can just go play man. You cover that cat. You’ve got to sit there and understand not only why we’re playing this defense, but where are the weaknesses?
He also knows that the talent in his meeting room is pretty good and the last thing he wants to do is underutilize it.
“And at the end of the day you’ve got great players, let’s make them play fast,” Callahan said. “Let’s not try to overdo things. Sometimes we make this thing harder than it really is in terms of that. But let’s get smart players playing fast.”
Callahan will be the beneficiary of one of the top player in college football in 2015. Cornerback Vernon Hargreaves returns for his junior year after making All-American status as a sophomore.
“I’m excited,” Callahan said. “I knew Vernon obviously from Tampa days where he’s from. He’s done a great job to this point and I’m excited to work with him in terms of that. He’s already a good player, well how can we make him better? And that’s going to come with me looking at film and our staff as we meet together and see how we can better him even more.”
He also returns a pretty young but overall talented secondary that went from very inexperienced in 2014 to very experienced in 2015. Callahan knows these guys from the recruiting trail and what kind of talent they have.
"I haven’t had a chance to sit there and actually do much football and look at film because the whole priority right now has been recruiting,” Callahan said. “But, recruited a lot of those kids seeing them on film, they've done a great job in the past obviously getting the DB’s and the secondary guys here and I'm excited to work with them."
His message to his new pupils…
"My whole thing to them was that they have the ability to be successful, and they (do),” Callahan said. “The things that I can bring to them are obviously more the knowledge aspect. I want them to be smart football players in terms of the film study room… They've got great players. But if you can sit there and make them a little bit smarter and understand all right in this certain look, you can probably expect these two or three plays, that's going to make a good player even better.”
He’s young, energetic, and his players like him a lot. Still, Kirk Callahan may not be the most experienced coach on the Florida staff, but he is wise beyond his years.