Brian Callahan passed his first test as Tennessee Titans coach — with high marks | Estes

So far, it's going well. You can’t help but feel good about this Brian Callahan guy the Tennessee Titans just hired.

He couldn’t be settling in any better. Couldn’t look more at ease as he sits and chats warmly in the Titans' newly built, frigid press conference room. Reporters shout over one other to ask questions, and Callahan smiles, amused by the view as a head coach. He's so comfortable with it that he sticks around afterward to shake hands and exchange pleasantries. Even stops by to check out the media workroom.

Coaches don’t do that sort of thing.

Except for this new Titans coach. He does.

It won’t always be this friendly. One of the certainties of the NFL is that, at some point, we’re sure to start questioning Callahan and his decisions.

But we’re not there yet.

The first test for any new coach is nearly complete, and Callahan passed with high marks. It’s difficult to find much wrong with the initial Titans coaching staff he has assembled.

Here's the best part: Two prominent itches have been scratched.

Even when the Titans were good under Mike Vrabel, they were statistically poor in pass defense. And when Vrabel’s Titans turned bad, they were atrocious on the offensive line.

For his offensive line coach, Callahan hired the best one. That’s not an exaggeration. Veteran coach Bill Callahan wouldn’t have been available were he not Brian’s father, but since he is, the Cleveland Browns allowed him to leave so he could work with his son.

Classy move. Good for the Browns.

Great for the Titans.

“He's been arguably, in my opinion, the best offensive line coach in football for a long time,” said Brian Callahan, who wouldn’t get much disagreement on that thought. “His experience and his wealth of knowledge, he's probably forgotten more football than I know. So it's a huge asset to us to have him. Not just because that's my father, but because of his experience as a football coach.”

Tennessee Titans Head Coach Brian Callahan, right, fields questions with new Defensive Coordinator Dennard Wilson at Ascension Saint Thomas Sports Park in Nashville, Tenn., Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2024.
Tennessee Titans Head Coach Brian Callahan, right, fields questions with new Defensive Coordinator Dennard Wilson at Ascension Saint Thomas Sports Park in Nashville, Tenn., Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2024.

As for the other side of the football, new defensive coordinator Dennard Wilson was one of the more coveted NFL assistants in this hiring cycle. On Wednesday, he sat beside Callahan and gave a glimpse into why that was the case.

Wilson is going to be popular here. He quoted Gen. George S. Patton in telling Titans fans to expect a defense that’s “going to attack and attack some more.” He employed the delightful phrase “obnoxious communication” in what he seeks from players on the field.

“As coach,” Wilson said, “you must be able to teach, motivate and inspire. ... I pride myself on being a hell of a teacher. I'm going to motivate them to be better than what they think they should be or reach the potential they're supposed to. And I'm going to inspire them to go get it.”

Numbers back up Wilson's confidence. In 2022, he was the defensive backs coach for a Philadelphia Eagles team that reached the Super Bowl and led the NFL in pass defense. When Jonathan Gannon left for the Arizona Cardinals, Eagles players publicly campaigned for Wilson to replace Gannon as defensive coordinator.

Nick Sirianni instead hired Sean Desai. Wilson went to Baltimore. The Ravens were the AFC's No. 1 seed and just had the sixth-best pass defense in the NFL.

Where did the Eagles’ pass defense rank in 2023? Next to last. Desai lasted one season.

For all that the Titans have given the Eagles of late, via trades for A.J. Brown and Kevin Byard, the Titans have, in a roundabout way, gotten one back in Wilson.

He’ll inherit a Titans pass defense that ranked in the bottom half of the league for five consecutive seasons, finishing somewhere between 25th and 32nd from 2020 to 2022. This past season saw a bump up to 18th, and the defensive backs coach who oversaw that improvement — Chris Harris — was retained by Callahan and Wilson.

“One of the goals when building the staff, one of the traits I was looking for is good people,” Callahan said. “Guys that know how to get along, that know how to build relationships that are positive forces. And I think you're going to feel those guys as you get to know them.”

If there’s a gripe with the Titans’ new staff, it’d be the lack of play-calling experience. With Callahan on offense and Wilson on defense, you’ll have two coaches who haven’t been making calls in games. Learning on the fly isn’t easy in the NFL.

But preparing for the Titans early next season won’t be easy, either.

Too much is changing. So much already has changed. What was weak is getting stronger, and the Titans haven’t signed a new player yet.

It's early. It's going well, though.

Reach Tennessean sports columnist Gentry Estes at and on the X platform (formerly known as Twitter) @Gentry_Estes.

This article originally appeared on Nashville Tennessean: Why Brian Callahan's new Tennessee Titans coaching staff hits the spot