Unassuming Callahan brought wins to Gulfport, innovations to state

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, March 30, 2004

[3/28/04]As much as he has accomplished, Lindy Callahan is as humble as they come.

His success as a running back at Ole Miss in the early 1950s? He acknowledges his teammates.

The numerous state football titles the Vicksburg native won as coach of Gulfport High? Because of the coaches who taught him.

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The sweeping changes and additions he brought to high school football in Mississippi as athletic director at Gulfport? Due to the effort of coaches and athletic directors working together.

Whether he takes credit or not, Callahan, 76, is being honored for his accomplishments as one of eight inductees into the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame on April 2.

And since Callahan doesn’t like to brag, those who know him do it for him.

“Other than my father, I don’t know if any man has had a greater influence in my life than Coach Callahan,” said Richard Salloum, a Gulfport lawyer who played for Callahan in the 1960s.

“He’s a fine man,” said Roland Dale, who played with Callahan at Ole Miss and coached with him at Gulfport.

“Not only was he a good football coach, but he was also a good citizen. He gave the kids the right image to follow.”

But before he became known for coaching, Callahan was a good athlete himself.

At Meridian High, he lettered in football, basketball, baseball and track before signing to play football at Ole Miss.

He joined Ole Miss during legendary coach Johnny Vaught’s second season in 1948. Callahan played three years from 1949-51, teaming in the backfield with MSHOF member and Vicksburg resident Kayo Dottley.

“He had very good ability,” said MSHOF member Jimmy “King” Lear, a teammate of Callahan’s at Ole Miss. “He was a shifty runner, real hard to bring down.”

Despite his small frame (5-foot-10, 183 pounds), Callahan totaled 456 yards during his senior season, including a 140-yard, two-touchdown performance in a 39-14 upset of Auburn.

“He had a lot of talent and was very competitive. And he was a hard worker,” Dale said. “I think he carried that into coaching and to the children.”

Upon his graduation, Callahan played semi-pro baseball in both the Cotton States League and the Alabama/Florida League. He stuck with it for three years before making the biggest move of his career.

Callahan’s parents named him after aviator Charles “Lucky Lindy” Lindbergh.

It could be called luck that he landed a job at Gulfport High in 1953, but Callahan gives credit to Dale.

Dale was the head football coach at Gulfport and pulled some strings to bring Callahan on board. He started as an assistant football and basketball coach and head baseball coach.

“I was very young, not much older than some of the players,” Callahan recalls. “But I had a good coach I learned from at Ole Miss, and I was under a good coach in Roland Dale.”

Two years later, Dale left to coach at Southern Miss, and Callahan was promoted to replace him. It didn’t take long for him to turn around a team that had never won a Big Eight state championship.

In 1961, the team began a 42-game conference win streak.

“He was able to get a point across to a player without embarrassing the player,” Salloum said. “Coach Callahan’s style was always to encourage. If a player did well, he was genuinely happy for him.”

In the midst of that impressive run, Callahan coached the baseball team to a state title in 1962. He followed that with a pair of state football championships in 1963 and ’64.

“The three years I played we lost one game under Coach Callahan,” said Salloum, who was the team captain of the football team during his senior season of 1964. “We were an average football team. If not for Coach Callahan and his football staff, we would have had an average record.”

After back-to-back undefeated seasons, Callahan orchestrated an unprecedented 35-game win streak.

“People took such pride in our teams, just such in enthusiasm in the team,” Callahan said. “They closed the gates to town when our game were played.”

That streak came to an end in a 13-10 loss to Murrah, which coincidentally was coached by fellow MSHOF inductee Jack Carlisle.

“That was the 1965 state championship game at Memorial Stadium,” said Carlisle, who will be inducted on the same night as Callahan. “We only played each other three times we won one, lost one and tied one.”

It was during that time that Callahan began to dabble in athletic director duties. In 1963, he started the Gulf Coast Coaching Clinic which still exists today to assist high school football coaches.

“We had won the state title that year and I won the coach of the year honor,” Callahan said. “I got together and had a clinic with the coaches from the Alabama and Louisiana champions, and that’s how it started.”

Callahan took over as athletic director at Gulfport in 1966. Another of his many accomplishments was helping to create the Mississippi/Alabama football and basketball all-star games.

“I was always trying to be innovative and bring new ideas to the (Gulf) Coast,” Callahan said. “I also wanted to share my ideas with the other coaches. I was just trying to come up with new things and stay involved.”

And he stayed involved even after his retirement in 1992. Callahan served as president of the Mississippi High School Activities Association from 1991-95. In 1995, he became just the second Mississippian to be named to the National High School Sports Hall of Fame.

At the age of 76, Callahan still offers his advice and support to the coaches at Gulfport.

“Being enthused about athletics, that was my thing, my life; and it still is,” Callahan said. “You can’t stand still on the treadmill, you’ve got to keep moving. There are a lot of things you can find out.”