Jan 2, 2014

Michael Callahan – Washington

Pursuit of Greatness
Michael Callahan – Washington

Now in his 6th year as the head coach of the Washington men’s rowing team, Michael Callahan has helped establish the Huskies program as an indomitable force. Last June, the Huskies achieved history by not only winning their 15th National Championship, but also their sixth straight Ten Eyck (team points title), an achievement unseen in collegiate rowing. Callahan has now led the Huskies to two straight National Championships and three in the five seasons in his charge, including a sweep of the eights at the 2009 and 2012 IRAs.

The 2012 IRA Regatta saw a perfect sweep by all five Husky boats, capping an undefeated season for the Varsity 8. Since the IRA began hosting five events (varsity eight, second varsity eight, freshment eight, varsity four and open four), no crew had swept all 5 until the Huskies did it in 2012.

Prior to taking over the men’s coaching position on July 17, 2007, Callahan had a successful three-year run as Washington’s freshmen coach. But it’s the senior post where Callahan has had an impressive impact. Outside of the 2009, 2011 and 2012 titles, Callahan has also led his program to silver medal finishes in 2008 and 2010. The high level of continued achievement on the water has continued to exemplify the standard at Conibear Shellhouse.

The Pac-10/12 has continued to recognize Callahan’s accomplishments, naming him its Coach of the Year in three of the five seasons he’s led the Husky program. A 1996 graduate of Washington, Callahan has also molded the Husky oarsmen into strong characters off-the-water. He embarked on a mission to have his rowers dominate in the classroom as well, and it’s shown every season on the Pac-12 All-Academic lists. In 2012, the Huskies had 13 oarsmen selected by the conference, including an impressive eight on the first team. “It goes back to our founding principles that we have (in Conibear Shellhouse), that everyone here is performing to their potential level,” Callahan said. “It’s become the ethos to what we do here.”

In 2008, Callahan’s first season as head men’s coach, his crews earned IRA gold in both the second varsity eight and the varsity four. Additionally, the varsity eight took home silver. All five Husky boats competed in the grand finals and all five earned medals, giving Washington the Ten Eyck Trophy for being the regatta’s team points leader.

Callahan recruited several of the athletes in 2007’s championship varsity eight crew. Many of those rowers were members of Callahan’s 2006 national champion freshman eight crew. In addition to the gold medal in 2006, his freshman crews collected bronze medals in 2005 and 2007. Callahan ended his second season with a bang, coaching the 2009 Huskies to an historic sweep of the eights in the IRA National Championship regatta, becoming the first team to accomplish that feat since Washington last did in 1997. The open four also won gold, while the varsity four earned silver.

Callahan took over the program after legendary coach Bob Ernst stepped down after winning the 2007 National Championship to coach the Husky women’s crew program. “I am honored to be selected as the ninth men’s head rowing coach at the University of Washington in its storied 106-year history,” Callahan declared when he was hired. “I couldn’t inherit a higher achieving program than the one Bob Ernst is handing over to me. My challenge of living up to the standard of excellence Bob has set for this position is enormous. “With the strongest Athletic Department and alumni support for rowing in the country, I am looking forward to working hand-in-hand with Bob as we continue the overall program’s goal of being the strongest rowing program in the Pac-10 and the nation.”The Husky men’s job is Callahan’s first head coaching position at the collegiate level.

Callahan has also been active on the national level, coaching the United States Under-23 teams in 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2008. Callahan graduated with a bachelor’s degree in History in 1996.

While at Washington, Callahan was the Captain and Commodore of the 1996 team. Callahan won four Pac-10 Championships, winning the Ky-Ebright trophy in the Men’s Varsity Eight three times. In 1995 and 1996 his crews won a bronze and silver medal in the Men’s Varsity Eight at IRA National Championships. Before coming to Washington, Callahan won a gold medal at the 1992 World Rowing Championships in the Junior Men’s Eight in Montreal. After graduation, Callahan joined the U.S. Men’s National Team, winning a bronze medal in the 1995 Under-23 World Rowing Championships, followed by a gold medal at the 1996 Under-23 World Rowing Championships. He stroked three U.S. National Team boats at the World Championships between 1997 and 2002. Callahan was a medalist at the 1999 Pan-American Games and 2000 World Rowing Cup. Callahan was a member of the 2004 Olympic Rowing Team.

In 2001 Callahan joined the University of Washington rowing program as an intern coach. He had specific responsibilities to coach the junior varsity eight that won a silver medal at the IRA National Championships and the men’s pair without coxswain that won a gold medal.

While growing up, Callahan lived with his family in six states, including Washington while his father was stationed at Bangor as a U.S. Navy Submarine Captain. Callahan attended seventh grade at Fairview Junior High School in Silverdale, Wash. His parents reside in Arlington, Va. and his sister, Megan, is a physician in Boston, Mass.

In September of 2011 Callahan married Joanna Hess.Joanna Callahan is a Washington native who attended the UW School of Law after rowing at Yale and receiving a Masters at the London School of Economics. She has purple and gold in her DNA as her father, Mike Hess, was a two-time UW crew Captain and mother, Andy, was on the UW track teams. Being a Husky is all in the Callahan family.


One of the many beauties of Conibear, renovated in 2005 from the original, on-campus boat house built in 1949, is its location. It’s on campus and on the water. And it is all-inclusive, with training, locker-room, dining, studying and meeting places in one place for Husky athletes.

“There are other schools that have amazing boat houses, too. Yale built a new one, Cal built a new one. Wisconsin built a new one – (but) I know so many rowers who have to go 30 minutes to a lake or a river,” Callahan said.

Instead of commuting to work out off campus, detached from their fellow athletes, Husky rowers are in the epicenter of UW sports. They are housed inside the same building in which all teams eat and study. Washington’s compliance office is also inside Conibear, upstairs near the dining hall and its sweeping views of Union Bay.

“I would say the services we possess here are far and away (the best). It’s actually given us more exposure,” Callahan said. “Our other athletes get to see us coming in from the dock. Hopefully they have some appreciation for what we do. We have appreciation for what they do – our guys are fans of the other teams. So it’s made us a central figure on campus, especially the academic campus. I think that’s a super-positive thing for us.

The renovation of Conibear galvanized an already passionate rowing community in Seattle to become even more involved in the Huskies. On any given day at the dock, one is likely to see a Husky recruit, a reporter, alumnus or a local businessman wanting to learn more about rowing.

“It made this a place people were proud to be,” Callahan said. “In the last 5-10 years, we’ve gained a lot of momentum with the alumni, we’ve gotten more connected. It’s been pivotal to our success, too. Without them we wouldn’t be doing what we do.”

“They’ve enhanced it enough where we can regularly compete for championships. There is someone at the shellhouse everyday to ride my launch with me and watch practice. We had a coach in this year from Dartmouth. He couldn’t believe how many people came by. Even the media attention. We’ve always had this relationship here – maybe because we started here before professional sports developed. And we’ve been able to carry it on.

“Hopefully people consider us a Seattle team, not just a University of Washington team. That’s what makes us unique.”

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