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Originally published May 2, 2013 at 9:00 PM | Page modified May 3, 2013 at 1:47 PM

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Huskies crew coach Michael Callahan is a 'dynamic' leader

Coach Michael Callahan is in his sixth season with prestigious UW and has some fire in his blood.

Special to The Seattle Times

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Born to excel.

Michael Callahan — son of a former Trident submarine captain, past Washington crew captain (1996), U.S. Olympic rowing team alternate (2004) and, today, coach of UW's top-ranked men's varsity eight, the two-time national champions — always sets the bar high.

Bob Ernst, Washington's director of rowing in his 40th year at UW, remembers when he hired Callahan, while an undergrad, to be the summertime caretaker of the UW boathouse in 1993 and '94. Duties: paint oars, clean boats, haul trash.

Boathouse trash got hauled those summers with unprecedented vigor.

"He set the standard," Ernst said. "More stuff got done when he worked there than any other time. He's a self-starter, an industrious guy. He was the boathouse superstar."

Callahan — brainy, thoughtful, soft-spoken, vociferous at times as a coach — is in his sixth season as men's varsity coach at UW. On Saturday, opening day, he will send an imposing men's flotilla of varsity and second varsity crews into the 27th annual Windermere Cup to face ninth-ranked Cornell and 16th-ranked Dartmouth. A 25-race slate begins at 9:55 a.m.

Washington senior Ryan Schroeder, part of the men's unbeaten varsity eight boat (sixth seat), recalls a team cross-country ski trip when Callahan became a one-man vapor trail. "We're all using these classical cross-country skis," Schroeder recalled, "and then here comes Mike on his skate skis, flying past us, expecting us to keep up."

During an annual team run up Mount Si (four miles one way, with a stout elevation gain of 3,150 feet), senior captain Alex Bunkers was reminded that Callahan is perpetually seeking some new, untapped internal gear.

"He starts about five minutes in front of everybody, then we send our fastest guys up," Bunkers said. "One of our guys, Beddome Allen, used to be a cross-country runner, and he passed Mike. At the top, when Mike caught up to him, Beddome said he looked like he was about to die. Mike had tried so hard to stay in front.

"It's awesome to have a coach who is still extremely competitive, always trying to do the best he can."

None of this surprises Mike Teti, men's coach of Washington's longtime rowing rival, California. The Golden Bears, ranked third, lost to UW's V8 by five seconds Saturday on Montlake Cut, giving Callahan a 6-0 record vs. Cal as UW's men's coach.

As Princeton's freshman coach in the mid-1990s, Teti recruited Callahan, who lived in eight towns (including Silverdale during seventh grade) while growing up in a Navy family. Callahan chose Washington.

"He was a complete package," Teti said last week. "He was strong, rowed well, had a good attitude, spirited, tough. People like that generally do pretty well in rowing."

Callahan, a '96 UW grad, had no coaching experience until taking a coaching internship under Ernst in 2001. He worked for Bloomberg News in New Jersey while training with the U.S. national team for the 2004 Olympic Games. When Ernst offered him the UW freshman coaching job after the '04 Athens Games wrapped, Callahan said yes.

In 2008, when Ernst decided to become the UW women's coach, Callahan, 34 at the time, was to some an eyebrow-raising choice to be the men's coach. Not to Ernst.

"He was a great captain," said Ernst, 67. "When he decided he was interested in coaching, I knew he'd be really, really good at it. He's a really good manager."

Callahan, 39, understands many factors make UW — one of about 40 Division I schools that grant varsity-sport status to men's rowing — a prestige destination for rowing recruits: deep tradition, great facilities, generous supporters, a huge annual rowing hootenanny in the Windermere Cup.

But coaching still matters, and Callahan, UW's ninth men's varsity coach since 1903, leans on intellect, intense internal competition and rigorous conditioning ("His training plan gets us as fit as anybody out there," said Bunkers) to extract the most from his rowers.

"In my rowing career I was never the strongest guy, so I always felt that I had to win races in another way," he said. "I had to be a little savvier, a little more technical, a little more tactical. It made me think about rowing in different ways where other people just rely on their horsepower. I think I brought that approach to my coaching.

"I'm fairly disciplined, and I expect the guys to be fairly disciplined. And I'm pretty demanding, I think. Sometimes I'm loud, sometimes not. Sometimes I'm a talker, too. I think I'm all of the above.

"I think to be a good coach you have to be dynamic. Sometimes the wisdom is heard in all those voices."

Title team
UW men at the IRA Finals under coach Michael Callahan:
Year Varsity JV (2nd varsity)
2012 First First
2011 First First
2010 Second First
2009 First First
2008 Second First

Notable: UW won both varsity races in 2007 in Bob Ernst's last season as men's varsity coach.

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