In 2007, Corey Callens accepted a job as a strength coach at the University of Oklahoma. But football and the desire to pursue an on-the-field coaching career kept calling his name.
Now, Callens, who competed as a defensive end for the Sooners from 1997-2000, works as a defensive graduate assistant for the football program, a capacity he has been in since this past spring.
“Football has always nagged at me,” Callens shared. “I would see the coaches walking in and out, and I would want to know what they were doing. I always wanted to be in the meeting room with them. Game day would roll around, and I would be out there [on the sidelines.]
“There were even a couple of times with Coach (Stoops) telling me to back up because I was out further than I should be. I am so involved with this game, and I love it so much, that I thought about it and I was like, ‘I want to do this. I want to go coach.’”
As a native Oklahoman (Callens attended Jenks High School in Tulsa, Okla.), Callens grew up loving the football program and recalls watching games with his uncles. When he had the opportunity to be a Sooner, he knew it was one he was going to take.
In Callens’ first two seasons at OU, the team went 4-8 and 5-6 respectively, which he admits was tough to swallow because in high school, his team only lost three games in four years. Then, during Callens’ junior season, Bob Stoops arrived in Norman, and with him he brought a change in coaching philosophy, discipline and accountability, among other things, Callens said.
That squad went 7-5, but was leading at halftime in four of their losses. That off-season, the team kept talking about the desire to win a national championship and worked toward it. In 2000, the Sooners accomplished that goal after compiling a perfect 13-0 record, something Callens says is one of the best memories he has as an athlete.
After pursuing an NFL career, Callens completed his OU degree. He worked as a detention officer and implemented a successful program at a youth center, and that was when he started to think coaching would be good for him. Then, he worked part-time as a coach at Del City High School before Coach Jerry Schmidt talked to him about joining the OU strength and conditioning staff.
Working with the staff and having a chance to challenge the players on a daily basis has helped him so far as a coach, Callens shared. He also credits Coach Schmidt for helping guide him when he came into the program as a player.
“I know what he did for me as a young man who was kind of feeling my way around in a dark room,” Callens said. “He helped bring a little light in with how he was. He implemented discipline and accountability and being punctual. I think that’s helped me deal with players, and as a result, I think that just helps me as a football coach, as well.”
For Callens, his experience thus far as a GA has already provided him with an opportunity to learn other aspects of the game, such as how to game plan and scheme. Callens decided to take the GA position in order to gain this type of knowledge, and he shared the chance to learn from OU’s coaching staff was appealing.
“To be under Coach Bob Stoops, who is in my opinion the best who’s doing it, and to be under a passionate guy like (defensive coordinator) Mike Stoops and to be under a good teacher like (defensive line coach) Jerry Montgomery, I think it was just best for me to try to take this position and see all I could and learn as much as I could from it,” Callens said.
As for the future and the type of coaching job he would like, Callens said he would like to get a defensive line job, but he is just focusing on taking one day at a time and trying to remain humble, so he is not for sure where he wants to end up.
Callens said any decisions he makes about his future in coaching will have to be made for his family as well. He and his wife, Marisha, have three children: Corey, age 11; Christian, age 7; and Micah, age 5.
While Callens is grateful for the opportunity to learn more about coaching, he shared that recently, he discovered another reason why he is glad to be a part of the OU program.
On May 20, 2013, Callens and his family lost their home and possessions as a tornado ravaged Moore, Okla. Callens added they also lost their “sense of stability,” but in addition to his family and friends, his work colleagues offered encouragement.
Coach Stoops called Callens the next morning and other coaches, players, former players, teammates and others reached out to the family, and Callens said that support system helped make the incident easier.
“The amount of encouragement and support that my wife and I received during that whole experience opened my eyes to why this place is so special, and I’m just really proud to be a part of it,” Callens expressed. “Everyone was here to say, ‘It’s OK, man. We’ve got your back. We really are behind you,’ and that’s the best part of this whole deal. The best part.”