November 15, 2010


Cancer Claims SIU’s Callahan at 52

By Sean Ryan Co-Founder


Southern Illinois University baseball coach Dan Callahan died Monday at the age of 52 after losing a battle with neurotropic melanoma, a rare form of skin cancer.


Callahan, or “Cal” as he was affectionately known, spent 16 seasons as the head coach at Southern Illinois and compiled a record of 442-447-1. He arrived in Carbondale after going 153-158-1 in five seasons at Eastern Illinois.


All told, Callahan went 595-605-2 and is one of just five coaches in Missouri Valley Conference history to win more than 200 conference games.


“I guess outside of being close friends with him, the thing I’m going to take from him is his courage and his attitude,” said Indiana State coach Rick Heller, who visited Callahan at the hospital earlier Monday. “He went through so much and so much pain the past four or five years…And you never heard him complain…I just never had any doubts that he was going to beat it.”


Last fall, the popular and humorous coach received the MVC Most Courageous Award, an award given to a student-athlete, coach or university administrator who demonstrates unusual courage in the face of personal illness, adversity or tragedy and whose behavior reflects honor on the institution or the conference.


“Cal was the guy that if you weren’t playing him, you always wanted him to do well,” said Missouri State coach Keith Guttin, whose coaching battles with Callahan date to the late 1980s. “He was very well liked and very respected among the league’s coaches.


“He was a hell of a competitor. But when the game was over, he was the first guy to congratulate you if you did something and compliment your ballclub.”


Creighton coach Ed Servais remembered the night his Bluejays won their first MVC conference title in 2007 in Springfield, Mo. The game with Wichita State was delayed by weather and didn’t end until after midnight. When Servais got back to his room around 1:45 in the morning, his cell phone rang.


“Low and behold, the person who called me at that time was Dan Callahan,” Servais said. “Cal didn’t even have my cell number. I’m not sure how he got it. But he called late night, and it just tells you a little bit more what he’s all about.”


Servais added: “I have not met a better person in 28 years of coaching baseball. A great guy that loved baseball and his players. I am a better coach having competed against Dan.”


Heller recalled a similar story to Servais.


The year was 1993 and Heller was starting his career at Division III’s Upper Iowa. The first time he met Callahan was when he called and told Heller that he knew of his reputation of playing anybody at any time. He asked Heller if his squad would come down to play since its field was under snow, and Heller made it happen.


Heller still keeps the letter that Callahan sent him the following week thanking him and his team for playing the games in his office. He also remembers the voice mails he’d receive from his friend whether his team won or lost a series against Callahan’s clubs.


“It didn’t matter if he won or lost, it was the same thing every time,” Heller said. “And a friendship was a lot deeper than a baseball game. He was that way with everybody.”


Added Guttin: “This was a guy come the ABCA convention, he was the host. He was very popular and well liked among a lot of coaches. He was everyone’s friend.”


Callahan, a native of Springfield, Ill., pitched for two seasons at New Orleans before graduating from Quincy College in 1981 and pitching for several seasons in the San Diego Padres and Seattle Mariners organizations. He spent time at Springfield Lanphier High School and at his alma mater, Springfield High School, before starting his college coaching career as a graduate assistant at SIU in 1986.


Callahan is survived by his wife Stacy, daughters Alexa (19) and Carly (14) and parents Ann and Gene. Funeral arrangements are pending. In lieu of flowers, the Callahan family requests memorials are made to the Callahan Medical Fund in care of the SIU credit union and/or to the Dan Callahan Memorial Fund that will be set up through the SIU Foundation to benefit the Saluki baseball program.


“It’s a real sad day for all of us and a real sad day for baseball,” Heller said.


(photos courtesy of SIU Media Relations Office)