By Michael T. Bello
Published Jan 27, 2015 at 10:32 PM ET; Updated Feb 5, 2015 at 7:29 PM ET

Princeton, NJ — Bob Callahan, the legendary men’s squash coach at Princeton University, died on January 27th. He was 59 years old.

Callahan’s playing and coaching careers were extraordinary. As an undergraduate at Princeton, he played on three national championship squash teams (1974, 1975, and 1977). The Tigers also won the 1976 six-man tournament and three Ivy League titles (1974, 1975, and 1977). Individually, Callahan was a two-time All American and All-Ivy League team member (1976 and 1977). During his senior season, Callahan captained the team. The Tigers went 35-2 over Callahan’s playing career.

2014 Hall of Fame Induction: Bob and Kristen Callahan

2014 Hall of Fame Induction: Bob and Kristen Callahan

After college, Callahan worked for IBM, but the TIgers’ coaching vacancy brought him back to Princeton for the 1981 – 1982 season. He intended to stay only one season, but after leading the team to an undefeated season and the national championship, Callahan decided to stay for another 31 years.

From 1981 to 2013, Callahan’s many coaching accomplishments include leading the Tigers team and players to over 300 victories, three national championships (Potter Cups), ten individual titles (Pool Trophies), seven Skillman Awards (senior players and sportsman), two Sloane Awards (team sportsmanship), five intercollegiate doubles titles, eleven Ivy League titles, fourteen Ivy League Players of the Year, and twelve Ivy League Rookies of the Year.

2013 College Squash Individual Championships: Neil Pomphrey and Bob Callahan (Princeton)

2013 College Squash Individual Championships: Neil Pomphrey and Bob Callahan (Princeton)

Throughout Callahan’s coaching career, he was an active member of the Men’s College Squash Association Executive Committee.  For years, he took on the arduous task of team and individual rankings, including arranging the draws for the men’s individual championships. He served as the MCSA president several times, including from 2009 – 2012, a time of substantial growth and professionalism of the league. In the 1990s, he was instrumental in transitioning the intercollegiate game from hardball to softball squash.

Aside from collegiate squash, Callahan had a tremendous impact  on squash throughout the United States.  In the early 1980s, he launched the Princeton Squash Camps, which became the prototype for the numerous squash camps that are in operation today. Through his camps, Callahan coached hundreds of junior players and influenced countless coaches throughout the world. In 1998, Callahan arranged for the World Junior  Men’s Championships to be held at Princeton University. This was the first time this tournament was held in the United States. In 2012, Callahan was inducted into the US Squash Hall of Fame for his contributions to squash in the United States.

In March of 2014, Callahan’s coaching career was capped with induction into the MCSA Hall of Fame. At the Hall of Fame ceremony, he was also presented with the MCSA Lifetime Achievement Award. The ceremony occurred in front many of his former players, fellow coaches, and squash fans. Although his voice was weakened, he shared his passion for the game and reflected on all that it had given him.

Upon his retirement following the 2012- 2013 season, Callahan told GoPrincetonTigers.com that “It has been a great ride over the last 32 years, and I have so many people to thank who have supported me along the way. ” In recognition of Callahan’s impact, in the fall of 2014, Princeton named its men’s squash coaching position the Robert W. Callahan ’77 Head Coach of Men’s Squash.

Callahan’s commitment to his players was well known. He attracted top players to Princeton and he was always able to motivate them. Often he had “five minute” team and individual conversations  that lasted over an hour.

One of Callahan’s most memorable coaching victories came at the conclusion of the 2012 season. Princeton was hosting the national championships and faced Trinity College in the finals. Trinity had captured thirteen consecutive national titles and was up 4-2, appearing poised to a claim number fourteen. Callahan guided his team to three victories in the final round of play, capturing the national title.

After the jubilation of claiming the national title, Callahan felt ill. In the coming days he learned that he had a brain tumor. Callahan remained positive throughout his three years of treatment. He spent time with family. Last fall, he and his wife Kristen celebrated their 36th wedding anniversary. Together they have five children (Greg, Matt, Peter, Scott, and Tim) and two grandchildren.

Memorial Service Information

Induction into the MCSA Hall of Fame

CALLAHAN’S COACHING ACHIEVEMENTS

National Team Championships (Potter Cup):

  • 1981 – 1982
  • 1992 – 1993
  • 2011 – 2012

Men’s Individual Championship (Pool Trophy):

  • 1987: Jeff Stanley
  • 1988: Jeff Stanley
  • 1999: Peter Yik
  • 2000: Peter Yik
  • 2001: David Yik
  • 2003: Yasser El Halaby
  • 2004: Yasser El Halaby
  • 2005: Yasser El Halaby
  • 2006: Yasser El Halaby
  • 2011: Todd Harrity

Skillman Award Winners (Senior Player and Sportsman):

  • 1987: Jeff Stanley
  • 1988: Keen Butcher
  • 2000: Peter Yik
  • 2003: David Yik
  • 2006: Yasser El Halaby
  • 2011: David Letourneau
  • 2013: Todd Harrity

Sloane Award (Team Sportsmanship):

  • 1999 – 2000
  • 2011 – 2012

Intercollegiate Doubles Championships:

  • 1988: Keen Butcher  and Roy Rubin
  • 1995: Rick Hartigan and David Kaye
  • 1996: Ben Fishman and Jack Wyant
  • 2003: Will Osnato and Dent Wilkens
  • 2013: Todd Harrity and Taylor Tutrone

Ivy League Championships:

  • 1981 – 1982
  • 1988 – 1989
  • 1999 – 2000
  • 2001 – 2002
  • 2002 – 2003
  • 2005 – 2006
  • 2006 – 2007
  • 2007 – 2008
  • 2008 – 2009
  • 2011 – 2012
  • 2012 – 2013

Ivy League Players of the Year:

  • 1987: Jeff Stanley
  • 1988: Jeff Stanley
  • 1999: Peter Yik
  • 2000: Peter Yik
  • 2001: Davik Yik
  • 2002: Will Evans
  • 2003: Yasser El Halaby
  • 2004: Yasser El Halaby
  • 2005: Yasser El Halaby
  • 2007: Mauricio Sanchez
  • 2008: Mauricio Sanchez
  • 2009: Mauricio Sanchez
  • 2011: Todd Harrity
  • 2013: Todd Harrity

Ivy League Rookie of the Year:

  • 1986: Jeff Stanley
  • 1992: Rick Hartigan
  • 1993: Jack Wyant
  • 1997: Peter Yik
  • 1999: Peter Kelly
  • 2000: David Yik
  • 2003: Yasser El Halaby
  • 2005: Robert Hong
  • 2006: Mauricio Sanchez
  • 2008: David Letourneau
  • 2009: Chris Callis
  • 2010: Todd Harrity
  • 2013: Vivek Dinodia

A note from Kristen Callahan, the wife of the late Bob Callahan.

Thank you for all your thoughts and prayers. We have been touched by the many notes and messages we have received, and we look forward to reading them all in the coming days.

The memorial service will be held on Saturday, Feb 7, 2015 at 1:30 PM in the University Chapel [at Princeton University], with an on-campus reception to follow. Tiger attire encouraged!

The family requests no more flowers; rather, if you are inclined to make a donation, please consider the two organizations that have been dearest to Coach these last three years:

The Robert W. Callahan ’77 Head Coach of Men’s Squash (Select “Callahan Endowment for Squash”) and Brain Cancer Research at Memorial Sloan Kettering

Mailing Information:

The Robert W. Callahan ’77 Head Coach of Men’s Squash
c/o Diana Dreyfus Leighton
Princeton University – Leadership Gifts
330 Alexander Street
Princeton, NJ 08540

Recently posted links that honor Bob’s accomplishments in both sport and life:

Reflections from CSA Coaches:

If you would like to add your own reflections, please e-mail the CSA.

 

“This is a sad day for Bob’s family, friends and the squash world.  All Bob’s players talked about him with deep affection and an almost reverential respect. Bob’s presence in the game was and is huge, not just in his success as a coach, but in his service back to the game.  He was an inspiring model for his players and fellow coaches alike.  Bob will be hugely missed, though his legacy in the game will continue.” — Martin Heath, men’s squash coach at the University of Rochester and the MCSA President.

“We were all blessed to have shared time on this earth with such a great man. He will be missed, but never forgotten.” — Paul Assaiante, men’s squash coach at Trinity College.

“For 21 seasons I was privileged to witness Bob’s charismatic leadership of the Princeton Men’s squash team and the wonderful impact he had on countless lives. Bob was a joy to be around … always caring …always positive … always honest … the ultimate role model for his extended family of players.” — Neil Pomphrey, men’s assistant squash coach at Princeton University.

“A profoundly sad day for all of us.  His impact transcended his role in college squash to the benefit of all of us who love this sport. His teams always competed with such respect for their opponents and the game.  He taught them well. Our heartfelt condolences to his family. He was loved by all who knew him and will be truly missed.” — Mike Way, squash coach at Harvard University.

“Bob Callahan coached many champion players and teams throughout his illustrious career at Princeton. The last 3 years Bob demonstrated the true meaning of a champion, he has shown us all in the toughest of times grace, dignity, humor and respect. All throughout his battle he still thought and cared of others with his emails and calls, ‘just checking in’ he would say!!. College squash is as successful as it is, because of his unfailing contributions to the association, the teams and its players. We are indebted for your contributions and are honored to have worked with you.” — Craig Thorpe-Clark, men’s squash coach at Bard College.

“First, I would like to pass along my prayers and admiration to the Callahan family.  I had the honor of sharing in the celebration of one of the Callahan family moments during their time in Napa … Bob  ‘IS’ and will forever be the most loved father and husband I have ever witnessed. On a personal note, I met Bob the first time when my son Josh Miller was playing his first Junior National Squash Championship.  As a newcomer, we had no idea as to who all the ‘players’ were but soon learned Coach Callahan was among the finest.  Josh was injured during one of his championship matches, and Coach literally jumped over the wall onto the court to help my son.  It a moment I will cherish forever, a stranger reaching out to a young man who was then in emotional and physical pain. Josh went on to play for Trinity but his admiration for Bob never ended.  Under the amazing guidance and friendship of Coach Assaiante, learned to always respect and honor your opponent .. and Bob’s team was often that. But on and off the court the deepest admiration remained.With our hearts as a family to the Callahan family, we were privileged to share in the life and times of Coach Bob Callahan.” — Debi Clark & Josh & Alex Miller.

“I have known Bob for 15 years. Less than half the time he was at Princeton! Such a great man, leading by example and fighting to the end. A true gentleman, always generous in victory and gracious in defeat. His achievements from 31 years at Princeton are remarkable but he was so much more than that. With a passion for Squash second to none and always ALWAYS a pleasure to spend time with, I have many fond memories of Bob, and will never forget the times I would see him in his office at the Princeton courts plotting the next victory or planning the next training session for his tigers. My condolences to all his family and friends. He will be dearly missed.  RIP Bob. See you on the other side.” — Chris Walker, coach for Squash Solutions and former US men’s national coach.

“Bob was an extra ordinary person . A true champion , always positive and willing to help . I was fortunate to meet him and his lovely family . Exceptional dedication to his passion of squash and a wonderful family man. I met him more than 10 years ago ! May his soul rest in everlasting peace.” —  Shakiru Matti

“Navy Squash salutes Bob Callahan, a great man. He will be missed.” — Craig Dawson, squash coach at the United States Naval Academy.

“Bob’s death created a significant void in intercollegiate squash in the United States and Canada. He leaves the echo of warm memories of thoughtful acts for those who knew him personally. He also bequeaths an enduring living legacy by his professional living contributions to the game of squash.” — Jack Fairs, squash coach emeritus at Western Ontario and MCSA Hall of Fame member.

From Dave Talbott, men’s and women’s squash coach at Yale University:

Like so many us in the Squash World, the news of the passing of Bob Callahan was a blow that hit me hard despite the impending expectation. Having shared the horrible news we all received in February 2012, like so many who knew him, I was incredibly amazed at his spirit and dogged determination these past 3 years. My initial admiration for his battle began the second weekend in March of 2012 when I was sitting in my office at the Brady Squash Center while hosting the 2012 US Closed National Championship. Knowing that Bob had undergone brain surgery for the tumor two weeks before, I was completely overwhelmed when I looked up, and he was standing with Kristen outside my office door. I could not fathom that I was seeing Bob, knowing how recently he had undergone major brain surgery. As I looked up with this incredulous look on my face, Bob just gave me the wry smile I had seen for the last 28 years that we had battled each other as the Head Squash Coaches of our respective programs. Standing next to Kristen, who I rarely saw during our matches, I could only stare and marvel.

My first words which I remember clearly were, “what are you doing here?” His response which I also vividly recall was, “what am I going to do, sit at home and miss looking for some players who can help my team.” That summed up Bob’s spirit and all that he showed so many of us these last three years. To me, his fight and spirit, as so many have talked about, and his living his life to the fullest from that point on was a snapshot of Bob. That moment summed up Bob and his life as I knew it from 1983 when I first came to Yale and got locked in to college squash and Bob Callahan. Others, who were closer to him personally, have spoken so much about his DNA and all that made him special for so many. Bob’s family, his players, and all those he shared his life’s journey with, have helped all of us appreciate Bob so much more.

My relationship with Bob was one of professional adversaries always trying to win the next match. I estimate that we squared off with our teams over 50 times from 1984 through 2013, including pre-season, regular season, team tournaments, and CSA Championships. You learn a lot about a man under those circumstances. I started missing that the day Bob stepped down after the 2013 season. The last match we squared off was a 6-3 loss to Princeton for the third/fourth play-off in the CSA Team Championships at Yale in February, 2013. When the last ball was hit, I knew we would not face off as coaches again, and I remember the hollow feeling. Losing was not important. Our matches were always dogfights, but Bob was fair and taught his players to do the right thing. Yale lost more than they won against his Princeton teams, but it was never personal with Bob. He hated losing as much as I did, but Bob never crossed the line.

Bob was the single most important leader and force in The College Squash Association. He was a progressive thinker, served as CSA President twice, and created many of the initiatives that have helped the college game grow and prosper. There are so many of those pieces that I could talk about, and I know many of these will be part of his professional legacy along with so much more. Jim Zug’s piece on Bob was a wonderful tribute to his impact on the sport and all he accomplished after captaining the 1977 Princeton Team to an Intercollegiate Championship.

My personal admiration for Bob was based on his deep commitment as a husband and a father. He had 5 sons who not only wanted to stay home and attend Princeton, when they certainly had other choices, but in fact, all of them participated on his team. That was unfathomable to me. I learned a lot about his personal side many years ago, when the only son who came to look at Yale, Scott, spent the day in New Haven with his mom. That was also the first time I had ever even spoken to Kristen. I distinctly remember thinking what a wonderful woman she was with a really nice kid. I remember feeling awkward at first, but after Kristen and Scott started telling funny stories about Bob, I got an insight into the man as only a wife and son can offer. It actually softened in many ways, my fierce competitive rivalry with Bob. Clearly his 35 years of a wonderful marriage which bore 5 successful and highly respected sons are the most important part of his legacy. Kristen and the boys can be assured that even those of us that competed hard against Bob for close to three decades have the utmost respect for everything that he represents on and off the squash court.

May you rest in peace Bob, and I only hope that we can all keep our own priorities in order as you did throughout your life.

“It was a true honour to have known Bob from the time we met and worked together at the Princeton Summer Camps in 2003. Over the years thousands of budding squash stars will have passed through Jadwyn Gym and will remember Bob C for his infamous Name game, among many other things. We kept in touch from time to time over these past years and in one of his more recent notes Bob said he was doing well, felt great and was trying to make life difficult for his tumour. What else would you have expected from Bob? He was a genuinely wonderful person who had a positive outlook on people and life. An exemplary coach and professional in every sense. It’s comforting to hear that his suffering has ended and he is now at peace. He will be sadly missed. With pleasant memories and my sincerest condolences to his family, close friends and colleagues.” — Karen Cheung