Camp­bell wasted no time build­ing win­ner in Ot­tawa

Red­blacks head coach hired good peo­ple and cre­ated cham­pi­onship at­mos­phere

Calgary Herald - - SPORTS - DAN BARNES [email protected]­ Twit­­dan­barnes

Given that Rick Camp­bell was hired first as an as­sis­tant coach by the late Don Matthews and last by John Huf­nagel — Hall of Fame book­ends, Camp­bell called them — there was bound to be a ton of learn­ing in be­tween.

All he had to do was keep his eyes and ears open; and he has al­ways been com­mit­ted to that process. “I think the big thing is to never stop learn­ing,” said Camp­bell, who grad­u­ated from the ranks of Cana­dian Foot­ball League as­sis­tant five years ago to be­come the head coach of Ot­tawa Red­blacks, a fran­chise that con­tin­ues to amaze.

“You can learn some­thing from ev­ery­body. Even if you don’t agree ex­actly with some­one, there is still some­thing you could al­ways take from peo­ple. There are al­ways ways to evolve and I think that’s part of the key in foot­ball, to evolve with the game and evolve with the times.

“I was for­tu­nate enough to be around some pretty big, leg­endary guys. Don Matthews was the first guy I coached with here. I don’t want to leave peo­ple out, but the first guy was Don, the last guy I was with was Huf and those book­ends would be two pretty good ex­am­ples of Hall of Fame-type guys who en­dured in foot­ball for a long time.”

Matthews, who died in 2017, won five Grey Cups as a head coach, while Huf­nagel coached the Stam­ped­ers to a pair of cham­pi­onships and is now Cal­gary’s GM. Camp­bell was also for­tu­nate to have learned about the CFL from an­other hall of famer, his fa­ther Hugh, who played re­ceiver for Saskatchewan, coached the Ed­mon­ton Eski­mos to five straight Grey Cup wins in a six-year stretch in the late 1970s and early 1980s and went on to be­come Ed­mon­ton’s GM.

Rick was born in Spokane, Wash., but grew up in Ed­mon­ton, played foot­ball at Harry Ain­lay High School and hung out in the Eski­mos’ locker-room. There is CFL in his DNA and all over his re­sume; 15 years in the game as an as­sis­tant coach dur­ing two stops each in Ed­mon­ton and Cal­gary and one sea­son with Win­nipeg. Through that decade and a half he worked for seven head coaches and with more than 50 other as­sis­tants.

One of them sat across from him on Wed­nes­day, as Grey Cup week kicked off with the coaches’ news con­fer­ence. Camp­bell and Stamps head coach Dave Dick­en­son worked on Huf­nagel’s staff to­gether in 2010, 2012 and 2013.

“Know­ing Rick per­son­ally, I knew when he got his job over there (in Ot­tawa) he would do ev­ery­thing in his power to do it the right way,” said Dick­en­son. “Build from in­side, hire some good peo­ple. I think he’s a win­ner. I cer­tainly re­spect the job he does and I’m not sur­prised he’s had the suc­cess he’s had.”

Camp­bell left a peren­nial win­ner in Cal­gary to join a startup in Ot­tawa. He wanted the chance to work with GM Mar­cel Des­jardins be­cause their philoso­phies align.

“It’s re­ally all about win­ning foot­ball and sur­round­ing your­self with good peo­ple,” said Camp­bell.

“Tal­ented peo­ple with char­ac­ter, who can ride out the tough times and are in­ter­ested in be­ing part of a team. Mak­ing it not about them­selves but mak­ing it about the Red­blacks.”

Camp­bell reached back into his past to as­sem­ble his first coach­ing staff; Mike Gib­son and Don Yanowsky from his days in Cal­gary, Mar­cus Cran­dell from Ed­mon­ton, Mark Nel­son from both Win­nipeg and Ed­mon­ton. There have been ad­di­tions and dele­tions since then, and there has been an in­cred­i­ble run of suc­cess. It stems in part from Camp­bell’s com­mit­ment to the crush­ing work­load, his eye for de­tail and the re­spect­ful way he has of treat­ing the peo­ple he works with.

But for cry­ing out loud, he and they started from scratch.

The Red­blacks were 2-16 un­der Camp­bell in 2014, strung to­gether nine straight losses, and were beaten by as much as 38 points in the wan­ing days of the sea­son. They beat Toronto by a sin­gle­ton and ham­mered Win­nipeg 42-20. They al­lowed 465 points to­tal and scored just 278.

To turn that mori­bund ship around in one sea­son and sail it into a Grey Cup game against the Eski­mos in 2015 is noth­ing short of mirac­u­lous. Then they went one bet­ter by beat­ing Dick­en­son and the Stam­ped­ers in the 2016 Grey Cup tilt. And here they are again; the fran­chise’s third Grey Cup ap­pear­ance in just five years. Peo­ple al­ways talk about Hugh’s in­flu­ence on his son, which is both sig­nif­i­cant and hard for any­one to mea­sure ac­cu­rately or suc­cinctly. But with ev­ery Grey Cup ap­pear­ance, ev­ery les­son learned on the big­gest stage this league of­fers, the son steers the con­ver­sa­tion in an­other di­rec­tion, and they be­come more like peers.

Rick Camp­bell

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