They’ll be on opposite sidelines as Grey Cup adversaries Sunday, but Rick Campbell and Dave Dickenson are hardly strangers.
They became good friends working together as assistants under Calgary head coach John Hufnagel from 2012-13 before Campbell left to become the Ottawa Redblacks’ head coach. Dickenson remained and succeeded Hufnagel as Stampeders head coach this season.
Both will chase their first Grey Cup title as a head coach Sunday when Ottawa faces Calgary at BMO Field. And while the two often spoke about football during their time together, Campbell admitted Wednesday at the annual Grey Cup coaches news conference they didn’t always talk shop.
“We usually talked about music or our celebrity crushes, things like that,” Campbell said with a smile. “Not specifically about the Grey Cup, I guess maybe about how crazy it would be to be head coaches.”
But they didn’t always agree, especially when it came to Campbell’s love of grunge rock.
“I can’t speak for him on that as far as I’m not in love with his music choices,” Dickenson said. “The one thing I can tell you about Rick was I’d say, ‘Rick, what if I did this, what would happen?’ He’d say, ‘Well, there’d be a conversation as a defensive guy.’
“That sort of banter back and forth allowed me to be a better coach because I’d come up with some things that can cause conversation because when you cause conversations, indecision, that’s how I think offensively you can sometimes have an advantage. I think it’s pretty cool to be coaching in the game against him and that both of our teams have had success.”
Dickenson wouldn’t divulge his musical taste, stating, “No one wants to listen to what I listen to.”
Dickenson, 43, and Campbell, 45, come by their present jobs honestly.
Dickenson’s father, Bob, was a football coach while his older brother, Craig, served this year as the Saskatchewan Roughriders’ special-teams co-ordinator. Dave Dickenson, a former star quarterback, became a coach after spending 10 of his 12 pro seasons in the CFLwith Calgary and B.C. earning induction into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame in 2015.
Campbell’s father, Hugh, 75, led Edmonton to a record five straight Grey Cups (1978-82) as head coach and also coached the NFL’s Houston Oilers. He also won a Grey Cup as a receiver with the Saskatchewan Roughriders and was the CFL’s coach of the year in ’79 before serving as a long-time executive with the Eskimos.
Hugh Campbell was inducted into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame in 2000. Rick Campbell followed in his legendary father’s footsteps last year when he was named the CFL’s coach of the year and is a finalist for the 2016 honour with Dickenson.
Dickenson led Calgary to a league-best 15-2-1 record as a first-year head coach, the 15 wins being the most ever recorded by a rookie head coach in a season. But the 43-year-old said he really didn’t endure many surprises his first year in the top job.
“I feel like I’ve been prepared for a while,” Dickenson said. “Huf gave me a year to think about it.
“I think I’m smart enough to figure it out in a year . . . it’s not like it was thrown on me. I felt like I was ready and excited and I really felt the season went way better than I could’ve hoped.”
Dickenson did deal with tragedy, though. In September, Mylan Hicks, a defensive back on Calgary’s practice roster, was fatally shot outside a Calgary nightclub.
“There were some tough moments and there still are, it’s not over,” Dickenson said. “I didn’t have a template, I didn’t know what to tell the coaches, the players . . . it just shouldn’t happen.
“I can’t say that I handled it well but I just did my best and the guys certainly have a purpose. We play for more than ourselves.”
So do Campbell and the Redblacks, who are making their second straight Grey Cup appearance despite finishing atop the East Division with an 8-9-1 record, the first team in CFL history to secure first in a division with a losing mark. Ottawa was 12-6-0 last year, earning Campbell coach-of-the-year honours and setting the bar high for the 2016 campaign.
“There’s pressure when there are high expectations within your organization, which I think is a good thing,” Campbell said. “Especially if everybody is working together and pulling in the same direction, management, the coaches, the players, because it’s very hard to win in pro sports.
Despite Ottawa’s struggles, Campbell is a finalist for the CFL coach of the year award with Dickenson.
“I have a lot of respect for Dave because I get Dave and where he’s coming from,” Campbell said. “I guess I’m a pretty simple guy like him, I just try to take things as they come.”
The pressure this week is squarely on Calgary to cap its dominant season with a championship. The Stampeders opened the week as early nine-point favourites.
“I have a philosophy that coaches can help but you’re really at the mercy of players,” Dickenson said. “Players win and lose games (but) coaches can screw it up as well.
“I think we give (players) a little bit of help and tips but it’s still the players’ game and we put a lot of faith and trust in them. You have to have the right guys, it’s a lot about personalities.”