Rick Campbell has been named the new head coach of the B.C. Lions.
Campbell decided to leave the Ottawa Redblacks with one season — 2020 — remaining on his contract in early November. The Lions relieved DeVone Claybrooks of his head coaching duties just days later. B.C. went 5-13 and finished last in the West Division. Claybrooks signed a three-year deal through the 2021 season last December.
The 48-year-old was hired as the first head coach in Redblacks’ franchise history by general manager Marcel Desjardins and spent six seasons as the bench boss for Ottawa.
After the inaugural year when the Redblacks went 2-16, Campbell turned the team around and improved the win total by 10. Ottawa was 12-6, earning first place in the East Division and made it to the Grey Cup, losing to Edmonton. He was named CFL coach of the year for his efforts.
Success led to opposing teams inquiring about Ottawa coaches. Offensive coordinator Jason Maas accepted the Eskimos’ head coach position and it meant Campbell had to find a successor to run the offence. That was when Jaime Elizondo was hired as the play-caller. 41-year-old Henry Burris learned a new scheme as Trevor Harris was signed in free agency and promised the starting role one year later.
2016 saw the Redblacks’ record dip to 8-9-1, but the club still claimed the top spot in the East. Ottawa exacted revenge on the Eskimos by winning the Eastern Final, advancing to the CFL title game for a second straight year. Burris threw for 461 yards and three touchdowns, including the game-winner in overtime to Ernest Jackson, as the Redblacks won the Grey Cup in an upset over Calgary.
Ottawa produced the same 8-9-1 mark in 2017 and finished second in the East Division. The Saskatchewan Roughriders crossed over and beat the Redblacks in the Eastern Semi-Final. Following the season Campbell demoted Mark Nelson to linebacker coach and hired Noel Thorpe as defensive coordinator.
The move worked as Ottawa’s defence dropped their points against total by 75 and the Redblacks were once again a double-digit win squad at 11-7. It made Ottawa first in the East as the team booked a third ticket to the Grey Cup in four years. The Stampeders got one back with a 27-16 victory.
The loss had a ripple effect. Harris signed with former Redblacks’ assistant general manager Brock Sunderland in Edmonton. Elizondo interviewed for head coach positions, but was denied the chance to do so in Saskatchewan after Chris Jones departed for the NFL. He eventually left for the XFL and Ottawa didn’t have a succession plan on the coaching staff.
The Redblacks started 2-0 with Dominique Davis as the starting QB, but it was all downhill from there. Ottawa lost 15 of their final 16 games and 11 straight — the longest losing streak in franchise history — to end the 2019 season with a league-worst 3-15 record.
Overall, Campbell went 44-62-2 with a 4-3 post-season record and one Grey Cup championship during his time as the head coach for the Redblacks. Prior to his time in Ottawa, Campbell was a special teams coordinator with the Eskimos, part of the 2003 title team, and was promoted to defensive coordinator in 2005 when Edmonton captured another ring.
Father Hugh Campbell coached the Eskimos to five straight Grey Cup victories from 1978-1982, two more as general manager and one while president. Edmonton was where both Campbell’s earned their first pro coaching jobs.
Current Lions general manager Ed Hervey was with the Eskimos from 2007 to 2016 as a scout and moved up to GM in 2013. Campbell spent 2005-2008 and 2011 in the Alberta capital. Hervey was a star receiver for the Esks in 2005 when Edmonton won the Grey Cup, Campbell was defensive coordinator at the time. That’s the connection which has led Campbell to the West coast.