When hiring a head coach, the shopping list of desired attributes is often long and the candidates are each usually incredible in there own rights.
This coaching hiring cycle is no different than any other. It features innovative offensive playcallers, like Paul LaPolice and Tommy Condell, defensive masterminds, like Mark Washington, wayward CFL sons, like Jaime Elizondo, and young up-and-comers, like Ryan Dinwiddie and Mark Kilam. All of whom were at least mentioned in the room when the B.C. Lions’ coaching search began.
Yet, being a successful head coach requires an entirely different skill set than being a top coordinator or position coach. It requires a level head, managerial prowess and a high degree of self-awareness. The head coach has to be the one calm enough to watch the clock when the whole world seems to be burning around them. They have to be the one to stand on the podium and take the bullets for their team. They have to be the one to shape 11 different opinions into one single game plan. In many ways, they have to give form to their team’s identity.
Few people are more adept or qualified for the unique responsibilities of head coaching than Rick Campbell. The Lions are all too familiar with the risks of hiring a young, exciting, yet inexperienced head coach. DeVone Claybrooks was a coach with miles of potential who fell victim to his own optimism and naivety, along with the tragic lack of patience in pro football. This hire is the antithesis of that one. Campbell isn’t flashy, but he is reliable. He isn’t sexy, but he is qualified. He won’t reinvent the wheel, but he sure will manage the existing ones.
Call it whatever you want, with whatever analogy you choose. Campbell is an RBI double instead of a home run swing. A birdie putt instead of a hole-in-one. An easy free throw, not a three-point shot. None of that is an insult or even a critique of Campbell.
When you swing for the fences, you’ll strike out more often than not. A solid hit, however, will get you on base with a chance to make a play. Winning is done with the consistently replicable parts of any game, not the volatile highlight reel plays. You can count on one hand the coaches who can provide that level of winning consistency: Rick Campbell is one of them.
The struggles in Ottawa that led to Campbell’s less than amicable exit this off-season have been well documented. The Redblacks were historically bad this season, missing the playoffs for the first time since their 2014 expansion season. Campbell was not entirely devoid of blame for that performance, as I’m sure he’d be the first to tell you, but the obstacles he faced from a roster perspective were wholly insurmountable. B.C., for all their struggles last year, already have a markedly more talented roster in place than Ottawa did.
Between his two losing seasons, Campbell was a combined 39-31-2 as a head coach, with three Grey Cup appearances and a shiny championship ring in 2016. Even when they were losing, Campbell’s teams had a propensity to punch above their weight class. Their wins this year came against Calgary, Saskatchewan and Montreal, all playoff teams.
What Campbell brings to the table is a complete and total understanding of how a football team should operate, with experience in all facets. He was born into this profession thanks to his legendary father, but paid his dues and worked his way up far more than the majority of famous coaches’ sons.
He was a graduate assistant at the University of Oregon in the early tenure of College Football Hall of Fame coach Mike Belloti, serving alongside coordinators like Rich Stubler, Dirk Koetter and Jeff Tedford. He’s been at various times a defensive position coach, an offensive position coach, a special teams’ coordinator, a defensive coordinator and a head coach. He grew up in a football front office. There is no part of a football team that Rick Campbell can’t manage from lived experience.
That really is the key here: experience. As Ed Hervey said: “a Rick Campbell doesn’t come available too often.” When Claybrooks was unceremoniously shown the door, the general manager emphasized four missing attributes: structure, discipline, accountability, and professionalism. Those are the credentials that Rick Campbell brings to the table. A consistent, replicable approach to winning.
Rick Campbell is the safe hire. He isn’t revolutionary. He may not even be the candidate I would have chosen. But he is the right hire for this B.C. Lions’ team, especially right now. A team that has been lost in the wilderness for years now has a steady hand and a semblance of stability. It has often been said that to win in the CFL, you need a premier quarterback and a good coach. The B.C. Lions now have both.