John Bowman sees parallels between Lions’ Rick Campbell and Marc Trestman, Nathan Rourke and Anthony Calvillo

Photo courtesy: Steven Chang/B.C. Lions

Few CFL coaches ever reach the rarified air of three-time Grey Cup champion Marc Trestman, but legendary pass rusher John Bowman believes the B.C. Lions have the next best thing.

The first-year defensive line coach joined TSN 690’s Campbell vs. Gallo ahead of his return to Montreal this week and shared that he never thought he’d see someone match his former head coach in terms of meticulousness and ability to motivate players. That opinion changed when he arrived at the Lions’ training camp in Kamloops.

“Being around Rick Campbell and seeing what he does and how he treats the players and his efficiency and his philosophy, he’s the same way,” Bowman said of his boss in B.C.

“Everything is precise times, moving fast, practicing in chaos so when the game time comes, it’s not as chaotic and hectic. Guys simplify it and it slows down in their minds. We’re not on the field long, we meet longer than we are on the field, and it’s the same kind of mood. It’s always good versus good for the most part and it’s the same kind of mood as when I was playing and the Alouettes were having success under Trestman in the early days.”

Bowman spent five seasons playing for Trestman with Montreal from 2008 to 2012, winning back-to-back Grey Cups in 2009 and 2010. While he credits his former defensive line coaches Mike Sinclair and Anwar Stewart for shaping the way he now trains the position, he considers Trestman to be a tier above other coaches in terms of his overall approach to the game.

“When it comes to philosophy and thinking and all that kind of stuff, it’s Trestman,” Bowman said. “Trestman was the ultimate mind-pleaser. He made everybody feel like they were All-Pros all the time, just the energy he gives and the way he talks to you.”

That came across despite the fact that the long-time NFL offensive guru had no love for defensive players.

“He really did,” Bowman laughed when asked if Trestman truly hated defenders. “He loved football players, he didn’t care too much about us as far as making sure we were happy. Really the only person he wanted to make happy was [Anthony Calvillo].”

“But he was a good dude and he talked to everybody fairly for the most part, unless you did something idiotic. He still made us all feel like we were the greatest players to ever walk, the way he got in our heads and motivated us and things like that.”

Trestman left the CFL to become head coach of the Chicago Bears in 2013, returning in 2017 to guide the Toronto Argonauts to a Grey Cup. In seven seasons north of the border, he compiled a record of 72-54, winning three championships and making four appearances in the title game.

The comparison to Campbell is a flattering one, as the lifelong coach has compiled a record of 57-73-2 in eight seasons at the helm of a CFL franchise, six with the expansion Ottawa Redblacks and two with B.C. He won the Grey Cup with Ottawa in 2016, losing in two other appearances.

However, the coaching staff is not the only area in which Bowman sees parallels between the 2022 B.C. Lions and the Alouettes’ turn-of-the-decade dynasty. In young Canadian quarterback Nathan Rourke, the nine-time all-star believes there are shades of another legend.

“I thought he was like 37,” Bowman said of the 24-year-old sensation. “His demeanor, his preparedness,  I haven’t seen anybody get ready for games like this other than the great Anthony Calvillo, when it comes to film study, being where you’re supposed to be, knowing what everybody else is doing and stuff like that. When it comes to that aspect, he’s wise beyond his years.”

Calvillo, who currently serves as the Alouettes’ offensive play-caller, is arguably the greatest quarterback in CFL history, winning three Most Outstanding Player awards and retiring as pro football’s all-time passing yardage leader.

In just his first year as a starter, Rourke was on pace to smash several single-season CFL records, including passing touchdowns and completion percentage. However, he suffered a Lisfranc sprain in Week 11 and could miss the remainder of the season due to the injury.

While that loss devastated many fans, it affected Bowman deeply as well.

“I played football in the CFL for 14 years and I haven’t felt that sad for someone getting hurt in my career,” he admitted. “Just knowing what he puts into the game, how he cares about his teammates, his willingness to sacrifice everything just to play and get out there and deal with what’s thrown at him. That took the wind out of my sails for a little bit.”

The Lions are now determined to move forward without their star passer and hope to get back into the win column against Montreal, after dropping to 8-2 in their first game without Rourke.

The acquisition of quarterback Vernon Adams Jr. via trade last week should help that cause. However, it will be the leadership of Campbell that most determines the franchise’s prospects, now and in the future.