As he and the Ottawa REDBLACKS are taken around Edmonton this week, Rick Campbell will undoubtedly see things that trigger memories.
At the end of his fifth season as the head coach in Ottawa, Campbell got his start in the host city for the 106th Grey Cup presented by Shaw. He grew up here, starring as a football player at Harry Ainlay High School. After graduating from Washington State University and a three-year stretch as a graduate assistant coach at Oregon, Campbell returned to Edmonton to start his coaching career.
He was with the Esks from 1999 to 2008, then spent the 2011 season here, with four years as a defensive coordinator and one as special teams coordinator and assistant head coach.
There will be memories waiting around each corner the team’s bus takes them. Stepping onto the field at Commonwealth should bring an entirely different set of feelings.
In his first full day in the city leading up to the big game, Campbell has tried to downplay his homecoming.
“I will say that Edmonton has been a big part of my life and I definitely have love for the city and always will,” he said. “I know a lot of people in this city. It’s been great to me, great to my family.”
A win on Sunday would give him something that his family has never experienced before. For all of Hugh Campbell’s success as a head coach, president and CEO of the Esks, he never won a Grey Cup at Commonwealth Stadium.
“Whatever the word is, I’m compartmentalizing and I’m worrying about preparing the football team the best we can for playing good football on Sunday,” Campbell said.
“Really, that’s what my focus is on, just being here. I know I’m in Edmonton but it’s a work week for me and I’m going to do whatever I can so we can play good football on Sunday. Maybe I’ll have more time to reflect on it after this week.”
Wednesday’s coaches conference felt familiar for both men on the stage. Campbell went toe-to-toe with Calgary Stampeders head coach Dave Dickenson two years ago in the Grey Cup, with Ottawa stunning a 15-2-1 Stamps team for its first championship.
There’s a healthy mutual respect between the two of them. Campbell’s last job before he went to Ottawa was on the Stampeders’ staff, where he was the defensive coordinator and Dickenson was the offensive coordinator.
Campbell has vivid memories of his time in Calgary.
“For me it was his poor music selection,” he said of Dickenson. “When you walk into his office and Dave’s watching film and coming up with stuff, you’ve got Britney Spears and Katy Perry and all that stuff.”
“I have a daughter,” Dickenson said, trying to defend himself.
“Dave’s super smart, treats people the right way. He treats people with respect,” Campbell continued.
“I’m a fan of Dave’s because I think he’s a quality person. He’s a really good coach and you knew he’d be a really good head coach when he got the opportunity.”
“For me, it was that Rick never leaves any stone unturned,” Dickenson countered.
“We worked together on offence, too. It wasn’t his expertise, but we had many, many conversations about ‘What would this do to a defence?’
“I became a much better coach talking to Rick because of his knowledge on that other side of the ball. I always say, I just think there are not many more guys that are more organized than Rick that do things the right way.”
The pressure is squarely on the Stampeders this week, having lost the last two Grey Cup games. The rosters and some of the coaches under each head man have changed in that time, but the memories are there, the highs and lows contrasting on the stage just a few feet apart from one another.
Campbell said he remembered the final play of the game, with Calgary turning the ball over on downs in overtime.
“We were up at halftime, things were going well and we know how these guys compete and fight back. We call it a 60 minute game, that was 60 minutes plus,” Campbell said.
“You just fight all the way to the end and keep competing because you know they’re never going to stop fighting. It was a pretty special moment for us but definitely something that we put in the rearview mirror. We have to worry about this week.”
“(It was) not as special for me,” Dickenson laughed.
“It was a learning experience. You have to make sure look ahead to learn from the past and I think that that squad, Ottawa was fully committed and prepared and outplayed us. I look back at the game, we had our chances but certainly you have to give them credit. They outplayed us that night.”
Campbell’s focus will be on Sunday, but he did take some time to acknowledge another big game that’s taking place on Saturday. His old high school team at Harry Ainlay is playing for an Alberta provincial championship. He threw a “Go Titans” out early in the press conference.
“I’ll be rooting hard for them,” Campbell said “(There are) a ton of memories for me in this town and I’m definitely thrilled to be back.”