When he’d left the Ottawa REDBLACKS at the end of the season, Rick Campbell didn’t know what to make of his immediate future.
He’d just finished his sixth year as the head coach in Ottawa and knew he wanted some change. While football fans and experts across the country began to draw up ideas of where he’d go next, Campbell said he packed up his office in Ottawa and really didn’t know what awaited him.
“When I left Ottawa I didn’t know what I was going to do,” Campbell said this week at the CFL’s presidents and GMs meetings.
“I knew I wanted to stay in coaching and stay in football but if I ended up taking a year off, then so be it.”
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Of course, Campbell was hired by the BC Lions on Dec. 2, almost a full month after he and the REDBLACKS announced his departure. As he weighed his options, BC stood above the rest.
“When it came around with BC it was a no-brainer for me,” Campbell said.
“(Lions GM) Ed Hervey was a big factor in it for me. I’ve known Ed for 20 years and I know what he’s like and how he operates. It was a bonus too, with Rick LeLacheur being there as the president, who I know as well. Those things were key.
“Also I think they have a really good group of core players, including Mike Reilly. (It’s) a new challenge with a new team in a new city and that lined up for me. It was a no-brainer for me, so I just jumped in.”
That familiarity takes Campbell, Hervey and LeLacheur back to their days in Edmonton, which was another destination that people speculated on for the coach. Campbell spent much of his childhood in Edmonton, when his father Hugh was coaching and eventually running the Esks. Campbell played football at Harry Ainlay High School in Edmonton and eventually found his way back there as a coach with the Esks.
Between 1999 and 2004 he served as defensive backs and special teams coordinator. From 2005 to 2008 he was Edmonton’s defensive coordinator. He came back in 2011 as the assistant head coach and special teams coordinator.
Campbell remembers meeting Hervey in that 1999 season when Hervey was a receiver with the Esks.
“The thing that’s always stuck out about Ed is that he’s such a competitor. He’s always just concerned with the team winning. I know that sounds like a simple statement, but that’s really what his focus is on,” he said.
“He’s a no-nonsense guy. I mean that as a compliment in that he’s just going to work to try to do what’s best for the team and to put the team in the best situation.
“We were joking about when I was the special teams coordinator in Edmonton I had asked him to run down and cover a kickoff, which a lot of receivers aren’t lining up to do.
“Ed would do that with enthusiasm. Whatever you asked him to do for the team he was going to be in for doing it. He just wants the team to do well.”
LeLacheur remembers meeting Campbell when he was about eight. By the time that Campbell had returned to Edmonton to start coaching, LeLacheur, who was on the Esks’ board at that point, figured Campbell would follow in his father’s footsteps.
After LeLacheur and Hervey hired Campbell he spent two weeks in Vancouver, putting his plans for the season in place.
“We’ve been through a lot already,” LeLacheur said. “(Campbell’s) just a good football coach and level headed. He’ll do well.”
Campbell is the first head coaching hire of Hervey’s that comes with previous experience in the role. Hervey hired Chris Jones, Jason Maas and DeVone Claybrooks in his time as a GM, with the first two hires taking place when he was the GM in Edmonton.
Campbell built up a 44-62-2 record as the REDBLACKS head coach, was the CFL’s coach of the year in 2015 and won a Grey Cup in 2016. Ottawa played in three Grey Cup games in that six-year span before falling on hard times in 2019, with a 3-15 finish.
He joins a Lions team that went through its share of trouble in 2019, going 5-13 and missing the playoffs. The Lions let Claybrooks go on Nov. 6.
“Each coach has brought something different to the table and Rick brings something to the table that the other coaches didn’t have as first-year head coaches. He has a championship under his belt,” Hervey said.
“I think Chris was as ready as anyone to be a head coach, he just needed the opportunity. I think Jason at the time probably wasn’t as polished to be a head coach but understood the culture of Edmonton and was going to be a very good fit for Mike Reilly offensively…that would allow him to have success.
“With DeVone, there was so much surrounding DeVone as far as being the guy, he was a top priority guy in this league. I think unfortunately in some cases things don’t work out as planned. In the case of Rick, he’s been there and done that.
“We’ve had a chance to watch Rick and watch him grow as a head coach, competing against him. The one thing I’ve always known and admired about Rick is that he never gets too high or too low on any subject, he’s very even keeled and understands processes.
“Working with him will be really good. We have work ahead of us but I feel very confident that we’ll be able to accomplish that and get the things done that we’re expected to do.”
In November, Campbell wasn’t sure what might come next. With some familiar faces working around him and a proven quarterback in Mike Reilly, he found the fresh start he was looking for.
“It could be a healthy thing for me to just be in a new spot and a new environment,” Campbell said. “It worked out for me and I’m so thankful for that.”