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VANCOUVER — This year has been nothing like anyone, including BC Lions bench boss Rick Campbell, has ever experienced.
Along with the uncertainties of this unprecedented time due to the global pandemic, this happens to be the first time in over 20 years that Campbell isn’t spending the majority of his time nose deep in a playbook.
“It is really weird now. Sometimes I look at my phone and I see that we’re well into August and we haven’t played games,” Lions head coach Rick Campbell told BCLions.com.
“That’s a first for me in I think like, 23 years or something. (I’m) definitely not keeping the hours that you would in season but we were definitely keeping hours to get ready for the season until we got the news. We were trying to adjust how training camp would work or if we were going to be going to Winnipeg, all of those things.”
Last week, the CFL announced that there would be no football played this fall and instead the league would turn its focus to 2021 and beyond. It was disappointing news for fans, players and coaches across the league who were optimistic that things would be able to fall into place to have a shortened season this year.
“It hurt when you got the news even though you knew it could be a possibility that the season could be cancelled,” said Campbell. “It’s not real until you actually hear the news. There was some optimism in the days coming up to it so it definitely hurt. I was down for a few days and I’m still bummed out that there’s not going to be CFL football this year. But we’re going to rebound and we’re going to be ready to go for 2021.”
Rebound. That’s what the Lions will hope to do following their 5-13 season in 2019. The year wasn’t ideal for the Leos as they struggled to string together wins to start the campaign. They went 1-10, with their only victory coming against the Toronto Argonauts in Week 4. Mike Reilly endured a season of hard hits as BC gave up a league-worst 58 sacks. They struggled on defence to get to the opposing QBs as well, tallying just 28 sacks, one more than the Montreal Alouettes, who had the league’s worst total.
A coaching change on the offensive line late in the year helped spark something for BC. They won four in a row and had a chance at a playoff spot down the stretch but it wasn’t enough and they missed out on the post-season.
Things were looking up for the men in orange and new head coach Rick Campbell, who signed with the club in December, is optimistic that his team can keep that momentum rolling. He says that it starts with keeping the players and coaches that are currently part of the squad.
“We think we’re on the right track here and we think we have a lot of really good pieces,” he said. “One, and most importantly, is the players. We want to retain guys, extend guys, whatever that is. We’re going to be proactive in doing that. Not waiting for the spring or anything like that. We want to do that and then with the coaches, the same thing as well. We’d like to keep this group around. I really like the group and how they’re working together.
“The continuity is important. Even though we didn’t play a season, the coaches and players were starting to get to know each other, anticipating what we were going to do on offence, defence and special teams. If we can keep that continuity and keep building it up, I think it’s going to be a good thing. Like I said there’s a lot of really good people that I know know how to win football games and we want to keep them around. Number 1 it’s good for the BC Lions and two, it’s also good for the individuals as people to have some certainty and to know that they have a home for being in football in 2021.”
As everyone settles in for a longer than usual off-season, Campbell wanted to send a message to the Leos’ faithful.
“I sure appreciate all the fans and all the people that support the Lions,” he said. “(It’s been) a tough year for all of us but I know we’re all going to be resilient and rebound. Like I said, there’s too many good things that we have going on this team that we want to make sure that we (keep around). We took a gut punch but we’re going to rebound and be ready to go for the future.”
– With files from BCLions.com