Campbell: 'There's nowhere to go but up'
VANCOUVER — The BC Lions didn’t wait long to fulfill their head coaching search. On Monday, the team named Rick Campbell as the 27th head coach in franchise history.
After the team officially announced Campbell as head coach, Lions general manager Ed Hervey had nothing but praise for the man he’s known for over 20 years.
“There are so many things I could say about Rick’s character, but speaking just from a coaching perspective, he was highly regarded to us,” Hervey said during Campbell’s introductory press conference. “He was very successful as an assistant coach and as a head coach. He’s a Grey Cup champion head coach who is very down to earth. … He’s someone who’s going to be very good for us going forward. His abilities as a coach speak for themselves.
“He holds players accountable and also brings a structure that is much needed here. He also has all the things that are required for us to take the next step to build a championship football team.”
Campbell has spent the past 20 years in the Canadian Football League. He started his career as a defensive backs coach and special teams coordinator for the Edmonton Eskimos in 1999 before eventually working his way up to the team’s defensive coordinator in 2005.
He also had stints with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and Calgary Stampeders — serving as an assistant on both staffs — before making his way back to Edmonton to serve as the team’s assistant head coach and special teams coordinator in 2009.
Campbell had a second stop in Calgary from 2012-13, where he was the Stamps’ defensive coordinator. Ahead of the 2014 campaign, Campbell was named the first head coach of the Ottawa REDBLACKS.
After missing the playoffs in their inaugural season, Ottawa would go on to make the playoffs the next four years under Campbell, winning the East Division on two occasions and making it to the Grey Cup three times. During the 2016 campaign, Campbell’s REDBLACKS squad took the East Division crown and made it all the way to the 104th Grey Cup, where they’d defeat the Stamps to capture the first championship in franchise history.
In 2018, Ottawa made it back to the championship game but ultimately lost to Calgary. This past season, the team got out to a 2-0 start. However, they’d lose 15 of their final 16 games of the campaign to finish with a league-worst 3-15 record. The team ultimately made the decision to part ways with Campbell following the end of the regular season.
“It’s been a big few weeks for me. When I ended up leaving Ottawa, I didn’t know what was going to happen,” Campbell said. “I didn’t know if I would be out of football for a year or what it was, I just knew I wanted to stay involved in football. When this came around, it was like a home run.
“… The players here, there’s some damn good football players here. I got to see them up close twice last year and — I’m not going to name all the names but — Mike Reilly and the crew are some really good guys here.”
BC also went through a difficult year in 2019. The team looked to be one of the favourites in the West after signing star quarterback Mike Reilly as a free agent. However, the team opened the year 1-10, with their lone win coming in Week 4 against Toronto. Reilly was sacked more than any other quarterback, which led to offensive line coach Bryan Chiu being relieved of his duties mid-season.
The Lions did make a late push for the crossover spot in the East, beating Campbell’s REDBLACKS in two straight games before beating Montreal and Toronto in their next two games to pull close to the Eskimos. However, it was too little too late as Edmonton went on to clinch the final playoff position with a victory over BC in Week 18.
The move to Vancouver also puts Campbell closer to home. The 48-year-old grew up in Spokane, Washington, which is just a shade under 7 hours Southeast of his new home.
“That is a cool side note for me. I have a bunch of family in Seattle and my mom is from there,” Campbell said. “I was born in the state of Washington so I spent a lot of time on the West Coast and in BC and this whole neck of the woods. Being back in the pacific timezone is a cool bonus for me and Vancouver is a hard city to beat.
“When you leave the West Coast and have an opportunity to come back, you realize what a great place (it is) to live.”
BC does have some work to do in terms of signing some pieces on the defensive side of the ball. However, their main pieces on offence are locked up for next season. Reilly and star receiver Bryan Burnham will be around through 2022 and 2020, respectively, Canadian pass-catcher Lemar Durant signed a two-year extension back on Nov. 7 while running back John White signed a one-year extension on Nov. 27.
With the franchise cornerstone locked up long-term, Campbell is looking forward to getting to work with both Reilly and the other weapons on the team.
“(Reilly) is all in on this BC thing too. He had to make a move out here too and he’s in it for the long haul. He wants to build something big and something special and that’s my philosophy too,” Campbell said. “I’m not a guy that wants to hop around from team to team or look for the greener grass. I want to be a part of something, build towards something and be a part of it.
“I plan on moving here; I want to be all in. I know several people around here who are all in and I want to join in on that.”
Campbell, Hervey and the Lions will now turn their focus to filling out the remainder of the coaching staff, a process that Campbell said would be completed in the near future — on top of head coaching duties, he will also serve as the team’s defensive coordinator. From there, the organization will look towards free agency in February, where there will likely be some turnover. BC also holds nine picks in the 2020 CFL Draft, which is tied for the most alongside the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.
After being unsure of his future just a few weeks ago, Campbell now has something to build towards with the Lions. This offseason is a pivotal one for both him and the organization as a whole, and he believes that they can put the pieces in place to have something special very soon.
“The CFL is a league where you make one or two tweaks to things — a player or two or a coach or two — and all of a sudden, you find a way to win those close games and all of a sudden, things start to go in the right direction,” Campbell said. “I know how hard it is to win in this league; you’ve got to do things right and surround yourself with good people.
“I think the sky is the limit around here. There’s nowhere to go but up.”