Q&A with B.C. Lions head coach Rick Campbell

Rick Campbell Photo

B.C. Lions head coach Rick Campbell joined CFAX 1070 this week to discuss his coaching style and philosophy, his west coast roots, and his thoughts regarding the uncertainty surrounding the 2020 CFL season.

CFAX: Firstly, what went into your decision to accept the role of the Lions head coach this offseason, and how excited are you to get things started with your new team?

RC: There were several reasons why; one was working with Ed Hervey the general manager who I've known for quite a while, as well as Rick LeLacheur the president, so there was some continuity here. I also thought that there's a really good core group of players led by Mike Reilly, and I don't think this team is far off from turning a corner and being able to win. I'm originally from the state of Washington so also it's another opportunity to live back out west, I really like this neck of the woods so it's been exciting so far. Obviously there's been quite the hiccup in the the delay but I'm excited for whenever we get to hit the field.

CFAX: COVID-19 is causing a lot of problems for pro sports. How has the virus affected the way you do your job on a daily basis?

RC: It's been really impacting. This week we were supposed to start training camp with the rookies, then the veterans would have been coming in this weekend, so this is when the reality hits. We still went about our offseason as far as free agency and the draft, but now it's when it hits home as we should be on the field practising and getting ready to play and we're not. It's pretty uncharted territory, I've just been trying to take it one day at a time and see how it goes. We've been staying busy with projects and scouting, and when the CFL makes another announcement as far a partial season or things like that, then we'll get ready for that. We're like many others right now, there's a lot of unknowns and a lot of uncertainties, but we're just trying to stay healthy and ready to go for when we get the opportunity.

CFAX: Do you have a level of optimism regarding whether CFL football is played this year or not?

RC: I'm a positive person so I'm going to keep my attitude of hoping for the best, but I'm also a realist so I know we're going to listen to the doctors and health experts and follow all the guidelines. It's really out of our hands, the thing we can control is to be positive and keep ourselves as healthy as we can physically and mentally, and be ready to go. I think there's just so many things a lot of us don't know, sports being one of those things; and the news seems to change daily. We just have to sit tight and be patient, be positive, and we'll see what happens.

CFAX: The Lions recently submitted their plans to the B.C. government to reopen the training facility in Surrey. Has the team received any word back, and have any of the players returned to individual workouts?

RC: I don't know if we've heard back yet, that's not my territory. We just want to make sure we're following all the protocol and rules. We do have a group of players here in town, and obviously they're used to working out here or at gyms, which are shut down too. Guys have had to improvise.

CFAX: It was a pretty disappointing season for the Lions in 2019, however a variety of solid additions has optimism beginning to return. What do you feel are the strengths of this team, and do you feel like the Lions have improved over the offseason?

RC: Yes I do. I wasn't here last year so I can't speak to the total ins-and-outs, but what I can say is that there's a really good group of players here. I know they lost some really close games in the early to mid parts of the season. Like I said I don't think this is a team that is a long way off. The three things we did in the offseason was one -- after I was hired we assembled a coaching staff, as I know how important our assistants are -- and the other part was free agency as we really targeted some guys that we wanted. Then we also just recently had the CFL draft, where we drafted Canadians coming out of college and were able to get a couple more guys there. We're very hopeful, and we're all going to be patient here until we get the opportunity to be on the field again.

CFAX: Prior to joining the Lions, you spent the last five years as head coach of the Ottawa RedBlacks, guiding the team to three Grey Cup appearances in that time. If you look back at your tenure with the RedBlacks, what would you say was the biggest lesson you learned?

RC: Yeah, it was my first go around as head coach so I definitely learned a lot. Sometimes it's stuff you already know, but until you actually do it, it can be different. As far as football I've learned there's a lot to it as far as schemes and strategies, but it's also a people business. You want to surround yourself with as many quality, character people as you can, and put them in the best positions to succeed. Football is the ultimate team sport, we've got 45 guys dressed for a game and nine or ten coaches, so you want to keep everyone pulling in the same direction. Like I said I'm really excited to be here, and I can't wait to get on the field with the B.C. Lions.

CFAX: What's your approach to coaching in the CFL, and what sort of style does a team coached by Rick Campbell play?

RC: I'm a big believer in empowering people. I remember when I was coming up through the ranks, there were people who had a positive influence on me, and guided me, but also empowered me at the same time to do my job. I think belief is earned, but I know we have a lot of really good people around here and they're all going to be empowered to do their jobs. Whether it's the equipment guy or starting quarterback, or whatever role you're playing -- you're going to be valued and empowered to put your best foot forward.

CFAX: You're also the son of CFL Hall of Famer Hugh Campbell -- who won five straight Grey Cups in the late 70's and early 80's -- what do you remember from growing up as the son of a CFL head coach and what did he teach you?

RC: I was pretty young when that was all going on. It was really all that I ever knew, ever since I've been alive he was a football coach. What I eluded to about football being a people business -- and about treating people right -- it's an overriding philosophy. If you can build that momentum of creating a really solid company culture and a place where people feel empowered and valued, I think that's what I've learned as I keep growing and getting older is what it's all about. There's all the other things that are fun to talk about like strategies and schemes, but at the end of the day it comes down to having everyone on the same team and being able to pull together. That's what I always remember.

CFAX: You've been apart of coach staffs on various teams for the better part of thirty years. In your opinion, has football changed over the course of your career? and if so, what have you noticed?

RC: That's a really good question. The core principles haven't but I think things aren't as old school as they used to be, as like in any sport. I think there's a lot more respect. One of the things that's been interesting to me is with all of the technology and information sharing, the world is a lot smaller now. What makes the difference now in sports is how well you can get your people to compete over a full season, and I think that's true of any sport now. Whether you watch the NHL, or the CFL, the margin between winning and losing is razor thin. It comes down to having people that feel motivated and empowered to go out and battle each night.

CFAX: What's been your first impression of living in British Columbia?

RC: It's been really great. I was born in the state of Washington and my mother's side of the family is from Seattle, so growing up I spent quite a bit of time in Vancouver. I have a sister who lived in Victoria for over twenty years. I know the area well, and I'm a west coast guy at heart. Getting the opportunity to be back here provides a level of comfort for me. It really makes you appreciate this whole area of the country, and to be able to come back here to the oceans, mountains, trees, it's really been great. The people here have been fantastic too, so I feel very grateful and lucky to be living in British Columbia.


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