The B.C. Lions hired Rick Campbell in December of 2019.
Campbell, head coach and co-general manager of the CFL club, spoke to KTW on Friday, covering a wide range of topics ahead of his first training camp with the team.
Find the interview transcript below.
KTW: How agonizing has this wait been and how much are you looking forward to getting back out onto the field?
Rick Campbell: Super excited to get back on the field. It has been agonizing. When you think of when this whole thing began 15, 16 months ago, I don't think any of us knew what to expect or how long this would go, but it's definitely exciting to see there could be a light at the end of the tunnel.
KTW: You and (co-GM) Neil McEvoy have been tasked with building this roster. How much change has there been and what was your philosophy when you were putting this team together?
RC: We thought we had a lot of the pieces of the puzzle in place. There were a couple things as we went through, getting ready for this season, and one was to retain our own players. That was Job No. 1. We think we have a really good core group of guys. Then we worked on the draft and signing a few free agents from other teams, so that's been the focus, but even if we had played last year, I really liked the group of players, and it's no different going into this year.
KTW: What's your relationship like with Mike Reilly?
RC: I've known Mike Reilly for a while. We're both from the state of Washington. We have that in common. I've never worked with him, though, directly. I'm excited that I get that opportunity. I think he's a genuine person, a good guy. Obviously, he's a good quarterback, but part of being a good quarterback is being able to relate to the people on the team. He does a really good job of that. I definitely feel fortunate to have him on the team.
KTW: A lot of people in this province are excited about another quarterback on the roster, Nathan Rourke [of Victoria]. There has been some criticism in the past, before your time, that when the game was out of hand, either way, the younger quarterbacks wouldn't come in. Will that change under you and will we get to see Nathan Rourke this season?
RC: Let's hope the games are out of hand in our favour. I hope I run into that problem a lot. I really like Nathan. He was in the previous year's draft and we drafted him high for a reason. He's going to be able to come in and compete right away, so we'll see what he's got. I know he's a winner. His college career, I believe they [Ohio University] won three bowl games. They hadn't come close to that before. There is something to be said for guys who are winners, especially at the quarterback position. I really look forward to getting out there and seeing what he does. If it fits right, then we'll use him. I know he's excited about it, too, so looking forward to seeing how that develops.
KTW: Even before the pandemic, the club has had struggles filling seats inside BC Place. Outside of winning, is there anything you can do as a head coach to help boost attendance?
RC: I can speak from playing against the Lions. I remember playing playoff games at BC Place and it just being loud, and big crowds, so you know it's there. For whatever reason, it is what it is right now. A couple things I like, is I think there is a pretty solid group of players that are from B.C., local guys. I've moved to Vancouver. I make it my full-time home. That is part of it, the pride of being from here. Winning is a big piece of the puzzle. I'm going focus on that, of making sure we're as good as we can be on the field. What we do in the community, all of that plays a role in getting the attendance back up.
KTW: I'm hoping you can help us confirm what's going on with camp in Kamloops. We've heard from Farhan Lalji that July 10 is the start date and we heard from the City of Kamloops [on Thursday] that the Lions are planning to bring the players who need to quarantine here by July 1 or July 2. Can you confirm those dates?
RC: If all goes well and we get all the approvals, and it's not just in B.C., it's across Canada, what we are planning on, and what we hope happens, is that we would be in Kamloops for the whole month of July. There would be a component for the guys coming from out of the country where they would quarantine. We would do that all in Kamloops. And that's a pretty accurate date, if all goes well, that we would get on the field practising really close to the 10th and be there right toward the end of the month.
KTW: It's been three years since the Lions have had a playoff game. They haven't had a winning record since 2016. How important is it to get into the playoffs in Year 1 and put this club back on a winning path?
RC: That's what we are in it for. I hope we all have the attitude of you go into every year going in to win the Grey Cup. Before that, there is a whole process you've got to go through to put yourself in the best position possible to win. The West Division is very competitive. All the teams are good in the West. But I see no reason, with the players we have and the coaches we have and the support we have, that we can't throw our hat in the ring and be competitive right away. I've never been a big talker in predicting the amount of wins or things like that, but I am confident that if we work hard and do the right thing we can be right there with anybody else, and that's what we'll do.
KTW: What type of offence can we expect to see?
RC: With a guy like Mike Reilly, who can move and run around and do things, we can do a lot of exciting things. I'm excited that our offensive co-ordinator Jordan Maksymic has worked with Mike before, in Edmonton, so there is already that relationship. We have some really good playmakers. We need to be dynamic. We don't have to just focus on one guy. We can distribute the ball around and that's the place you want to live on offence. That's what we plan on doing. I'm also really looking forward to our offensive line. There is some continuity there with the coach and some players coming back, and with the addition of a guy like Ryker Mathews. Our offence is hungry and out to prove themselves, the players and the coaches.
KTW: On the defensive side of the ball, are you quietly confident you've mustered a depth chart you're happy with and maybe could surprise some people?
RC: Yeah. I think we've really got a good core group of guys. I just know I'm confident, but I also know it takes a ton of work. Pro sports is extremely competitive. We have a good core group of guys that understand that it's going to take a lot of hard work, but there is no reason we can't do some really good things. Also, when you're the team that was on the bottom, sometimes you tend to be underestimated and I don't mind living that way at all. You'll see a group that's motivated and out to prove something, and I don't think that's ever a bad thing.
KTW: An XFL merger, if that was to happen, what's your stance on the rules of the game and how the game should be played?
RC: Well, that hasn't been at the forefront of my mind, but if we are just talking football, I think the reason the CFL has always stayed around, and you've seen a lot of other leagues come and go, other than the NFL, but the CFL is a really good game and product because of a lot of the rules. There is even a lot of stuff happening in the NFL right now that wouldn't have happened 15, 20 years ago, like small, fast receivers and athletic quarterbacks. Patrick Mahomes and Russell Wilson aren't playing in the NFL 15, 20 years ago. They're playing in the CFL. It just shows you the CFL has had a huge influence on football and it's been the exciting part of football, which is an open game with fast players that can make plays. I sure hope that whatever happens with that, a ton of CFL concepts are in there, not only for tradition, but also because I think it makes the product exciting.
KTW: You mention down south. I've been paying attention to some of the camps that have started, and there has been some divisiveness that has resulted from vaccinations and team stances. Is there a team stance on vaccinations and is that something you're concerned about?
RC: I don't think it's going to be a divisive issue. We've actually had a couple seminars with our players. I think it's up to each individual, but we tell the guys that are hesitant about it or have concerns to make sure you do all the homework — medical advice, doctors — and really get good information, so you can make a proper decision for yourself. We're not going to mandate it on anyone. But I sure hope people do all the homework they can do. If you're going to be in the business of pro sports, with large groups of people and travelling, it sure looks like vaccines are going to help that cause.
KTW: My boss (KTW editor Chris Foulds) is a huge Lions' fan. He's getting a little older and he can remember the old days and your dad [former Edmonton Eskimos' head coach Hugh Campbell], and he didn't exactly like your dad. He might have been Public Enemy No. 1 in B.C. for football fans. What's it like coming full circle and becoming head coach of the Lions and having that history?
RC: The good news about people not liking people in sports and rivalries is it means the teams were good, and that's all good stuff for me. I was really young when that was going on, but it shows you there were several good teams in the CFL and the competition level was high. I respect the past and the history and I know it real well. I'm a CFL lifer, so to speak, but I'm making my own way and doing my own thing and I'm excited to be a part of the Lions. There are several people here I respect and admire from the top down. I've played against the Lions when BC Place is loud and rocking and a tough place to play, and I want to be part of that.
KTW: We'll end with a softball. BClions.com tells me you've done the Grouse Grind a few times and you enjoy checking out local breweries, as well. Have you had a chance to learn about the hiking trails here in Kamloops? They're world class, and I think we have five breweries, along with wineries and distilleries. Any chance during the small amount of off-time you have, you might check some of that out?
RC: I will definitely do it. I'd like some advice. I'm an outdoors type of guy, so always up for a beer and a hike, usually the hike before the beer. I definitely want to check that out.