A builder of men: Running backs coach Gary Campbell embodies Oregon
He is the epitome of Oregon football — longevity, success, style and class.
Running backs coach Gary Campbell has been mentoring tailbacks for the Oregon Ducks for 30 years now, making him the longest-tenured coach in program history, as well as the longest-tenured current coach in all the Football Bowl Subdivision.
In his three decades in charge of Oregon’s backfield, Campbell has tutored 12 1,000-yard rushers, including the likes of Onterrio Smith, Reuben Droughns, Maurice Morris, Jonathan Stewart, LeGarrette Blount and LaMichael James. Over the past six years, Oregon has led the Pac-12 conference in rushing. For five consecutive years, the Ducks have been inside the top six nationwide.
And if his players looking good on the field wasn’t enough, Campbell makes sure he looks good off of it. Before every game, Campbell makes his way through the Walk of Champions in the Moshofsky Center, and can be seen during pregame on the field in any combination of his three-piece suits, jewelry, fedoras, and snazzy shoes. On Saturdays, he is the best-dressed man in a sea of 60,000 at Autzen. Don’t tell the Nike uniform designers [email protected]@good [email protected]@
While there is a lot that sets Campbell apart as a coach, it it his process that truly make him exceptional. He molds young men into running backs, but he takes pride in his relationship with his players and making them better beyond the field of play. He is a builder of men.
Campbell began his career working with football backfields at UCLA where he was a starting fullback. Campbell graduated in 1973 and took the running backs coaching job at Oregon in 1983.
“The feeling to me now is pretty much the same it was when I came here 30 years ago,” Campbell says. “I think I enjoy it more now though. I’m rooted here, and it is a feeling that I have really put in my time and I am going to keep going until it is not fun anymore. And because of our success, it has been more fun than ever.”
Oregon’s recent national relevance comes on the heels, or more fittingly, shoulders, of the more physical, bruising running scheme first promoted by Droughns and Morris.
Now, heralded for their speed, the Ducks’ success comes more on the toes of tailbacks, ball-carriers who weigh in at less than 200 lbs. LaMichael James, Kenjon Barner and De’Anthony Thomas embody the notion that speed kills, with James leaving Oregon as the school’s all-time leading rusher and a record-holder for almost all things on the ground. All of his accolades and triumphs came under the tutelage of Campbell.
“I try to do the best job I can in getting the players we have available to be the best they can be, and that goes all the way back to 1983, when we weren’t winning a lot of games but we still prided ourselves on being the best we could be,” Campbell says.
In a game where the success of those you oversee is the greatest indicator of the quality of your work, it is hard not to attribute Oregon’s transformation to Campbell. His achievements in recruiting players, becoming close with them and improving them over a span of 30 years are unparalleled. But Campbell is quick to deflect the praise.
“I don’t think of myself as being responsible for these guys’ success, but the thing that gives me pride is when I teach them something in practice or teach them technique, and then I see them in a game doing those things,” Campbell says. “That is what makes me pound my chest, and I feel good about that.”
Coach Cam, as the players refer to him, holds a bond with his players that makes him a favorite among those he educates.
“Coach Cam is like my dad away from home,” says starting tailback Kenjon Barner. “Without the advice and help he has given me, I wouldn’t be the same.”
“It is special to be a part of these guys’ lives, but it is more special for the ones that go on and are successful in life, not just in football,” Campbell says. “We are builders of men and I want to see those guys become good men and guys who can function in society and go on to have some success.”
When asked what is the most important technique or lesson he aims to bestow upon pupils, his answer wasn’t speed improvement or vision in the hole. It wasn’t how to block or slip free for a pass.
“Integrity. I want them to have great integrity,” Campbell says. “I want them to be guys that are responsible and accountable — accountable on the football team and in life.”
After all the success Campbell has had as an assistant coach it is uncommon for him to not have taken another job. But he says despite entertaining offers, nothing would make him as happy as where he is now.
“I am proud to be here,” Campbell says. “I have been here so long, I am Oregon.”
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