"We never had a pregame talk," says Kelly, who, like Campbell, attended Washington State. " 'The bus leaves at two. Be there.' That was his pregame talk. Even when we were behind 21-0 at halftime two years ago in the Grey Cup I don't remember him saying anything. I think he asked our captain to give a talk. Then Coach Campbell said something like, 'Don't trip going out the door.' "
Asked about his pep talks, that hint of a smile appears on Campbell's face and he says, "I think I give good ones, but according to my players I don't." Then he adds, "Motivation should be more of a constant thing than something you turn on and off."
"There just isn't any of the awe or mystique about him that you associate with other great football coaches," says Watt. "Everybody in Edmonton recognized him, but very few bothered him for autographs. He's just a down-home farm boy at heart. His idea of a big night is to have some chili at home with his wife and go for a bike ride."
"I don't think he's that unique compared with the total population of adult males," Kelly adds, "but he's unique compared with the segment of the population that comprises football coaches. When my wife went into labor we were supposed to leave for a game, but she hadn't delivered. I called to tell Coach Campbell and he said, 'Stay as long as you have to. Don't miss the birth of the baby.'
"A lot of players in the CFL hold jobs on the side, and if a guy, say, couldn't make a practice at two, Coach Campbell would reschedule it for 2:30. He always had his priorities in perspective. The thing I like most about him is that he was a great receiver in his time—he still holds some conference records—but he never once told me how to catch a pass or how to run a pattern, even after I'd blown one. He let me do it my way. It was so weird. I really, really enjoyed that. Most coaches try to run every little aspect of your life. He treated everybody like an adult."
One of the least enjoyable experiences in pro football, players agree, is training camp, when veterans and rookies alike move out of their homes and into a dormitory or motel where they will eat, sleep and think football for three weeks. Campbell doesn't believe in that and allows his players to stay at home if they prefer. "I personally sleep better at home than in a hotel," he says. "Even when we were going to play in the Grey Cup, we'd take the wives along and put them up in a separate hotel where the fans were, so if the wives wanted to party they could do so without disturbing the players. If the wives and husbands wanted to cross over, that was fine, too. I've never had a curfew.
"You put the responsibility on the guy so he makes the decision when to go to bed, and what generally happens is he appreciates the freedom so much he wants to make it work. It never occurred to me before last year's Grey Cup to tell the players to stay off the streets. I'm of the school that thinks the athlete wants to win as much as I do. When I was at Whitworth they told me I didn't have a professional style. They said that I wasn't mean enough. But in Edmonton the players seemed to respond well to that same philosophy—that your family comes first, that playing football isn't everything in life."
After the Eskimos won their fourth straight Grey Cup in 1981, Campbell decided that remaining in Edmonton was a no-win situation—there was nothing left to prove and the only way he could go was down—so he sought a change. He'd been approached by several NFL clubs—St. Louis, for one—but he'd never pursued the offers, because he didn't care for either the location of the team or its ownership. He insisted on staying in the West. "People operate under the assumption that the NFL is the ultimate place to be for a football coach," Campbell says, "but if I'd just wanted to go to the NFL, I've reason to believe that I'd be there now. The appeal of the Los Angeles Express was the opportunity to start an organization from scratch. The key is I'm not trying to get anywhere. I'm going to do it my way, and if that doesn't work I'm going to go somewhere else."
Campbell left Edmonton in style, winning his last 10 games and his fifth Grey Cup on Nov. 28. One week later he was working 14-hour days for the Express. Campbell was given almost total control over the staffing of his new team. He spent December shuttling back and forth between Edmonton and L.A. He hired six assistant coaches, as well as secretaries, trainers, equipment managers and film crews. He even interviewed a couple of chaplains who wanted to give the invocation before games.
More than 300 players tried out for the Express during two sessions in January. The majority had been cut at one time or another from an NFL camp, and about 60 were straight out of college. A few, like Anthony Davis and Chuck Foreman, had been to the top and were looking for a year or two of twilight. Instead, Foreman quickly got his walking papers, and as of last week Davis was listed as the No. 5 running back on the Express depth chart, indicating that the USFL is at least good enough that it need not suffer NFL retreads.