Should Coach Campbell Be Back Next Season?

by Frankie Benvenuti | Twitter: @FrankieVideo

The REDBLACKS wrap up an incredibly disappointing 2019 campaign on Friday night (November 1st), and with that, it’s time to look ahead to the offseason. Other than the starting QB, REDBLACKS fans have had the most interest in the head coaching position. Rick Campbell has been a fixture on the Ottawa sidelines since the team began play in 2014, and never before has it seemed so likely that would change as it does right now.

Campbell may be on the hot seat, but is that really justified? 

Rick Campbell’s coaching record (44-61-2) is nothing to write home about on the surface, but you must look deeper to completely understand why it looks so bad. When Campbell has been given a decent roster, he has done some good things. It’s a tough ask to expect a coach to be able to make the playoffs or even play competitive games with rosters like the one he was given this season. Excluding this season and the 2014 expansion season, Rick Campbell has led the REDBLACKS to the playoffs in the other 4 seasons, including 3 where they made it all the way to the Grey Cup game, winning one of them. Despite the record mentioned earlier, Campbell has been very successful in Ottawa. You can’t complain about going to the Grey Cup game 50% of the time including your expansion season. With the 3-14 record with 1 game remaining this season, some of the good things Rick has been a part of have been forgotten, and now many are calling for his head.

Is Campbell really the problem?

Rick Campbell has been most successful when backed with good offensive and defensive coordinators. In the 2014 season, Mike Gibson was the offensive coordinator. We all know how the expansion season went, and the short way to describe it is ‘not good’. The REDBLACKS offence only managed 4348 passing yards and 1484 rushing yards. Those REDBLACKS under the guidance of Mike Gibson ranked 6th in passing yards and ranked dead last in rushing yards. 

In the 2015 season, the REDBLACKS added many new players, including Brad Sinopoli, Greg Ellingson, Ernest Jackson, Chris Williams, and William Powell. Among the additions was a new OC, Jason Maas. The 2015 Ottawa REDBLACKS boasted a lethal offence, throwing for 5806 yards (1st in CFL), and rushing for 1536 yards (5th in CFL). Despite the problems Jason Maas has been having in Edmonton as the head coach, he was the best offensive coordinator the REDBLACKS have ever had. He had many weapons to work with, and the offence never really seemed to struggle all that often. The REDBLACKS finished first in the East division in this season and made it all the way to the Grey Cup game. 

The 2016 season saw the first big change to the REDBLACKS. Jason Maas was signed to be the head coach of the Edmonton Eskimos, and Jamie Elizondo became the REDBLACKS OC. The other big offseason move was bringing in Trevor Harris to back up Henry Burris. The REDBLACKS passing attack was more lethal than ever, putting up 6191 yards, and the rushing attack was also better, rushing for 1691 yards. The problem with the REDBLACKS that season was on the defence. The passing defence was one of the worst in the CFL. The REDBLACKS finished 8-9-1, but made it to the Grey Cup game, and rode the Henry Burris train all the way to the Grey Cup championship. 

2017 was the first full season for Trevor Harris as the starting QB, and Jamie Elizondo remained the OC, while Mark Nelson remained the DC. The offence dropped off under Harris, throwing for only 5416 yards, and rushing for 1703. The REDBLACKS once again finished 8-9-1, and finished second in the East division. The offence became predictable without Maas or Henry Burris, and the REDBLACKS were flat in the East semi-final against the Roughriders. 

The 2018 season was an exciting time for REDBLACKS fans, as the team named Noel Thorpe as the defensive coordinator. Stats wise, the team was around the middle of the pack for both passing yards, and rushing yards against, but the defence wasn’t bad all season. The same was true for the offence, finishing middle of the pack in passing yards, but dead last for rushing yards. As we know, the REDBLACKS managed an 11-7 record, finished first in the East and made the Grey Cup. 

Jamie Elizondo left the REDBLACKS before the 2019 season, leaving a vacant OC position. This has really hurt Rick Campbell because as we can see he is a better coach when his supporting staff is good. As time has progressed, the offence and defence have changed positions. The offence used to be the bread and butter of the REDBLACKS, and now that seems to have changed. The defence is what the REDBLACKS are spending money on, they have one of the best DCs in the CFL, and unfortunately, the injuries have taken away the best players on the defence for the REDBLACKS. 

Going into the offseason, the REDBLACKS need to keep Rick Campbell around and allow him to find the OC he wants. The ideal situation for the REDBLACKS next season would be to have Jason Maas back as the offensive coordinator. There is a good chance he gets fired by the Eskimos, and if and when that happens, Rick needs to be on the phone with him.

Who is really to blame?

People want somewhere to place the blame, and it is really easy to find where the blame should be going. Marcel Desjardins is at fault for this team being as bad as they are this season. After the Henry Burris interview on TSN 1200 this morning, it is becoming more and more obvious to me that Marcel needs to take accountability for what has been going on this season. Hank talked about how Marcel isn’t approachable, and Marcel doesn’t always have good relationships with players. If these things are unable to be changed, Marcel may need to be fired. Hearing Burris talk this way about the GM is saying a lot.

Not only that, but Christopher Milo (ex-REDBLACKS kicker) had this to say on his twitter, “I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again. Members of the media/fans want to know the TRUTH? Just ask those who were there! Couldn’t agree more with Hank on this #TruthHurtsSometimes”. Marcel needs to change, or get out.

Changes need to be made. If Marcel Desjardins is back as the GM next season, fine, but he needs to change. Rick Campbell should be back without a doubt in my mind. The most important thing to do in this offseason is find an OC, and continue to build this coaching staff. 

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