The Ottawa Redblacks have reportedly settled on their new head coach, and it looks like Calgary Stampeders' defensive coordinator Rick Campbell will get the chance to lead the expansion team in their first season. Sportsnet's Arash Madani reported Thursday that the team has settled on Campbell. The Redblacks also sent out a media advisory Thursday that they're making a "major announcement" Friday, which would seem likely to be the official unveiling of Campbell as their new head coach. He's an interesting hire, and one that carries both benefits and risks.
Campbell has done impressive work over his 15 years in the CFL, starting as the Edmonton Eskimos' special teams and linebackers coach in 1999 (following a NCAA stint with the University of Oregon as a graduate assistant focused on the defensive backs and special teams) and advancing to defensive coordinator by 2004. He won Grey Cups with Edmonton in both 2003 and 2005 and stayed there until 2008, then headed to Winnipeg for a year as DB coach/special teams coordinator, coached running backs in Calgary in 2010 (which makes him a rare assistant with experience on offence, defence and special teams), headed back to Edmonton in 2011 as assistant head coach/special teams coordinator and then returned to Calgary ahead of the 2012 season to fill Chris Jones' spot as defensive coordinator. He presided over a defence that was very good in both 2012, finishing third in points allowed and fourth in yards allowed and helping the Stampeders make it to the Grey Cup game, and his defence was strong again this season, finishing second in points allowed and fourth in yards allowed. Campbell's work hasn't gone unrecognized, as he was also mentioned as a head-coaching candidate for Edmonton and Winnipeg. He comes from a strong coaching family, as he's the son of Hall of Fame CFL coach and executive Hugh Campbell, but Rick has made a solid mark in his own right over the last 15 years.
However, this is Campbell's first stint as a head coach, and the Redblacks may present a particularly challenging debut. The detailed expansion draft rules do seem more favourable to the new team than previous CFL expansion drafts (including the much-more-restrictive 2002 one for the previous Ottawa Renegades), and that's crucial to the team's chances of success, but the team's still going to be facing significant challenges in their first year. For one thing, other teams appear to be sitting tight (at least publicly) on many of their free agents until after the Dec. 16 expansion draft, which will make things much harder for Ottawa. Beyond that, yes, the team was allowed to participate in a limited fashion in this year's Canadian rookie draft, but they were only allowed to choose four NCAA redshirt players; those guys may yet work out, but they're far from sure things.
There are bright spots for Ottawa, of course. General manager Marcel Desjardins is well-regarded from his time as an assistant GM in Montreal, and he has an impressive pair of front-office assistants in Canadian Football Hall of Famer Miles Gorrell and former Alouettes' U.S. scout Jeremy Snyder. Perhaps most importantly, those three guys have been on the job since March, so they've had a lot of time to put together a coherent plan for building this team. The Redblacks have already signed some promising free agents who were out of the league, they'll get to participate in CFL free agency, and they'll be fully involved in this year's CFL draft (but that's expected to be a weaker class than normal thanks to rule changes). They'll also undoubtedly get a substantial haul in the expansion draft, even with the challenges posed by pending free agents. Still, assembling those fragments into a coherent roster that can compete with established CFL teams wouldn't be easy for anyone, much less a first-time head coach. We'll see if Campbell is up to the task.