Head coach Campbell, B.C. Lions continuing along despite having to face adversity

·3 min read

It's been a challenging first year on the job for B.C. Lions head coach Rick Campbell.

Campbell became the Lions' head coach in December following six seasons with Ottawa, where he was the first head coach in franchise history. Although Campbell posted a 44-62-2 regular-season record with the Redblacks, he led the team to three Grey Cup appearances over its first six CFL seasons, winning in 2016.

But not only has the COVID-19 pandemic delayed the start of Campbell's coaching tenure with B.C., Campbell has had to assume some GM duties after the resignation Oct. 16 of Ed Hervey. Lions owner David Braley died just 10 days later at the age of 79, then word surfaced that veteran quarterback Mike Reilly had filed a grievance against the club reportedly for the non-payment of a guaranteed $250,000 stipend.

"Just in talking to Mike I know he wants to be a part of the Lions," Campbell said Wednesday during a Grey Cup Unite coaches videoconference. "I know after sitting out a year, just like the rest of us that are football players and the coaches are going to be excited to get back on the field.

"That's the mindset right now. There's a business side to it and that's on us to make sure that gets ironed out. I'm going to be very surprised if Mike Reilly isn't playing for the Lions . . . we want him here so we're going to be excited to have him."

Reilly signed a four-year, $2.9-million deal as a free agent with B.C. in February 2019 after six seasons with the Edmonton Eskimos. It was a homecoming of sorts for Reilly, a native of Kennewick, Wash., who began his CFL career with the Lions (2010-12).

Reilly's deal was significant as it made him the CFL's highest-paid player. The 35-year-old was the CFL's outstanding player in 2017 after passing for a career-high 5,830 yards and 30 touchdowns. He also guided Edmonton to a Grey Cup title in 2015, earning game MVP honours.

But Reilly's return didn't help B.C. make the CFL playoffs. He threw for 3,897 yards with 20 TDs and 15 interceptions in 16 regular-season as the Lions (5-13) finished last in the West Division.

Campbell, 48, a native of Spokane, Wash., has football in his blood. His father, Hugh Campbell, led Edmonton to a record five straight Grey Cups (1978-82) as head coach before a distinguished career as an executive with the franchise.

In 2015, Rick Campbell followed in his legendary father’s footsteps as the CFL’s coach of the year, an honour Hugh Campbell captured in ’79.

But Rick Campbell said the novel coronavirus has given the Lions the luxury of time.

"Obviously not playing a season has given us a chance to catch our breath and keep going," he said. "It's been a unique situation, to say the least.

"We're not on pause, we're in the process of solidifying our football ops, our coaching staff, which I think that will happen sooner than later. We definitely have a game plan and we're going to work hard to execute it. We have eight other teams in this league who are working hard too so we're going to make sure we're not behind any of them."

If the Lions were to approach Campbell about the GM's job, he'd be willing to listen.

"I'm in on the Lions and want to do whatever I can to help this team," Campbell said. "At the same time, I hope I'm smart enough and been around long enough that we have hands on deck to get everything done that we need to get done. 

"I'm happy to take on any role I can do. As long as I can do it well then I'm in."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 18, 2020.

Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press