State of the Hogs: Campbell's football life was charmed

By: Clay Henry
Published: Thursday, July 6, 2017
Arkansas interim defensive coordinator Louis Campbell speaks at a Cotton Bowl press conference on Friday, Dec. 28, 2007, in Irving, Texas.
( Rick McFarland)
Arkansas interim defensive coordinator Louis Campbell speaks at a Cotton Bowl press conference on Friday, Dec. 28, 2007, in Irving, Texas.

— It was a flat-out ruse.

Louis Campbell agreed to an interview based on the context that he would provide real inside perspective on two of the great football minds of the last 60 years: Frank Broyles and Paul “Bear” Bryant.

Oh, that was covered in the interview, but the real purpose was to lure Campbell into our favorite hobby, talking fly tying and fly fishing.

Campbell is my best fishing buddy. I have others, but they all take a back seat to the now retired football coach and full-time fly fisherman. I love my time with Campbell.

We spent a little time tying flies one night this week after a 30-minute interview that will also serve as an opportunity to write that the Arkansas lettermen waited too long to name Campbell to the UA Sports Hall of Honor. He'll be inducted the night before the TCU game in September.

Actually, Campbell was elected to the Hall of Honor three years ago, but he didn't know it. That was put on hold because inductees have to attend and Campbell was going to be busy on the Friday night before the first UA home game. He was head coach at Sheridan High School. He'll return to Fayetteville when his house is ready in August.

Campbell, 67, finally stepped away from coaching this winter, although there is a part-time job in the works. He'll serve as executive director for the Arkansas Football Coaches Association. It's an administrative position he can do on the days that it's not possible to fly fish.

I hate to tell the organization, but that isn't a lot of days. I've been along when it's been well below freezing, snowing or well over 100 degrees. Campbell is tough.

How tough? There was a day on the river when doctors finally released him after a total knee replacement. Well, they released him for some things, although wade fishing wasn't mentioned. He fell down a steep path to the river, tumbling on rocks and tearing his waders.

I thought it best to abandon the fishing trip. Campbell's arm and hand were bleeding. There was no telling what he'd done to the knee. Campbell did admit that there was plenty of pain, but there was no turning back. Fish were rising as we stared out into the White River.

“I can hurt at home or hurt in the river,” he said. “I'd much rather hurt in the river.”

So we fished and fished some more. We climbed up the bank about 10 hours later after catching well over 200 fish.

“Yeah, it hurt,” he said. “But it hurt pretty good.”

The trip home that day – like always – was full of rich stories about coaching. Yes, I've heard stories about Broyles and Bryant. There were many about his days with Pat Jones, Danny Ford, Houston Nutt, John McKay and others.

It was during his time on McKay's staff in the NFL with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers that the former Razorback decided it was time to head back to Fayetteville. Jack Crowe needed to retool his defense. Campbell, along with Joe Kines, accomplished that mission, but a loss to The Citadel loss bounced Crowe out of Division I coaching.

Louis Campbell spent seven seasons at Sheridan, where he compiled a 24-52 record. (Photo by Jimmy Jones)

Campbell had bounced around at Alabama (with two stints), SMU, Oklahoma State and at Tampa before he realized that his family had no roots. Louis and wife, Ila Sue, both of Hamburg, were having a hard time teaching sons Shep and Steadman that they were really Arkansans. They fixed that.

“I remember Shep asking me one day, 'Dad, where are we from?' It was hard to answer because we'd lived all over the country,” Campbell said. “He was in the sixth grade. He didn't know what to call home.

“I had two chances to leave Tampa. It was to go coach the defensive backs at UCLA or go back to Arkansas and coach DBs for Jack. I figured I'd have a better chance to stay at Arkansas for a good while than at UCLA.”

UCLA defensive coordinator Bobby Field was Campbell's teammate at Arkansas, two years ahead. Field got his start in coaching as a grad assistant under Bryant at Alabama. That's also how Campbell got his start.

Campbell turned down Field, then began 18 years at Arkansas as either secondary coach or director of football operations.

“I had gotten close to Bobby,” Campbell said. “I thought if it worked for him to get started at Alabama, why not me? I went to Coach Broyles. He and Coach Bryant were trading grad assistants. I asked him if he could set that up for me, too?”

After first trying to talk Campbell out of a career in coaching, Broyles made the call to Bryant.

It was a wonderful time at Alabama. Campbell worked as the freshman secondary coach under Ken Donahue, Bryant's long-time defensive coordinator. Campbell was later promoted to varsity secondary coach. All total, Campbell was at Alabama seven seasons. He was on Bryant's final staff in 1982 and stayed with the Crimson Tide through 1984.

“I was on the road recruiting in Atlanta with Sylvester Croom,” Campbell said of when he learned about Bryant's death in January 1983. “We got the phone call to come home.”

The comparison questions about Broyles and Bryant do seem appropriate.

“I feel I can talk about both,” Campbell said. “Obviously, I never coached for Coach Broyles, but I have been around so many that did and I have talked to them about what he was like in staff meetings. I feel like I know.

“I can tell you first hand what it was like to play for him. I was under him five years. I saw what that was like.”

Both coached from the tower, although in different ways.

“I can tell you that both of them would come out of the tower and become involved,” Campbell said. “But they were much different.

“Coach Bryant was mainly concerned with the offense. He let Coach Donahue handle the defense. It was the offense that he was always directly coaching.

“Coach Broyles was more involved with all phases. He would get involved with what ever he felt needed attention. He might be really involved in staff meetings with the defense, but the next morning he'd be in the offensive meetings. He went back and forth and had his hand on every single thing.”

The main difference between the two legends was the interaction with players.

“I think what I saw was that Coach Bryant was involved with his players more than Coach Broyles,” Campbell said. “Coach Bryant did the motivation with the players individually, knew them and was inside their minds. I'm talking about every player.

“Coach Bryant never let assistants talk about players in the press. You could talk about the opponent or preparations, but not about his players. He did that because he wanted to control everything that went in their heads.

“I think Coach Broyles did that to some degree, but probably more with the quarterbacks than anyone else. He was very close to the quarterbacks.

“The difference was that Coach Bryant treated the quarterbacks like they were just a regular player - all of them the same. I don't think Coach Broyles did that as much.”

Coaching from the tower was just how it was done in those days.

“The staffs were massive,” Campbell said. “You could have as many grad assistants as you wanted. Obviously, Alabama and Arkansas didn't have limits. Those were big staffs, so they didn't have to be on the field as much as a head coach is now.

“I think what I saw was that Coach Broyles really worried more about actual techniques than I saw with Coach Bryant. They coached different.

“But Coach Broyles gave his assistants much more freedom in certain aspects. His coaches handled the substitution. Coach Bryant always handled every aspect of substitution and he used it for motivation with his players.

“For instance, the first big game of the season each year was Tennessee, the third Saturday in October. Everything that happened to start the season was a tune up for Tennessee. It might be that Coach Bryant wanted a game to be close early in the season. He might take out the entire offense to hold the score down. He'd tell his team that they weren't ready for Tennessee, pointing to the close score.”

There is a lot of Broyles and Bryant in Campbell, a good thing. I've heard one Bryant line many times. Campbell said when coaches or players complained about almost anything, Bryant said, "Poor workers find fault with their tools."

There's one great story about Bryant's substitution pattern that I've heard on several fishing trips.

“The coordinators were always in the press box in those days,” Campbell said. “Coach Bryant was not on the head sets, but he was making substitutions. Bill Oliver asked me to go to Coach Bryant because it was time to rotate quarterbacks.

“So here I am a second-year grad assistant, going to Coach Bryant to tell him it was time to change quarterbacks. I didn't realize that I was being hung out to dry. They were rolling in the press box.

“Coach Bryant used some strong words to suggest that I better get back with the defensive backs and not spend any more time thinking about who should be playing quarterback. I never made that mistake again.”

Although Campbell never worked under Broyles, he did get regular visits from the athletics director once he became an administrative assistant under Nutt.

“Clearly, Coach Broyles knew I was involved and understood what was happening,” Campbell said. “So he'd come to my office to visit.”

Once, it was to vent.

“Coach Broyles stepped in and shut the door,” Campbell said. “He didn't like the technique being taught to the corners. They were being taught to shuffle, not back peddle. He demonstrated proper technique. He explained there was no way to break on the out pattern from a shuffle.”

Obviously, that didn't leave Campbell's office. Maybe Broyles knew that was going to be the case, but he needed to tell someone.

“I guess something like that happened a few times,” Campbell said. “He just needed to tell someone. He was a first-step coach. He thought everything started there. He never changed.”

That was as a head coach or an athletics director.

Campbell never coached for Frank Broyles, but spent 18 years as an Arkansas assistant. (Photo by Bob Coleman)

“He did coach the coaches and he'd come out of the tower to fix a technique," Campbell said. "That was extremely important."

Coaching has changed in some ways. Staff sizes are limited, although some rules allow for more help, and coaches rarely watch from elevated platforms anymore.

“It's better than it was a few years ago,” Campbell said. “Both my sons got into coaching as grad assistants: Shep was at Alabama, Steadman at Tennessee, at the same time. They coached against each other one game.

“That was a tough time to get into coaching. Division I schools had two grad assistants. Now, they have four, but there are also quality control assistants and analysts.”

My time to get to know Campbell started during his time as defensive coordinator at Oklahoma State under Jones. I was covering OSU for the Tulsa World. He took the time to explain a lot of football to a cub reporter.

There has also been a lot of Xs and Os talk on fishing trips to the river. Conversely, sometimes there was fishing talk on the sideline during Campbell's days under Nutt.

That was before Campbell did any fly fishing. He caught trout with live bait, worms and minnows. There was also a spinning rod for jigs. I told him he'd catch more with a fly line and hand-made flies. There was a challenge.

Fly fishing won. Campbell quickly converted. He caught close to 100 in his first trip to the river with a fly rod and my flies. We did a worm trip for a comparison, but neither of us had our heart in it. He already owned a fly rod by then.

My wife always smiles when I tell her there's going to be a trip to the river with Campbell.

“You will come back a better person after a day with Louis,” she said. “Go and have fun.”

Yes, there are times when football talk surfaces. I've heard all of the stories about the three interceptions against Tennessee in the 1971 Liberty Bowl.

“It's the thing that most people remember me for,” Louis said. “To be honest, that was really the highlight. I don't think anyone remembers my senior year, the next season. We had to beat Texas Tech in the last game for 6-5. That didn't get you a bowl back then.”

There will be a topper in September at the induction ceremony.

“If you are a Razorback, I really don't think anything you can do can beat going into the Hall of Honor,” Campbell said. “Dean Weber called me this spring to tell me. He did say that I'd been voted in three years ago, but they didn't tell me until I could come.

“I understood, but what if I'd have died?”

The brown trout on the White River would have caught a real break.

“Yeah, I'm going to try to put a hurt on them,” Campbell said. “I'm going to try to find out how many days you can fish in a year.”

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