After 23 seasons in the NFL, including 18 with the Dallas Cowboys, Dave Campo is coaching college football again this year for the first time since 1988. New Kansas coach Charlie Weis scooped him up after Campo’s latest go-round on the Cowboys’ staff ended last January.
Weis hired Campo to be Kansas’ defensive coordinator. They’ll lead the Jayhawks into Jones AT&T Stadium Saturday for a game against Texas Tech, a university with which Campo is keenly familiar.
Campo came to Dallas from the Miami Hurricanes as a charter member of the Jimmy Johnson staff. He was with the Cowboys from 1989 through 2002, winning three Super Bowl rings while advancing from defensive backs coach to defensive coordinator to head coach for three years. Following stops in Cleveland and Jacksonville, he returned to Dallas from 2008 through 2011.
The 65-year-old Campo visited with the A-J on Wednesday.
A-J: What has this season been like for you being back at the college level after being away for so long?
Campo: “It’s a little bit of a change obviously, and it’s something I had contemplated towards the end of my career in the NFL, because I really do enjoy the college experience and I think probably my strength is teaching. There’s a little bit more teaching done on the college level than on the pro level, even though there is some there.”
A-J: How did your Kansas job come about?
Campo: “It came out of nowhere. Charlie called me, and I’ve had an awful lot of respect for Charlie over the years. I just felt like I wanted to keep coaching, number one. Obviously, we’re not very good, but we’re making some progress and it’s been an interesting experience. The real difference in the thing is you’re having to teach every day.”
A-J: How long were you sitting on the side before he called?
Campo: “Really, just like three or four days. Charlie called me right away. Actually, the Cowboys were talking to me about going into some form of off-field stuff for the Cowboys, but I really just wasn’t ready to do that. So as soon as he called me, I said, ‘Well, I’ll come over and take a look.’ It felt like the right thing to do.”
A-J: Given that you last coached in college nearly 25 years ago, are you finding that you’re having to evolve as a coach with the proliferation of spread offenses?
Campo: “Absolutely. The Big 12 is so much different than ... you go into the SEC or look at the Pac-12 or the Big 10, (those are) more like the NFL style. You get a few tight ends. You get a few power offenses. You get a few throwing teams. The Big 12 is like fast-break basketball. That’s probably been the biggest transition for me, because obviously I haven’t been involved in that stuff for a long time. It really reminds me of the wishbone. It’s a throwing wishbone.
“This is a very difficult league to be a defensive coordintor in; I can tell you that right now. It’s different.
“I’ve been very fortunate. I’ve got Clint Bowen, who was coordinating for coach (Mark) Mangino when they won the Orange Bowl. He works with us. DeMontie Cross and Buddy Wyatt, two of my other assistants, they all had experience against the spread. I think we’ve been inconsistent in what we’ve done. We’ve played really well at home definitely, but on the road we’ve struggled a little bit. We’re not anywhere near where we need to be, but I think we’ve made some progress.”
A-J: Your team held TCU and Oklahoma State to 20 points apiece and Texas to 21. Isn’t that something to hang your hat on?
Campo: “Yes, and really we feel like that’s very difficult to do against teams in this league. We’ve gotten hit pretty good by Baylor and I think three pretty good offensive football teams — Oklahoma (52-7), Baylor (41-14) and Kansas State (56-16) — on the road. That in itself is different. That’s a focus issue or whatever.
“I think our guys, attitude-wise, believe in what we’re doing. I think we’re developing a certain mindset that this is the way we’re going to play, and that’s the biggest thing when you try to take over a program is you’ve got to stay the course. You can’t get too down when things don’t go exactly right. You’ve got to have your eye on the bull’s eye and focus, and I think we’re starting to develop that.”
A-J: You’re having to recruit again for the first time in more than 20 years. How are you handling that?
Campo: “That is different, and the recruiting rules are completely different. This is the first time I had to take a test, knowing all the recruiting rules. (Laughs) I don’t really have a problem with recruiting. I really enjoy talking to people. I enjoy parents. I enjoy getting a chance to talk with young people, and so that part of it is really not an issue.
“The traveling part of it is going to be a little bit different issue, but I really don’t have a set recruiting area. I’m going to be going to see most of the top defensive players we’re recruiting somewhere along the line. It’s not like I’m having to do all the weekly legwork, so to speak. We leave that to some of the younger guys. If I had to do all that, that would be an issue. If I had to be coordinating the defense and working an area for a whole season and go into an area and do all the legwork, I think that would have been a little tougher.”
A-J: Do we remember correctly that you had a daughter who went to school at Texas Tech?
Campo: Yes, I did. Shelbie Campo. She graduated from Texas Tech. The interesting story there is when I first went out there for orientation, she took me right away to that ... y’all have a horse out there, right, that has its butt pointed toward Texas A&M? I had another daughter, Beckie, who graduated from A&M. So Shelbie took me and informed me really quickly that’s what they thought of A&M at Texas Tech. That was one of my first indoctrinations. She graduated from there, really enjoyed the school and had a good time.”
A-J: So how many times did you have a chance to make it out to Lubbock?
Campo: “I was out there probably four or five times. I was out there on orientation, obviously, and then a few other times. Also, I had an opportunity to go out there a few times scouting for the Cowboys. So I’ve been to Lubbock a number of times. Maybe 10 at the most, but I’ve been to the school a few times.”
A-J: Do you think you’ll return to the NFL or are you done with it?
Campo: “I think I’m done with it. Now, I’m not enjoying losing; let me put it that way. That part of it, we’ve got to get fixed, but I am enjoying the experience of being here. Really, at this point right now, it’s a challenge for me. Sometimes, you get to an age — I’m 65 — and you need a challenge to keep yourself going. I really feel like this is a challenge, number one, to get the program turned around. A lot of things are keeping me excited about coming to work every day. Sometimes you can get stale. For me, this has been kind of rejuvenating, to be honest. I’ve got more enthusiasm than I’ve had for a while. I really don’t miss it (the NFL). I’m looking forward to getting this program turned around and going forward.”
A-J: Loaded question. Do you miss Jerry Jones?
Campo: “I tell you what, I really like Jerry Jones, and I’m being honest on that. The guy loves football. He loves the Cowboys. I’m going to be a Cowboy for life. I came back there twice, and I’ve got grandchildren and children in Dallas, so I’m always going to be a Cowboy fan.
A-J: What about the intense pressure and scrutiny of being a Cowboys coach? Are you relieved to be away from that?
Campo: “I think coaches put pressure on themselves no matter where they’re at. I didn’t feel any special pressure there, other than just going to work every day and doing your job. I still follow the Cowboys. I want them to do well. I want Jason Garrett to do well. I want Jerry to do well. I’m a Cowboy for life.”
(Campo says to tell Texas Tech coach Tommy Tuberville hello.)
A-J: In your last college coaching job, you and Tommy Tuberville were on the Miami staff together in 1987 and 1988.
Campo: “I love Tommy. Tommy and I were really pretty close when we were coaching together. I think he’s done an excellent job there. Obviously, he had a plan in mind there and stuck with it. His defense has improved. He’s a really good football coach and a good person. I’m a fan of his.”
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