OTTAWA — Many of Rick Campbell's childhood memories include the Edmonton Eskimos.
The Ottawa Redblacks head coach was a young boy when he watched his father Hugh — the Eskimos head coach at the time — lead Edmonton to five consecutive Grey Cup victories from 1978-'82. Now Campbell is looking to make his own mark as a CFL head coach as he guides the Redblacks to their first Grey Cup appearance.
Perhaps fittingly, the Redblacks will play Edmonton on Sunday in Winnipeg. Campbell, who spent almost a decade on the Eskimos' coaching staff earlier in his career, is doing his best to downplay the connection and instead keep the focus on the big game.
"I'm just really trying to live in the moment and making sure we get our football team ready to play," Campbell said Tuesday before the team departed for Winnipeg. "I obviously do have a history with Edmonton with me working there and my family. I also got used to it as I've played against Edmonton over the years when I worked in different cities."
Campbell made his CFL coaching debut with the Eskimos in 1999 as a defensive backs/special teams co-ordinator. He spent six seasons in the role before being promoted to defensive co-ordinator (2005-'08).
Campbell also worked in various coaching roles with Winnipeg (2009), Calgary (2010), Edmonton (2011) Calgary again (2012-'13), before heading to Ottawa last year for the Redblacks' debut season. When the 44-year-old native of Spokane, Wash., originally interviewed for the Redblacks' coaching position, part of the appeal was his desire to build something from the ground up.
"I wanted to come here to be a part of something new," he said. "It wasn't about me putting my name on the franchise, but it was about all of us putting our name on a new franchise in a new city. I had observed Ottawa from the outside and just had a really strong suspicion this could be a really great thing to be a part of.
"We're trying to make this a place where we have high expectations and we want to be a winning program over the years."
In many ways Campbell, the East nominee for the CFL coach of the year award, has already surpassed expectations by taking his team to the Grey Cup after winning just two games last year.
The elder Campbell, meanwhile, will not be in Winnipeg for the Grey Cup. He'll be cheering the Redblacks on from San Diego, but has provided some advice for his son.
"He told me we've got to do the things that got you there," said Campbell. "It's a bigger stage, but as far as how you win football games doesn't change. You've got to make sure you do the right things and get prepared and do all those things and keep your head about you. Do the things to win football games."
This will be his first Grey Cup appearance as a head coach. While his focus is on the game, he admits that he plans to enjoy the experience as well.
"I think you can definitely work hard and do all the things that you need to do and at the same time be there and be a part of the experiences that go on during the Grey Cup week," he said.
Campbell is not the only one with ties to the Eskimos. Redblacks offensive co-ordinator Jason Maas had two stints with the Eskimos as quarterback and spent a total of eight seasons with the organization.
"I'm not going to shy away from saying it's special," said Maas. "I'm just excited to be a part of this journey with Ottawa. I've got a lot of friends over there and a lot of people I care about are from Edmonton and they're excited about it as well, but I just want to come out of it on the better end on Sunday."
Lisa Wallace, The Canadian Press