Ila and Carolina Campbell will keep the cell phone circuits red hot Saturday as they try to keep up with the football games involving their three men.
Hopefully, those cell phone circuits stay as hot as the three football teams Louis, Shep and Steadman Campbell are coaching. Arkansas, Tennessee-Martin and North Alabama are curently riding a combined 25-game winning streak. Arkansas and UT-Martin both lost on the season’s opening night and none of the three have fallen since.
Ila Campbell is wife to Louis and mom to Shep and Steadman. Carolina, the youngest of the Campbell children, is a senior at Oklahoma State.
“It’s been a dream season for all us,” said Louis Campbell, the Patriarch of the family and the secondary coach at Arkansas. “It’s been a lot of fun. Hopefully, it’s not over yet.
“Ila has been to see both boys coach and I know Carolina has been calling them a bunch, too. I’ve been able to watch most of Shep’s games on a webcast on the Internet. The best I can do with Steadman is to listen to a radio broadcast on the Internet. There was one night, our open date, that I had two computers side by side and I was watching one game and listening to the other.”
Campbell’s sons are in their first year as full-time college assistants after paying their dues as graduate assistants. Steadman, who coaches cornerbacks at North Alabama, was on the defensive staff at Alabama under Joe Kines the last three years. Shep’s last three years aren’t as simple to explain.
“We talk about Shep bringing bad luck to a lot of places the previous three years,” said Steadman, like brother Shep a Fayetteville High product. “It’s good to see all of Shep’s bad luck is over with.”
Shep said, “Isn’t that the truth. I was a graduate assistant at Baylor for a few months and the entire staff got fired. Usually, the GA’s don’t get fired, but they got rid of everyone. I called Dad and told him I’d managed to do something that he’d never done in all of his career, get fired.”
Shep then spent a year as a graduate assistant at East Carolina under John Thompson where that staff was fired after winning just one game. He also had a season at Arkansas-Monticello before signing on as a defensive coach at Hamburg High School. He left that job before the season started to go to work at Tennessee.
One of the highlights for the two Campbell boys came last year in the third week of the season when Tennessee played at Alabama. They were on opposite sidelines, one in orange and the other in red.
“I’ve got a leg up on Shep,” Steadman said. “We beat them, 6-3. I like to tell him that mom was in the press box cheering for me.”
Shep acknowledged that no one in the Campbell family could cheer for Tennessee.
“We used to live in Tuscaloosa when dad coached at Alabama,” Shep said. “I know that there was no one in my family, especially dad, rooting for me when I was at Tennessee.
“We lost, but that was still a great thrill to be on that field that day. I have that picture of the two of us and it’s one of my most treasured possessions.”
While No. 11 Arkansas tries to move up in the national polls with a victory over Tennessee, Division II No. 3 North Alabama will try to beat bitter rival Western Alabama and Division I-AA No. 9 UT-Martin will face Eastern Kentucky, a team it has never beaten.
North Alabama is a traditional power in Division II and has been in the national semis two of the last three years. It won national titles in 1993-95. Ironically, Bobby Wallace, now the coach at Western Alabama, was the coach at North Alabama for those three national crowns.
“Yes, it’s a big deal here, a big game,” Steadman said. “You want to have momentum going into the national playoffs.
“It’s been a fun year. They’ve always had a winning tradition here and they thought they would be good this year. It’s been great all year.”
Steadman said he’s kept the phone lines busy talking to dad and big brother all season.
“I feed off of them,” Steadman said. “If you had to list the coaches in our family, you’d start with dad. Then, Shep would be next. I’m a distant third as a coach.
“We talk several times a week and I get ideas from them on how to do certain things and thoughts on what drills to use in practice.”
Shep said, “I know it’s been fun for dad. It’s been wonderful for him to be back in coaching this season and he’s helped both of us so much. I know he told us that being Director of Football Operations the last eight years has helped him get a different perspective on coaching and he’s loved it. He told me last spring when he got back on the field that it was like he was born again.”
Louis Campbell tried to point both sons away from coaching, but figured all along that Shep wan’t listening.
“Ever since I can remember, he wanted to work our summer camps and he wanted me to bring home every coaching notebook,” Louis said. “Steadman, no I didn’t think he would coach. He went to work at Arvest after college and I thought we had him taken care of for a good living.”
It didn’t take long for Steadman to miss football.
“I knew after about five months that I couldn’t be away from it,” he said. “I liked the people at the bank, but I didn’t like banking. I wanted to be back on the field. I called dad and he made me stay another few months to make sure.”
Shep laughs about that.
“I knew he was going to coach, too, just like me and dad,” Shep said. “I’ll never forget getting a call from dad. He said, ‘I’ve failed as a father.’ I didn’t know what was wrong. Then he told me that Steadman wanted to leave the loan business. It didn’t surprise me one bit.
“Steadman is a fine coach. He’s so much like dad it’s funny. He’s got the same personality. Nothing bothers him. That stuff about him being a distant third, don’t believe it.”
You’d think the odd person in this mix would be Caroline. Not so, Shep said.
“Our sister is into it with us big time,” Shep said. “She keeps up with everything. She knows more about football than any girl I know. She calls us all the time.
“It’s funny, but she’s dated a couple of guys and kinda let them go. She said she knows she’s going to end up with a coach someday. She likes to tell me that what she’s looking for is a coach that is part dad, part Steadman and part me. She’s a special sister.”
Special is the right word for UT-Martin’s season. As much as North Alabama has been a traditional power, UT-Martin has been the Ohio Valley’s doormat.
“The school lost like 45 straight games in the ‘90s,” Shep said. “They were everyone’s Homecoming game. The previous staff changed that and they recruited really well. They went 6-5 last year and that was the first winning season since ‘91 here. They were all hired at Murray State after last year, so this is an all-new staff.”
It may be the youngest D-I staff in the country. Head coach Jason Simpson is 35. Most are in their 20s. Shep got picked up late.
“They hired a friend of mine I’d worked with at UA-Monticello,” Shep said. “He left after two days. He told them about me. So I was the next-to-last guy hired. The defensive coordinator knew Rockey Felker and John Thompson and they both know our family.
“It’s been exciting. No one here knows what to think about the season we are having. This is a big game this week. We are 0-17 against Eastern Kentucky.
“Hey, like I said, it’s been fun. You couldn’t ask for anything more exciting. I know it is for my Dad and it is for Steadman. Dad did try to talk us out of coaching. I can remember him saying many times, ‘Are you sure? Do you remember the Jack Crowe years at Arkansas?’
“Yeah, I remember them. There can be down times. It can be very emotional at times. But this is the kinda year you work for. I called Dad after the Auburn victory. I told him, ‘Leave that for sale sign in the garage.’”