Miami Dolphins interim head coach has moved from being an NFL tight end to now being the top man on a team trying to keep themselves in playoff contention. Typically, when a former player makes it to the top of the coaching ladder, he is well removed from his playing days. Not so in the case of Campbell, who retired after the 2009 season, a season in which he tore his MCL in training camp with the New Orleans Saints. It was not that long ago that Campbell was on the field, taking the hits and trying to win games as a player, and it is one reason why the Dolphins players seem to be responding to Campbell.
It also leads to moments like this weekend. Campbell played for four teams in his career, starting with the New York Giants after being a third-round pick in 1999 and staying with the team through 2002. He played the 2006 to 2008 seasons with the Detroit Lions and ended with the one-year stint with the Saints. It is the fourth team, for whom he played from 2003 to 2005, that is interesting, as Campbell wore the star on his helmet of the Dolphins' opponent for this weekend, the Dallas Cowboys. Making it interesting is, Campbell was teammates with members of this year's Cowboys team, including starting quarterback Tony Romo and tight end Jason Witten.
It is not often that a head coach - even an interim one - will be coaching against his former teammates as they are playing. Campbell will also be coaching against a former teammate, with Campbell and Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett both being members of the Giants from 2000 to 2002. Garrett also played with the Cowboys from 1993 to 1999 and spent a season as a backup quarterback for the Dolphins in 2004 before being hired as Miami's quarterbacks coach from 2005 to 2006.
Campbell has been asked about his ties to the Cowboys over the past couple of days.
"I was a huge Cowboys fan (growing up)," Campbell, who grew up in Glen Rose, Texas and attended Texas A&M, said on Tuesday. "It was when I played for Giants when I started, that was always a weird game for me to play the Cowboys, but throughout the years it's like anything else. Now you're on the other side you don't really care so you're just trying to win and that's all that matters. I know a lot of those guys in the organization, certainly Jerry Jones. Shoot the equipment guys, the trainers, obviously Jason Garrett, Rod Marinelli, Marc Colombo. There are all these coaches. Unbelievable organization, unbelievable people and it will be good to see those guys again, but hey we're playing to win."
"I want to say, Tony Dorsett," Campbell said when asked about his favorite player growing up. "The high school years was certainly The Trio, but before that I loved Dorsett. I loved Danny White. That was kind of my growing up era. I loved Randy White, Too Tall Jones. I mean I was a big fan of all those guys."
Wednesday, the conversation turned more toward Campbell's former teammates. "Well I had one that popped into my head, but I can't tell it," Campbell replied when asked for a Tony Romo story. "It's not like any of those are real bad, but I don't want to share those. What I remember most of Romo is him coming in as a rookie free agent in 2003, the same year that I came in as a free agent, a high-priced free agent, not (joking). He was a pup. He was kind of one of those guys where when you've been in the league a little bit like I was, it's another rookie free agent and there was always something different about him. From the time he walked in, he was just savvy and every time he got out there he had that gunslinger mentality. He always seemed to make things happen in practice. Preseason games, he found a way to make the throws and move the offense. And now you look at him and it's like ‘Wow' he really had an opportunity and he made the most of it."
Campbell was also asked about Witten, and their relationship, as well as if Witten owes any of his success to Campbell. "He owes me nothing," Campbell replied. "We have a good relationship and it's not one where we talk all the time, but certainly we communicate to each other and he knows how I feel about him. He's another guy, he came in, he was part of that class too, drafted in the third round. I tried to teach him what I could teach him because I knew he could help us win. And one of the things I remember about Witten - two things. The first one was when he was a rookie, I can't remember who we played, but basically we had to have a first down if we have a first down the game is over. And we threw basically an out-route to him and he's a rookie and he sticks the safety to the top and comes out and he gets the first down. It was a huge play, especially for a rookie and he killed the safety and we won the game and that really sealed the deal.
"Just with his ability," Campbell continued, "I knew then this kid could be special and the other one was I believe it was 2005, we're playing Arizona and he broke his jaw. He caught like a dart route and the linebacker hit him right in the chin, broke his jaw. And he was back, he may have missed a week or something and he was back. He had his jaw wired shut and everything, drinking soup, and that whole mess. But I tell you what, to his credit, he showed a lot of toughness. To be able to play the number of years that he's played and play at a high-level, especially coming from someone like me, that's played the position, it blows my mind. Because it's not like he's just out there running routes all the time, he's doing pass protection, he's led from the backfield, he blocks the perimeter, then on top of that all the routes. It's amazing. It really is. I've got the utmost respect for him, he plays the game the way it's meant to be played and I wish him a lot of luck after this game."
Campbell also spoke about his relationship with Garrett, "Jason and I played together at New York and obviously that's where I first got to meet Jason. Certainly, there again, he's another guy I have a ton of respect for. What I remember most about Jason was he was behind the scenes working with us, tight ends, receivers, to get Kerry Collins what he wanted. He's always been that way. A guy that knew the X's and O's, knew how to communicate, and knew how to pull the most out of you. He was that kind of silent leader in the back that would just get what Kerry needed or what the team needed. He was as good as anybody. I've always said, Jason Garrett is one of those people; he's one of the best people you will ever meet in your life. That's just the type of guy he is. He's always in a good mood. He's always got something good to say. He's always got good stories. So I have a ton of respect for him as well and I was fortunate enough to play with him."
The discussion of Campbell's relationship with the Cowboys continued during his conference call with the Dallas media. "It's always a little surreal, but I'm approaching it like any other game," Campbell said when asked about facing his childhood team and a team for which he has played. "Certainly there are plenty of people in that organization that Romo, Witten, training staff, equipment staff that I have relationships with and still think a lot of and it'll be good to see them, but ultimately we're still trying to get a win."
Campbell was asked about some of his memories as a Cowboys tight end, including about a young Romo. "What I remember about Romo was knowing from the time he walked in as a pup, a free agent, that there was something about him, that's what I remember and everybody knew it," Campbell explained. "Did we know that he was going to be what he is now? No, but what we knew - I have a memory of us playing Arizona in a preseason game, he's a young guy and goes in there and marches us all the way down the field, drives the young guys in there all the way down the field with an offensive line that was all backups and I don't know who all would've even made the team, but that was kind of who he was. I remember him being in practice and he's running show team, two-minute and he's driving them down the field, he just had that savviness about him. He was a football player, just like he is now. He knows how to play the game and he's one of the best.
Turning to Witten, Campbell was asked about being a mentor to the younger tight end. "First of all Witten did a lot of those things on his own, he's a self-made man and I would like to think that I helped a little as he was growing from his rookie season, but let's call it what it is, he's a special human being. He's somebody that as a rookie came in and worked. He wanted to be good, he wanted to understand the game, he was always tough from the time he walked in and that's a credit to him, that not me or anybody else. He really did that himself and that's why he's the type of player that he is even to this day."
Finally, Campbell was asked about if he tried to model his coaching style on that of Bill Parcells, the former Cowboys head coach for whom Campbell played from 2003 to 2005, and was the Dolphins' Executive Vice President of Football Operations in 2010 when Campbell was hired as a coaching intern. "For me the biggest thing Bill gave me, there are things just strategy-wise, but really more than anything I learned from Bill was how to deal with players and deal with personalities and what works for some doesn't work for others. To me, I learned more about that from him more than anything else. I've said this before, I feel like I'm made up of a lot of different coaches and I feel like I'm made up of the best coaches that I've been around and then obviously I'm being me. I've been around, you've got one of them over there, I have the utmost respect for (Dallas Cowboys Defensive Coordinator) Rod Marinelli, that guy is one of the best coaches I've ever had and from Rod to Mike Martz to Bill Parcels to Sean Payton, Tony Sparano, certainly being around Bill, but Joe Philbin was just here, I learned a lot from him. I've been around some good ones, some real good ones and Mike Pope, Mike was my tight end coach for years, I've got the utmost respect for him. I've learned a lot about this game and how to deal with players as well as being a player that I feel like I've taken the best of and to try and use it for these guys."
The Dolphins host the Cowboys Sunday with a scheduled 1 pm ET kickoff.