February 28, 2000
Dave Campo has taken an entertaining ride to Cowboys' job
By Kevin Sherrington
The Dallas Morning News
IRVING, Texas No one came farther to be head coach of the
Dallas Cowboys than Dave Campo.
Tom Landry arrived fresh from an assistant's job with the New
York Giants, his only coaching experience. Jimmy Johnson and Barry
Switzer had won national championships in college, and even Chan
Gailey took an NCAA Division II title at Troy State.
Dave Campo? Never been a head coach anywhere. He was an assistant
everywhere, though, sweeping the country like a fad. Eleven jobs
in 18 years, including a stretch right out of the witness-protection
program where he made six stops in six years.
This is the profile of a career assistant, and Dave
Campo wore the tag without any complaint. When Brigham Young's
athletic director asked him a few years ago about possibly succeeding
LaVell Edwards, Campo said the timing wasn't right to go back
He told his wife, Kay, that he wanted to put in 15 years as an
NFL assistant to make sure he would qualify for the pension.
Not exactly the stuff of five-pound biographies. The (ital) pension.
(end ital) Even Kay had a hard time with that one.
He's very practical about these things, she says,
You don't usually grow up in anonymous Mystic, Conn., with grandiose
visions. But you don't grow up a macho jock, either. At least
Dave Campo didn't. He was a member of the glee club, sang in a
folk group all over Connecticut, even performed in the musical
No one came farther to be head coach of the Cowboys, and none
of the rest of them ever sang There Is Nothing Like a Dame
in a coconut bra, either.
Confronted with this information, Campo is silent five seconds,
maybe 10. He is the coach of the Dallas Cowboys now. Looking at
another side of a man who clawed his way up the coaching ladder
a man who can tell you the female lead in Phantom
of the Opera and occasionally sings in weddings makes
the subject nervous.
Jerry's gonna think he hired an entertainer, he says,
wringing his hands.
Jerry Jones got a football coach, all right. The Cowboys just
never had one like this before.
Back in Mystic, Conn., an old whaling village swallowed up by
the town of Groton, Dave grew up the only child of Dave and Evelyn
Campo. The son would bounce a ball off the chimney until the father
came home from his job as a service manager and parts man, and
then the two would play catch.
Every day, same thing. When it rained, they threw the ball down
in the basement.
All he thought about was baseball and football, the
father said. If he wasn't at home, I knew where he was.
He'd be at the ball field. I never worried about him.
The son came by his love of sports naturally. His mother was a
New York Yankees fan, sometimes staying up until 3 a.m. to get
the results of West Coast games. His father, a 5-5 former weightlifter,
played softball until he was 50.
The father has outlived two wives. Even now, at 82, when he's
not spending winters in Florida, he walks the three-mile round
trip every day down to Beebe's Dairy for a cup of coffee and gossip.
He can't wait to go back to Mystic this spring and talk to the
boys at Beebe's about his son.
Nobody in the whole town would have expected him to be the
coach of the Cowboys, he says.
Who would have thought it? Certainly not the son. Growing up in
Mystic, he was a good athlete, maybe even a great one for his
size. He played linebacker at 5-7, 150 pounds. He was a
small guy, says Dan Koerner, a teammate, but he hit
as hard as the big guys.
He never had little man's disease, friends say. Never went around
with a chip on his shoulder. Under his picture in his 1965 senior
yearbook, the caption reads, Stands solidly on his own two
feet, bubbles over with enthusiasm and good spirits.
He was on the yearbook staff and sang in the boys' glee club and
was a member of a singing group, mostly girls, called Sounds in
His main thing, Koerner says, was music and
Campo was so talented that the junior high choir director started
a singing group of Campo, Koerner and another football buddy,
Gary Poe. They sang Tom Dooley at a spring show. The
group eventually expanded to six and called itself the Windjammers,
after the name of a sailing vessel.
They sang folk music, which was natural. One of the members of
the Highwaymen, the folk group that recorded Michael Rowed
the Boat Ashore, was from Mystic. The Windjammers sang sea
chanties and music of the Kingston Trio all over New England,
at the Newport Folk Festival and on college campuses.
They recorded a ditty for a local political candidate, once performed
as a warmup for singer Jimmie Rodgers in New London and on a local
children's show, Salty Brine's.
Campo sang second tenor and loved it. The Windjammers were profitable
enough that he didn't have to work in the summers, and he could
play all the baseball he wanted.
But he never thought he could make a living at it. We never
got quite that big, he says, and we were at the end
of the folk craze.
Coming out of high school, he had to make a decision on sports
or music. He chose sports, though it didn't look any more promising.
The Philadelphia Phillies drafted him late as a shortstop, so
late that he can't recall what round it was. He wanted to play
football, too, though. The problem was that he didn't draw much
attention because of his size. He decided to go to prep school
for a year, just to see if he would go through one of those growth
spurts he always heard about.
One year later, he came out 5-7, 150 pounds. So he ended up at
little Central Connecticut State, where he played a terrific shortstop
and pretty good cornerback.
He played both ways in football, doubling sometimes as a running
back. Camp wouldn't back down, says Dave Panciera,
a college teammate and one of his best friends. He was a
tough little running back.
He was competitive, that much is sure. Going into the last game
of baseball season, he and another good friend, Mike Ritacco,
were going for the team batting title.
On his last at-bat, his team leading by 11 runs, Campo bunted
for a base hit and the batting title.
(Ital) Bunted (end ital) with an 11-run lead. Ritacco couldn't
It doesn't matter how far you hit the ball, Campo
told him, laughing, when he got back to the dugout, it's
an `H' in the books.
Campo scrambled for everything, not just hits. His secondary coach
in college was Bill Tobin, who would go on to front-office jobs
with the Chicago Bears and Indianapolis Colts.
Bill Tobin loved me, Campo says. (ital) Loved
(end ital) me. And the whole time I was there, he was trying to
These are things that give people inferiority complexes. On Dave
Campo, it forced him to make his goals the bull's eye,
as he likes to call it a little more practical, reachable.
He thought he would be a high school head coach. Later, maybe
head coach at his alma mater.
His first big break came three years out of college, in 1973,
when he went to work at a Division III school in New York, Albany
State, for a man named Bob Ford.
Ford, who started the football program in 1970, had one full-time
assistant. The rest of his staff was made up of graduate assistants
and part-time coaches, men he got by getting them teaching jobs
at local high schools and junior highs.
Besides Campo, Ford's staff in 1973 included Tony Wise, who would
go on to coach offensive line for the Cowboys, and Charlie Taaffe,
now head coach of the Montreal Alouettes in the Canadian Football
They had to interview to get the jobs. Ford would ask them questions
about coaches whom they had played or worked for, what they liked
or didn't like.
If you said there were no weaknesses, Campo says,
he knew you weren't paying enough attention, or weren't
very smart. And if you said too much, he figured you weren't loyal
or not very smart, either.
At Albany State, they were smart and loyal. Back then,
Ford says, most graduate assistants at Division I schools
were the guys who picked up doughnuts, held up the cards at practice,
chased women, drank beer and went on with their lives.
Ford gave his staff full responsibilities, including recruiting.
He liked Campo right away.
Davey gets up in the morning, and his feet are running when
he hits the floor, Ford says. He analyzes everything.
He'd analyze whether we'd be better off bringing kids in 10 or
11 o'clock. He was constantly coming up with suggestions.
He just poured himself into the job.
Campo learned more football in that one year working for Bob Ford
than he had in his whole life. He would go on to work for Johnny
Majors at Pittsburgh and Jackie Sherrill at Washington State,
Dick MacPherson at Syracuse and Jimmy Johnson in Miami and Dallas.
No coach was a bigger influence on him, Campo says, than Bob Ford.
He basically taught us how to coach, he says.
But Campo didn't follow Ford's career path. Ford never left the
school, now a Division I-AA institution called the University
at Albany. He still has a staff full of graduate assistants, still
interviews the new ones, still teaches them how to coach.
Ford never left, he says, because he started the program, and
it was his baby. He has had offers to go elsewhere, but he says
he wouldn't know what to do with more money, he likes
it in Albany, and he's respected.
His peers recently elected him president of the American Football
For a guy to come from the Division III ranks and do something
like that, Ford says, that's something.
Dave Campo followed a different path, but the results were similar.
He moved up laboriously through the ranks, he and Wise pulling
each other across the country. They worked together at Bridgeport,
Washington State, Syracuse and Miami.
Campo's first big leap came after he grabbed Pittsburgh coach
Johnny Majors at a clinic and told him he would love to work for
him. In 1975, Majors remembered and hired him to work on a staff
that included Dave Wannstedt.
After that, Campo moved west, to Washington State. But he eventually
ended up in Syracuse, trying to get back closer to his children
after he and his first wife divorced. Once she remarried, he accepted
a job at The Citadel, where he would be defensive coordinator
for his old friend, Charlie Taaffe.
He had the job 48 hours. He kinda flew over Charleston on
the way to Miami, Taaffe says, chuckling.
Wannstedt got Jimmy Johnson to hire Campo at Miami as secondary
coach, where they forged a lasting bond.
Wannstedt and Campo were playing golf together one day when Wannstedt
pulled the cart up to the green and got out without setting the
parking brake. The cart rolled down into a lake, 15 feet deep.
Besides the golf clubs, the cart was carrying Wannstedt's wallet
and his national championship ring from Pittsburgh. Wannstedt
had to hire a tow truck at $150 an hour, not to mention a diver
to go down and hook up the chain.
All the time this was going on, Campo was going on and on about
his clubs, making Wannstedt feel smaller and smaller.
The cart comes up out of the water, Wannstedt says,
and his clubs look like something someone gave him when
he was 12 years old, like something out of a garage sale.
Wannstedt became just as attached to Campo as Campo was to his
old club. The staff would win a national championship ring in
1987, and Johnson took most of them with him when he left to coach
the Cowboys in 1989.
But what about rumors that Wannstedt had to talk Johnson into
taking Campo to Dallas?
Aw, Jimmy didn't like anybody, says Wannstedt, who
recently succeeded Johnson as head coach of the Miami Dolphins.
Jimmy knew Dave did a good job. Dave and I worked great
together, and the bottom line with Jimmy is winning games.
Different guys react to things differently. Dave is very
sensitive. Just because Jimmy would walk by him in the hall and
not say anything, he shouldn't read too much into that.
Still, as the Cowboys struggled their first couple of years, Campo
became Johnson's whipping boy. Campo says it made him a better
coach, but the perception probably hurt his career. First Wannstedt,
then Norv Turner and Butch Davis left in successive years for
head coaching jobs after working for Johnson as coordinators.
After the Cowboys won the 1996 Super Bowl under Barry Switzer,
no one came after Dave Campo, the club's defensive coordinator.
Until then, he hadn't really thought he ever would be anything
more than a member of someone else's staff. He told his old friends
from high school, Poe and Koerner, that he didn't want all the
distractions that go with it.
Maybe it was just his mindset. You've maybe resigned yourself
to the fact that you're going to be a career assistant coach,
Campo was happy enough as an assistant. Life was good. He had
six kids, two by his first wife, two that were his second wife's,
and two more that he and Kay had together. Kay, whom he married
in 1979, is a Mormon, and he converted in 1987.
He never caroused much anyway. Friends say he's no different from
the bubbly boy they knew in high school, the one that signed a
female friend's yearbook, You're the tops. Be good.
He's probably the most unassuming guy I've ever known,
says Panciera, now an insurance agent in Hartford, Conn. He's
won three Super Bowl rings and a national championship, and he's
still just so down-to-Earth.
It's all pure.
And maybe that hurt his chances of being a head coach, too. NFL
coaches don't sing in weddings, don't go to musicals on road exhibition
games, aren't described much as bubbly.
They also think he doesn't have the charisma, says
his father. He looks more like a high school teacher.
He says he didn't feel like a head coach, either, until 1995,
when the Cowboys won a Super Bowl with him as defensive coordinator.
I probably did not think I wanted to be a head coach for
a long time until then, he says. It probably just
became more realistic then. I thought, `Hey, I can do this.'
Wannstedt, Wise and Taaffe say he deserves the opportunity. So
did Troy Aikman and Darren Woodson. Chad Hennings says Campo's
style will make it exciting for the players, who have always responded
well to his enthusiasm.
Greg Ellis referring to him as Camps
started a news conference by saying that despite what any
critics say he thinks Campo will do a good job as head coach.
He'll work hard at it, no one doubts that. You don't come all
the way from Mystic, Conn., up from Central Connecticut State
and Albany State to the most high-profile football job in America
and think you've made it.
You don't come that far and change now. His tenor isn't as good
as it was, rubbed raw now by all these years yelling at players.
But, at a reunion in 1996, he got together with the rest of the
Windjammers to perform and record a CD, and he's singing at his
daughter's wedding this summer.
He has done all that before, only this time it's as head coach
of the Cowboys at 52. He says he is confident he can do the job.
My dad said from Day One, `Do anything you want to do,'
Sometimes, when you come from as far back as Dave Campo did, it's
hard to see what you want.
(c) 2000, The Dallas Morning News.
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