During the last few days, Steve Campbell strapped himself to a roller coaster that sped along the gamut of emotions that finally delivered him to Mobile, Ala., for the next phase of his coaching career.
A week ago, in the wake of a Southland Conference championship and a first-round bye in the FCS playoffs, Campbell and his University of Central Arkansas staff had just finished preparations for a second-round matchup with New Hampshire.
A few hours later, one of the best seasons in UCA history (10-2) came to a sudden halt with New Hampshire’s 21-15 victory in a tight contest from start-to-finish.
With his body language and facial expressions reflecting a stinging defeat for a team seemingly on the way to something special, Campbell did the post-game media obligations that Saturday. Then, he and his staff took the game video and analyzed what could have been done differently and listed the lessons learned for next year.
Monday, Campbell talked with optimism about next year at the weekly Bearbackers luncheon.
It was his last public appearance in UCA gear as he was swept up in the coaching carousel.
Next year would be in Mobile, a hour or so drive from his roots.
After the University of South Alabama fired the only football coach it had ever had (former Alabama star Joey Jones), the Sun Belt school targeted Campbell, who had spent most of his life living and learning football and life on the Gulf Coast.
Within a five-day whirlwind, he interviewed with South Alabama officials, was offered the job, returned to Conway, and handled the departure arrangements with class and professionalism with UCA officials, his staff and players.
There was a tug of emotion between the bond and what he had established in Conway and the excitement for a new challenge in an area he knew and loved so well.
He admitted fatigue Thursday night as he prepared to drive to Mobile to be officially introduced Friday at South Alabama’s new coach.
"Been quite a week," he said.
South Alabama, which had only had football for 10 years, was one of the dream jobs for the 51-year-old Campbell, who was perfectly not unhappy and loving life in Conway.
Since the South Alabama added football, he has considered it a potential gold mine with the wealth of athletes along the Gulf Coast and in Alabama, Florida and Georgia.
"The program has shown flashes about what it could be," he said. "It has a lot of potential. Within a four-hour radius, there are a lot of good players."
UCA is also a plum job.
The real tug was family and the call of home for both he and his wife, Shellie, who have parents and other relatives in the Mobile area and a county or two away.
"I’ve always talked to our players about doing their best in their careers and life so they could take care of their families," Campbell said. "Now, as we see our parents grow older, you start to realize all that talk of taking care of your family has come around. I’m hit with the other side of what I’ve been telling my players."
So, Campbell departs having established UCA as one of the best FCS programs in the country, poised for more and possibly greater success.
All involved with UCA are sad to see him go but understand. He was a firm coach with both high academic and performance standards but related nicely to players. He was classy, accessible and fun to be around for both fans and media.
One thing I really admired was I never heard him criticize or degrade publicly one of his players or an assistant coach. He put the responsibility for a defeat on his shoulders and shared the joy of victory with everyone.
Athletic director Brad Teague had a short list Thursday, some names, some not so much.
Those of us who have been involved recently in UCA coach searches know Teague moves with lightning speed but with also thoughtfulness, detail and focus. He doesn’t move quickly for the sake of hiring quickly.
He also doesn’t put the process in a rigid box. He has a great feel for people, for what is real and how a person fits into the big picture. His ongoing list of hires that have elevated every sport at UCA is incredible.
Teague doesn’t look entirely at glitter and resume. He wants people who recruit high-quality individuals and athletes, develop them mentally and physically, maintain the highest academic and citizenship standards, demand an ongoing commitment to community service and support coaches and athletes in other sports and not just with lip service.
It’s a rigorous and detailed adoption process.
There is no drama here. With Teague’s track record, I suspect the entire UCA community has full confidence that Teague, and whoever he enlists to help him, will attract the right person to keep things rolling. UCA nd and Conway have a great reputation. And any prospective coach knows Teague and the administration will give him the resources and support he needs.
The question is not whether UCA will attract a top-of-the line coach but who will emerge from a strong list of very good candidates to be the right fit at the right time.
I’ll expect we will find out soon.