New Kansas University football coach Charlie Weis reached into the NFL to hire a defensive coordinator, and his choice comes highly recommended from a man who knows how to win the ultimate prize in college and professional football.
KU announced Friday that Weis hired Dave Campo from the Dallas Cowboys, where he spent three years as the head coach (2000-02) and had been in charge of the secondary since 2008.
“They’re damn lucky to get one like him, I promise ya,” former Dallas Cowboys coach Barry Switzer said, by telephone, of the man who coordinated his defense to a Super Bowl title in 1996. “He’s done an excellent job everywhere he’s been, and I think he’ll do a great job at Kansas.”
Campo, 64, comes to KU with a resume similar to that of his new boss, Weis. During a coaching career that began in 1971 at Central Connecticut State, Campo coached 23 seasons in the NFL, including three years as the Cowboys head coach and two stints as a defensive coordinator.
His first opportunity to be an NFL defensive coordinator came in Dallas — the city in which he worked 18 of his 23 pro seasons — but it did not come without a fight. Following the 1994 season, Switzer, who took over for Jimmy Johnson, lost defensive coordinator Butch Davis and was looking for a replacement. Cowboys owner Jerry Jones had identified a defensive consultant from Houston as the man he wanted to hire, but Switzer went to bat for Campo.
“I said, ‘Uh-uh,’” Switzer recalled. “’I’m gonna tell you the best coach in that room is a guy named Dave Campo.’ And I said, ‘That’s the guy that we’re hiring. He’s the guy that gets it done. And he’s the guy that is the best qualified to be defensive coordinator.’ That’s how it happened. I convinced Jerry that he was the guy.”
Five seasons and one world championship later, Campo was elevated to head coach, replacing Chan Gailey, who took over for Switzer in 1998.
In terms of overall record, Campo’s time as Dallas’ head coach was less than memorable. The Cowboys fired Campo in 2002 after he went 5-11 in three consecutive seasons. However, his disappointing run in charge of “America’s Team” did nothing to change his popularity.
“His image is a very positive image,” said Dallas-based WFAA-TV sports anchor Dale Hansen. “Almost every story from people in the media or around the organization began with, ‘I really like Dave Campo, but...’ and then they’d go on to talk about the fact that he lost. Campo is absolutely well-liked and well-respected as a defensive coach. The bottom line is, I think Kansas got a good coach, and I would argue that they got a better guy.”
For the past nine seasons, Campo has returned to his roots as an assistant coach. After two seasons as Cleveland’s DC under Davis (2003-04), Campo moved to Jacksonville, where he coached the Jags’ secondary (2005-07). In 2008, he returned to Dallas to coach the Cowboys’ secondary. Many who have spent time around him said Campo seems most at home away from the head coach’s headset.
“Campo is the classic assistant coach,” Hansen said. “I don’t think he had the make-up of what I perceive a head coach to be — the granite-jawed Vince Lombardi. But people who know Campo the best will tell you that this is a man who loves to coach young people.”
Prior to cracking the NFL in 1989, Campo coached 18 seasons of college football, with his stops including Pittsburgh, Washington State, Oregon State, Iowa State, Syracuse and Miami, Fla. It’s those years, along with Campo’s passion for young people, that led Hansen to believe Campo would be a great fit at KU.
“He just likes to coach,” Hansen said. “And knowing Dave, after all of his years in the NFL, where it is such a chew-em-up, grind-em-up, hardcore business, he strikes me as the kind of guy who wants to be involved in the development of a young man’s life as much as the ‘Can you make a tackle when they try to run a sweep on third-and-five.’”
Campo’s strong ties to the Dallas area should help keep KU relevant in one of its most important recruiting areas.
“I think it absolutely will,” Hansen said. “A high school kid in Texas is going to know Dave Campo. When Dave Campo walks in the room, probably wearing one or two of his Super Bowl rings, they’re going to immediately recognize him through his association with the Dallas Cowboys.”
In addition to winning it all in 1996 as Switzer’s defensive coordinator, Campo coached the secondary when Johnson won back-to-back titles in 1993 and 1994.
Campo’s extensive NFL background has positioned him well to lead the Jayhawks’ defense, both in an individual capacity and as a unit. With his defensive coordinator in place, Weis now must hire just one more coach to complete his staff — a defensive assistant. It is believed that Campo will have most of the say in filling that position.
When Weis was introduced in early December, he said he wanted his defensive coordinator to be an organized man with experience, confidence and the ability to handle the defense without needing guidance from the head coach. Campo appears to be the perfect fit.
“When I think about it, Dave knows every position,” Switzer said. “He can coach any position on defense. He spent too many hours and looked at too many tapes of too many players to not be any good at it.”