Thursday, July 21, 2016

The Swamp Fox Moves On

Marion "The Swamp Fox" Campbell passed away today, and he's probably not much of a name to many folks who root for my football laundry, since most of those folks don't extend beyond Buddy Ryan. Campbell was the successor to Dick Vermeil, the bridge to Ryan, and something of an object lesson for pro football, in that nice coordinators finish last, especially when they become head coaches.

Campbell was, more than anything else, a decent human being... which is why he kept getting gigs. But when he was here, the Eagles might not have been the best football team in town, in that the USFL's Philadelphia Stars were the class of the league, and had talent that lasted longer in the NFL than what the Eagles employed.

Which is something of a shame, as Campbell really was pretty damned good as a coordinator. When the Vermeil Eagles won, it was with the workmanlike offense of QB Ron Jaworski, oversized possession WR Harold Carmichael, and do-everything RB Wilbert Montgomery... but that offense was pretty pedestrian pretty often, with Jaworski in particular being prone to big sacks and bad turnovers, and Montgomery something of a fumble machine, even in his best years.

The real reason those teams won was the defense, which was Campbell's, and fairly innovative with its use of a 3-4 format. Those defenses were among the league leaders in both yards and points allowed, and honestly... life is too hard to remember a guy for one of the lowest winning percentages ever posted as a head coach, and not for the sterling work as a coordinator that got him those gigs in the first place.

But man alive, is that record bad. 34-80-1, with a high water mark of 6-9-1 with the 1984 Eagles. He went 6-19 with the Falcons in the 1970s, then somehow got the gig *again* with that franchise in the late '80s, and went 11-32 over three years there. While the NFL was different then, and people had more patience for rebuilding years and a real sense that breaking the cycle of being downtrodden, um, still. Three separate head coaching gigs, each one worse than the last. You have to be an amazing human being to keep getting those shots, or to keep the gig long enough to lose 80 games over nine different seasons.

Looking back on his Eagles record in the best possible light, Campbell got no favors from his GM. With the 4th overall pick in 1984, the Eagles took Kenny Jackson, a Penn State WR whose 8-year carer adds up to one good season, though that entire draft seems terrible in retrospect. (The USFL's existence was brutal for a few years, honestly.) 1983 saw them take the plodding RB Michael Haddix with the 8th pick, and 1985 was the infamous Kevin Allen with the 9th pick, a lineman who wound up using rape and cocaine to bounce his way out of the league. Deadspin once ranked him the fourth worst football player of all time, and Ryan once said he was only useful for killing the grass by standing on it. Three top 10 picks, none of which worked out; that's pretty much the textbook method to kill any coach's chances.

But having lived through those times, there was nothing all that memorable or misunderstood about Campbell. He was just a guy who was out of his element, doing the best he could in one of the best divisions in football, with a roster that wasn't up to snuff. He didn't elevate the talent, but if he had, he might have been the best coach in his era. And, well, he wasn't.

But unlike Vermeil, he didn't melt down and burn out on the job. Unlike Ryan, he didn't squander a ridiculous amount of talent with terrible playoff game plans. And it's kind of hard to judge his life too harshly when, well, he won the sane number of championships as every other Eagle coach since Greasey Neale.

In, um, 1960.

It's not easy rooting for this laundry, folks. Or, clearly, coaching it...

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