Oregon’s longest-tenured football coach in school history also is unsurpassed among the nation’s Bowl Championship Subdivision active coaches with the longest continuous full-time service at one school.
But of more importance than Gary Campbell’s longevity has been his true passion for the players he mentors on and off the field.
The result has been the most prolific rushing attacks in school history as he is in his fourth decade tutoring the Ducks’ running backs after first joining the school’s coaching staff in 1983.
His thorough comprehension of the running game in an age where throwing the football has become more fashionable has been vital to Oregon’s unprecedented success as it has led the conference in rushing each of the last eight years. Furthermore, it has finished the season ranked among the top six in the country in rushing six times within the last seven years while setting school single-season records four times in the last six seasons.
Four of his disciples began this season in the NFL in addition to a fifth – De’Anthony Thomas – drafted by Kansas City as a running back/receiver.
The Ducks ranked second in the country in rushing with 3,641 yards in 2008 (280.1 avg.) before setting the new school standard with 3,721 in 2010 (286.2 avg.). That was surpassed in 2011, with the program’s stable of running backs tallying 4,189 yards. Oregon’s rushing average from 2012 was third in the country (315.2) to eclipse the previous standard from ‘11 (299.2 avg.).
In addition, Oregon tied for the nation’s lead in rushing touchdowns in 2012 with 48 while it has accumulated 40 or more TDs on the ground five times within the last six years.
Two of his latest pupils - Kenjon Barner and LaMichael James - each departed as consensus first-team All-Americans while returnee Byron Marshall became the Ducks’ eighth 1,000-yard rusher in the last seven seasons a year ago.
In 2010, Campbell was named as one of the top 10 recruiters in the Pac-10 by Rivals.com.
Among the school’s 16 players with at least one season of 1,000 or more rushing yards, Campbell has coached 14 of them. Included is James, who completed his career as Oregon’s most prolific ball carrier in school history in 2011. The school’s first freshman ever to eclipse the 1,000-yard plateau (2009) and the only three-time 1,000-yard rusher completed his career holding the Ducks’ one-season (1,805) and career (5,082) rushing records.
While it was Jonathan Stewart, who broke the school’s 10-year-old single-season rushing mark with 1,722 yards in 2007, “Coach Cam” oversaw James’ sophomore season in 2010, when the Heisman Trophy finalist broke Stewart’s UO record with 1,731 yards of his own. That standard has since been surpassed twice in the last three seasons.
James became the first player in conference history to eclipse 1,500 yards in three separate campaigns.
In addition, Campbell twice has tutored a pair of 1,000-yard rushers in the same season since 2001, as well as three conference rushing champions in James (2010 and 2011), Stewart (2007) and Saladin McCullough (1997).
James not only became Oregon’s first NCAA rushing champion (144.3 avg.) in 2010, he became the school’s first Doak Walker Award winner as the nation’s top running back as well as the University’s top Heisman Award finisher (3rd) in program history.
After spending the off-season prior to 2007 administering innovative vision drills with Stewart, his prize pupil shattered the former single-season rushing record by nearly 400 yards and featured two games of more than 250 yards - the second and third highest single-game totals in school history at that time. The junior also became the first Duck to surpass 2,000 all-purpose yards in a season, finishing with 2,481.
But Campbell has prided himself in the expansion of his pupils’ talents beyond that of just running with the football. His players tend to develop versatility, as evidenced by a pair of his 1,000-yard rushers tallying more than 50 receptions in one year. No better example of that flexibility can be offered than Terrence Whitehead. In 2004, Whitehead rushed for 1,144 yards, good for second in the Pac-10. The following season, his talents as a receiver were utilized as an extension of the Ducks’ running game as the program’s fifth-leading rusher of all time caught 52 passes for 490 yards to complement his 679 yards on the ground. He became only the second player in school history to accumulate 100 or more yards rushing and receiving in the same game, doing so at Arizona State in 2005.
Campbell’s tutelage helped Maurice Morris become the school’s first back-to-back 1,000-yard rusher in school history (2000-01), followed by Onterrio Smith (2001-02) and James (2009-10-11).
The Ennis, Texas, native’s efforts have been extremely visible in the school’s record books as 18 of the Ducks’ top-20 single-season rushing totals have been recorded by Campbell protégés. Campbell’s backs also own Oregon’s top eight career rushing marks.
A proponent of the importance of developing running backs’ all-around game, he successfully tutored the school’s first conference rushing champion in 26 years in McCullough. One of the Ducks’ best tailbacks also established a school record by rushing for 15 TDs in only seven games in 1996 and equaled a Pac-10 record with five touchdowns in one outing.
The former standard was bettered in 2008 (LeGarrette Blount, 17 TDs), as well as again in 2010 (James, 21) and 2012 (Barner, 21). Barner also equaled the league’s single-game record for rushing TDs (5).
In 1998, he honed the talents of Reuben Droughns into becoming the first player in school history to rush for better than 200 yards in more than one game in the same season.
A former starting fullback at UCLA, the 63-year-old Campbell came to Oregon in 1983 after one season at Pacific. In addition to his playing days at UCLA in the early 1970s, where he scored two touchdowns in one of Oregon’s biggest victories ever (1970, 41-40), he was a graduate assistant for the Bruins in 1976-78.