For three games in a row, there's been an Arkansas connection with the Razorbacks opponent. None of them will run as deep as the one this week on the Mississippi State sideline.
Louis Campbell had been at Arkansas 19 years before taking a job at MSU last January. And, before that there was a five-year stay as a Razorback player. All total, 24 years of blood, sweat and tears with the Hogs.
There were tears when Campbell left Fayetteville after Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino offered him a job in football operations, but not coaching on the field.
Campbell decided to take a job on the field with his old friend Sylvester Croom at Mississippi State rather than take a similar job at Ole Miss with old boss Houston Nutt for less pay and less security. Among the factors in Campbell's decision to rejoin Croom — they were once graduate assistants together at Alabama and also coached together at Tampa Bay in the NFL — was a chance to work again with old coaching buddies Rockey Felker and J.B. Grimes, also former Arkansas assistants.
It's not the first time Campbell has coached against his alma mater. A member of the Hogs' all-decade team from the 1970s, Campbell had three years as secondary coach at SMU in the early part of his career. But the feelings weren't the same as they'll be this time.
"I'd been gone a little while that time," Campbell said. "This time, it's the first year after 19 years there. It's a lot different this time ... much harder. It's most definitely a special game for me. You don't play somewhere five years, then work there for 19 more and it not mean something.
"The politically correct answer would be to say it's not about the coaches, but about the players. The players will play. I won't play. But I have to tell you it's a harder game to play.
"There are so many relationships. It's my state, my school. You want to do well because there are so many people there who know me and will be watching what I do. I want to do it well."
Do his players know what it means?
"I would be disappointed if they didn't realize I was from Arkansas and what it means to me," Campbell said. "You know, I'm a paying customer to Hawgs Illustrated. I have so many friends at Arkansas, I wanted to keep up so I got a magazine subscription when I left. I've cut out all the color pictures and stories and they are taped to my office door, inside my office and all over our meeting room. I think they know. I don't think they know all the past history, but I hope they at least know I'm from Arkansas."
On board less than a year, he was surprised and honored when starting middle linebacker Dominic Douglas invited Campbell and his wife to a fraternity initiation just a few days ago.
"I'd never been to anything like it, a black fraternity ceremony," Campbell said. "Ila Sue and I enjoyed it and appreciated the invitation. It was a dance routine like I'd never seen. Let me say, I hope our players put as much into the game as they did that dance. We'll be fine."
Douglas leads the Bulldogs with 84 tackles. He was the returning starter at weakside linebacker before the Bulldogs lost All-SEC senior Jamar Chaney in the first quarter of the season opener with a broken ankle. The Bulldogs tried two players at the position before turning to Douglas.
Losing Chaney is the kind of problem the Bulldogs have been fighting all year. They have lost eight starters since the end of spring practice for one reason or another. It's just been a year of bad breaks.
"Last year, a lot of things went right for this team," Campbell said. "Tipped passes went the right way. Bounces went the right way. And, we stayed healthy. This year, it's the other way. You need good breaks. We aren't getting them this year.
"I'll compare it to what happened (for Arkansas) two years ago on the way to the West title. Alabama missed some kicks at the end and so did Vanderbilt, then you get on a roll and win the West. Those are just good breaks that happen in a good season. You need them."
The toughest losses in State's 3-7 season were 3-2 to Auburn and 14-13 to Kentucky. The Bulldogs missed a 27-yard field goal in the waning moments of the Kentucky loss.
Campbell is coaching linebackers for the first time after spending all of his previous years with the secondary, either with cornerbacks or safeties.
"It's really been fun the last five or six weeks," Campbell said. "I've told the other coaches that I hope I coach linebackers the rest of my life. But it was tough at first. In spring practice, the first few practices were frustrating. I told the other coaches that the job should have come with an owner's manual. It was on-the-job training for awhile.
"It's just so rewarding to see the game fall into place from the standpoint of your fits. The schemes change each week and the fits for the run game change. It's fulfilling. To me, it's the essence of coaching. Seeing the run fits fall in place can be as much fun as winning the game.
"I kid the cornerback coach that I've enjoyed a deep pass a lot more. I see it go over everyone's head and I know I can relax. That's on him. Really, coaching linebackers isn't as much pressure as coaching the corners or the safeties. At least, when there's a deep pass, it's not like your guys are out there on that island."
It's not like he doesn't feel pressure. He knows that some coaches scheme to put linebackers on an island, too. He's seen enough of Arkansas to know the Hogs will do that at times this week.
"We are still making our game plan," Campbell said Monday night. "We still have some more tape to watch, but I've seen enough to know they are very good on offense.
"They have Michael Smith and D. J. Williams. Michael is second in the conference in rushing. D. J. is second in receiving. Casey Dick is second in passing yards per game. They have some fine young receivers.
"I've watched them move the football on everyone. These coaches have put together a fine offense and done a great job of coaching. They've gotten better and the scores reflect that."
Campbell was the interim defensive coordinator through the bowl game last winter while Petrino was putting together a staff. Did they talk much about football? Does he have an idea of what Petrino tries to accomplish with his offense?
"No, we had very little conversation period," Campbell said. "As far as after the bowl, I'd barely got back to my office before I was gone to Mississippi State."
Does he look forward to playing against Petrino?
"Oh, it's not about that," Campbell said. "I think it's about going back to where you are from and wanting to do well.
"It's about knowing so many people there. It's like if you wrote a story your daddy might read. You are probably always giving 100 percent, but for that story, you'd write it 110 percent good. That's how this is for me. Everyone who knows me back there will be watching."
Campbell: Playing Hogs Hard This Time
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