Christmas came early to the University of Central Arkansas football team when Steve Campbell was hired in December as the new head football coach for the UCA Bears.
Campbell replaces Clint Conque, who resigned this fall after 14 seasons at UCA. Campbell is only the fourth head coach at UCA in the last 24 years.
At UCA, Campbell will lead a program that has won two Southland Conference titles, made two FCS Playoff appearances and had three seasons of at least nine victories since moving to NCAA Division I in 2006.
When introducing Campbell to media and fans for the first time, UCA Director of Athletics Dr. Brad Teague presented him with a No. 4 UCA football jersey to signify the fourth national championship he is expected to win at UCA.
Campbell is no stranger to championship teams.
A Florida native, Campbell played at Southeastern Louisiana and Troy, winning an NCAA Division II national championship as the starting center at Troy in 1987.
He joins UCA after a successful 10-year tenure at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College, where his players regularly went on to BSC schools and the NFL. He currently has six former players on NFL rosters, and all six earned college degrees. Campbell's teams at MGCCC won 87 games over 10 seasons, including the NJCAA national championship in 2007.
"Coach Campbell has a proven record as an outstanding coach and outstanding recruiter,” said Teague, who concluded the search for Conque’s replacement in less than a week. “He has three national championships to his credit and he has vast recruiting ties throughout the southeast and the country. He has been highly successful everywhere he has been as a player and as a coach. He's never had a losing season at any level of coaching, which is pretty remarkable.”
Campbell’s coaching credentials include experience in the Southland Conference (Nicholls State University), the Southeastern Conference (Auburn University, Mississippi State University) and at the NCAA Division II level (Delta State University). He began coaching in 1988-89 as a graduate assistant at Auburn University, where he received a master’s degree and worked under legendary coach Pat Dye, and then went to Delta State as offensive line coach and offensive coordinator from 1990-92. He was offensive coordinator at Nicholls State and then running backs coach and head coach at Southwest (Mississippi) Community College. In 1999, he became head coach for Delta State Statesmen, who went 27-8 during Campbell's tenure, including a 14-1 national championship season in 2000. Delta State beat UCA 52-21 in Conway that year. Campbell was named the AFCA National Coach of the Year following that championship season.
After Delta State, Campbell was offensive coordinator and offensive line coach at Middle Tennessee State and offensive line coach under Jackie Sherrill at Mississippi State. In 2004, he took over at MGCCC and led the Bulldogs to seven straight postseason trips and three state junior college championships.
“Being successful is important here,” Campbell said. “I'm very, very excited about being a part of this. UCA is used to winning championships. A lot of places have never won a national championship. UCA has won national championships. That's important. I want to go somewhere you have a chance to compete not only for conference championships, but for national championships. You can do that at UCA.”
Campbell is off to a great start. The Bears have already signed 26 players from 10 states, including Arkansas, Mississippi, Texas, Alabama, Louisiana, Missouri, Kansas, California, Florida and Tennessee. The group includes six defensive backs, five offensive linemen, five defensive linemen, two receivers, two tight ends, and one quarterback, punter, long snapper, linebacker, and running back.
“The atmosphere, attitude, and excitement at the stadium are unbelievable,” said UCA Assistant Athletic Director for Media Relations Steve East, adding that several UCA players have already expressed their excitement on social media. “Normally they don’t tweet about 6 a.m. workouts, so I know they’re definitely excited.”
“He’s put together a really good staff, and I think the players are going to love playing for them,” East added.
“Everybody I’ve talked to has said, ‘This is a good guy,’ and that’s going to make the transition a whole lot easier,” East said. “Good relationships between players, fans and other people on campus are critical, and they’re already enjoying working with him.”
“We have the facilities and the city behind us. People support it. It’s hard to bring people to campus and not get them,” East said. “We are one of the most successful new NCAA Division I programs. He can build on it and wants to build on that.”
UCA will open the 2014 season on Aug. 30 against Big 12 member Texas Tech in Lubbock, Texas.