Give Campbell his due

Longtime Edmonton Eskimos executive Hugh Campbell says good-bye after announcing his retirement...

Longtime Edmonton Eskimos executive Hugh Campbell says good-bye after announcing his retirement last night at an Eskimos dinner. (Edmonton Sun/Robert Taylor)

TERRY JONES -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 8:01 AM ET

It was surprisingly unemotional, except at the very end of his speech when he got a little teary.

Hugh Campbell used the Eskimos annual dinner to retire last night.

He said goodbye in a lengthy, but until the end surprisingly unemotional speech after former Eskimo president John Butler announced the news.

"I knew that they were going to play a video before I got up here," Campbell began. "I asked Molly (daughter and Eskimos communication department rookie) how I'd know a few seconds before I was get up on stage.

"She said: 'When you hear the words, don't let the door hit you on the ass on the way out.' "

With those words, after 33 years in the CFL as a player, coach and GM/CEO, Campbell resigned from the Edmonton Eskimos.

BACK TO BEGINNING

Campbell began by taking the assembled back to the beginning.

He moved on to talking about not having a contract with the Eskimos until two years ago when he agreed to a transition contract which would facilitate president and COO Rick LeLacheur moving into the position to replace him.

LeLacheur has been groomed for the position for the past four years and has effectively been running the Eskimos the last two seasons.

Indeed, Campbell, for the past few years, has been as much a consultant as a hands-on CEO. He will continue with the Eskimos as a consultant.

"He'll always be there," said LeLacheur. "Once an Eskimo, always an Eskimo."

Campbell was like a player who held on one year too long. He came under huge criticism, particularly from this column, for being nowhere near the Labour Day Classic in Calgary when "his" team was in crisis and then having the audacity to act as if he was at the helm, deciding the fate of Danny Maciocia's future, etc., the night the Eskimos lost the second game of a back-to-back series against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.

But while Campbell is departing the same season the Eskimos' remarkable record of 34 consecutive years in the playoffs came to an end, his last night will be remembered longer than his last season.

Hugh Campbell will be remembered as a legend who could have made the Canadian Football Hall of Fame as a player, coach and executive.

Several special guests were on hand for the dinner including Warren Moon, ex-Eskimos president John Butler, Ron Lancaster, Tom Wilkinson, Dwayne Mandrusiak and Bryan Hall, who all told Campbell stories.

"I found out last week that it was a possibility that Hugh might retire," said Moon. "He was there for me induction into the Hall of Fame induction in Canton, Ohio.

"I wanted to be here for him in this moment. I was glad I was able to be part of it."

Added Lancaster: "He's the best friend I have. I just don't like to see him go."

Indeed his CFL history is extensive. Campbell has taken 17 trips to the Grey Cup as a player, coach, and executive, winning 10.

He made the playoffs the first 32 - six as a player, six as a coach and 20 as an executive. His teams played in 29 home playoffs games in 32 including 18 of his first 19 years in his time as an Eskimo executive prior to last season.

Campbell was either coach or GM/CEO of the Eskimos for 27 of the 34 consecutive years in the playoffs.

KWONG GOT IN A DIG

Lt. Gov. Normie Kwong was a featured speaker opening the show, allowing the China Clipper, The Living Legend, to dip back into his old Eskimos sportsman's dinner material. He spent a couple minutes sounding like he was delivering an inspirational message when he hit the punchline.

"This team will always have the accomplishment of making the playoffs 34 years in a row ... and you were the ones who ended it!"

In the end, at his last media scrum, Campbell said he was blown away by the visits of Moon and Lancaster.

"It was a wonderful surprise," he said.

"It was another sign the club is in good hands."

He looked at the media men in the scrum.

"You guys are young guys," he said.

"It's time. I'm tired. I would have left two years ago. I believed the Eskimos deserved to have this transition."

And with that, an era ended in Edmonton.


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