Coaching legend ponders retirement, but still enjoys game

By JAMIE COMBS
Sports Editor

   In a compact-disc, stereo-surround world, Hampton head football coach J.C. Campbell remains more old-fashioned than an eight-track player in a 1972 Chevrolet pickup.
   Campbell simply doesn't tinker with success.
   However, for the man who took over the Bulldog program in 1968 -- making for a career that spans into five decades -- his 34th season at the helm could be his last.
   "It's probably true," said Campbell when asked if this will be his final year on the sidelines. "There's nothing written in stone or anything."
   A former Hampton High quarterback who's been a part of the Bulldog coaching staff for 40 years, Campbell owns an excellent career record of 210-134, underscored by a 128-66 conference worksheet.
   Under Campbell's guidance, three Hampton teams (1979, 1983, 1996) went as far as the state quarterfinals, while his 1969 and 1996 squads posted undefeated regular seasons.
   So what makes 2001 the right year to perhaps call it quits?
   "I reckon you're supposed to retire at a certain age," said the 64-year-old Campbell, the all-time leader in Upper-East Tennessee victories. "I don't know. I feel good and everything. I still enjoy it.
   "Everybody you see says, 'When are you going to retire?' and you get to thinking, 'Maybe they know something.'"
   But during the last three seasons, in which the program came in touch with a rare down cycle (12-19 record), Campbell lived up to his reputation of getting the most out of his players, squeezing out a 12-10 league worksheet while refusing to let Hampton drop below the middle of the Watauga Conference pack.
   Now that the 'Dogs are possibly on the verge of a resurgence, Campbell aims to leave the program in good condition.
   "I want to leave them in a good note," he explained. "I don't want to leave them dry. Of course, I'd say the amount that you enjoy a season will play a part (in retirement decision).
   "I don't think I've ever talked to the kids about wins and losses. We've talked about playing hard and doing right, then wins and losses take care of themselves. If I've talked about wins and losses to them, I don't remember it."
   If this is to be Campbell's grand finale, senior fullback Jeremy Hall said the 'Dogs want to send their coach out on a winning note.
   "We'd love to," Hall said. "That would be pretty good. It would be a good goal for us to achieve."
   Also, said Hall, Hampton's players share a great deal of respect for their mentor.
   "He's easy to get along with," said Hall. "He's an easy-going guy."
   Over the years, Campbell's biggest disappointments occurred when boys he was depending on decided to quit football for what he called "flimsy reasons."
   He hates to see athletes pass up their one opportunity to participate on the high school gridiron.
   Overall, though, the trusted players and enjoyable times override those disappointments.
   "I've totally enjoyed doing what I've done," Campbell said. "There have been moments that it looked like you'd like to walk off. I'd say a banker, even a minister, has those moments, too.
   "A great deal of the kids that play are always coming back around and coming to the games, coming around to practice and all that sort of stuff. We're still kindly close."
   Obviously, the game of football has been good to J.C. Campbell. And J.C. Campbell continues to be good for the game of football.
   One more season may not be enough.