LINCOLNTON, Ga. — The world has changed in so many ways in the 44 years since Larry Campbell first came to Lincoln County High School and found himself teaching sex education classes.
But his 42nd season as head football coach for the Red Devils has Campbell dealing with something he never could have imagined – his son being his new boss.
Dr. Brian Campbell – born in October 1972 in the middle of a 3-7 campaign in his father’s first season at the helm of the Red Devils – was named superintendent of Lincoln County Schools on March 12 and took over July 1. One of the things he’ll have to deal with is a cantankerous, 65-year-old football coach and athletic director with some very strong opinions about how things should be done.
“He is now my boss,” Larry Campbell said. “That’s hard on me and it’s hard on him. If he says jump I have to ask how high. I’m not accustomed to that. It’s not an easy transaction.
“My principal is who I answer to, but everything ends up in the superintendent’s lap. Bottom line is, if I don’t agree I have to voice my opinion to the superintendent. I’ve done that with every superintendent, but it’s kind of hard when you’re sitting across the table from your own son. I take more responsibility for how hard it can get because I’m so set in my ways.”
The potential for family disruption was enough to make the winningest coach in Georgia history consider whether he should turn his semi-retirement into a full-time status.
“I’ve definitely given it some thought,” said Campbell, who typically discusses his future plans for coaching annually with his family during the holidays shortly after the season. “We all sat down together and decided it was best that I stay on. We’ll just see how it plays out after the year.”
Lincoln County celebrated Campbell’s 400th victory in 2006 – a 34-0 playoff win over Eagles Landing Christian. The legendary coach received a postgame Gatorade shower and fireworks display as a crane hoisted an illuminated “400” into the clear night sky over Buddy Bufford Field.
Campbell said then – and repeatedly since – that he won’t stick around just to see a “500” lighting the Lincolnton skyline. With 470 victories already, that can’t happen until at least 2015, assuming the Red Devils maintain their average pace of 11.46 wins per season.
“I want to do what’s best for the school system,” Campbell said after last year’s 11-2 season came up one game short of reaching the 19th Class A state finals in his tenure. “As long as I’m what’s best for the school system and they think that, then I’ll stay.”
Campbell isn’t chasing anything. Becoming the third coach nationally to ever reach the 500-win plateau is not something that inspires him to keep going at age 65. Losing games like last year’s rivalry matchup with Washington-Wilkes and the 10-7 semifinal defeat to Dooly County are what keeps his coaching fires burning.
“Probably until I lose that aching in your stomach that you kind of crave,” he said when asked how much longer he’d keep coaching. “I don’t know how to explain it. When it starts getting where it really don’t bother me to lose, it’s time for me to get out.”
Coaching has been the only thing Campbell’s wanted to do since he went straight from graduating from the University of Georgia to being a Red Devils assistant under Thomas Bunch in 1970. Two years later he become head coach. That 3-7 first season was the last year Lincoln County posted a losing record.
This year’s Red Devils’ team should be plenty good enough to qualify for a state-record 40th consecutive postseason, even if it doesn’t have the anticipated strength of defending Class A champion Emmanuel County Institute in the quest to win his 12th state title.
“We’ve got a good enough nucleus returning where we’ll be competitive,” Campbell said.
Lincoln County fans, however, should make the most of watching Campbell stalk the sidelines while they still can.
With the arrival of his third grandchild in June and his fulfilling cattle business on the side, the lure of full-time coaching retirement grows more attractive every season.
“I hardly knew who my own children were,” Campbell said of the rigors of the coaching lifestyle. “I’m not going to sit by and let that happen to my grandchildren. Sunday afternoons when some of my coaches are out there busting their rear, I’m throwing the football with my grandson.”
Campbell has sacrificed plenty through the years in his dogged advocacy for his athletes in the state’s smallest classification. His example is part of the reason both of his children – Brian and daughter Kelli Robertson – got into the teaching business in Lincoln County themselves.
During an era of statewide budget austerity in public education, the coach/AD has moved into a closet of an office.
It all fits the sentiment expressed by his former assistant, Alvin Richardson, who wrote a Thanksgiving column expressing his eternal gratefulness to Campbell as his mentor.
“Most importantly,” Richardson wrote, “he taught me that when dealing with children or adults, fairness is essential, discipline is critical and loyalty is vital.”
Whatever Campbell decides to do beyond the 2013 season, it will be in the best interests of his Lincoln County family.