If things had gone the way Eastern Carolina University wanted them to go, its women’s basketball team would have an eerie matchup each season.
Coach Shawn Campbell versus Campbell University.
Instead, Campbell, Temple’s associate women’s basketball coach, chose Temple.
In doing so he left one of the winningest programs in the country, Virginia, and headed to a perennial underachiever, Temple.
But with a coach like Campbell, widely considered one of the top assistant coaches in the country, that underachiever label may soon be lifted.
Temple is off to a 10-6 record and has beaten most of the teams they were supposed to beat. The Owls have lost to Villanova, New Mexico, Vanderbilt, N.C. State, Dayton and Xavier.
Vanderbilt, N.C. State and Xavier are all nationally ranked, while Villanova defeated Rutgers this past weekend to get into the Top 25 for the first time since the 1986-87 season. This weekend, however, the program took a minor step back with their losses to Xavier and Dayton.
“I feel like these are more growing pains,” Campbell said of the weekend’s losses. “We haven’t been given a terminal illness here.
“It’s more like a kid that’s 16, 17 years old that wants to go out on the weekends and wants to stay out until 12, one o’clock and Mom and Dad are saying no, you’re not ready to stay out till 12, one o’clock.”
“We want to be those people staying out to 12, one o’clock, but we don’t understand that there’s responsibility in that.”
Campbell, on the other hand, does understand.
The Trenton, N.J., native coached for 15 years at Virginia, influencing names like All-American Tammi Reiss, 2000 ACC Rookie of the Year Schyue Larue, and Dawn Staley, his current boss at Temple. The Cavalier program has had 20 or more wins in 15 of the last 16 seasons.
In his 15 seasons, the team went to 15 consecutive NCAA tournaments and won 11 regular-season ACC titles.
“Dawn was almost like a pilot who just gets the plane up in the air and then it’s on cruise,” Campbell said. “You just get to your destination and you land the plane. That’s not the typical player we have, yet.”
With names like Staley and Campbell in the fold, though, those players will soon be coming. With the current players–even though Campbell calls them all great players, any of whom could be his daughters–there is a gap.
“There’s a gap of wanting to win and knowing how to win and finishing,” he said. “That’s where we as a coaching staff right now we have to fulfill that.”
There was a time in Campbell’s coaching history when he almost made the leap to the ranks of head coaching. After his three years at Trenton State, now called the College of New Jersey, and time at Virginia, Campbell was offered the head coaching position at East Carolina University.
Unfortunately for that university and his coaching future, Campbell had already offered his hand in marriage to Terri Dadio.
Dadio, now Terri Campbell, is an assistant coach at Princeton. In hindsight, Campbell says he would have taken the job, but one piece of his life had already changed and he wasn’t ready to disrupt another.
A few years later Temple Athletic Director Dave O’Brien came along. The great salesman, as Campbell called him, gave Campbell an offer he couldn’t refuse.
“The guy can sell,” Campbell said of O’Brien. “He would be on my sales team any day.”
Another piece of the business puzzle was Staley. O’Brien had already sold Staley on the head-coaching job but she needed someone to help jumpstart the program. Staley chose Campbell and Campbell accepted.
“I don’t know what I ever could have done to get fired at Virginia but it still was the fact that to be able to come here and be the associate head coach and run the program with Dawn while she was in the WNBA,” he said. “With not getting those opportunities out there I just felt it was too much to turn down.”
At Virginia, Campbell’s job, although never in peril, was based on one-year contracts. Here at Temple he was given a multi-year contract and the opportunity to build a program with good athletes to the stature of the one he left.
“It’s that time of the season where you’re not spoon feeding that,” Campbell said. “You’re not giving them candy to bribe them anymore. You’re at the point now you’re in the middle of business in the middle of negotiations in the middle of a merger in the sense of going from mediocrity to something that’s respectable. Day-in-and-day-out, if we can merge we’ll get to the point we want to be.”
In trying to get the business deal done, Campbell, unlike many coaches, doesn’t see losses as positives to building. They are losses: horrible, horrible losses.
The two this past weekend were particularly rough for Campbell because they were games that Temple could have won. Games that were lost because of poor shooting that the team shouldn’t have lost.
“I am the last coach that will ever tell you, because I don’t believe in it, that’ it’s good to take a loss,” Campbell said. “I think that’s the most ridiculous statement that anybody could ever make. Winning takes care of a lot of problems and that’s what we have to do right now.”
The first problem that winning took care of this season for the Owls was the coaching situation. Staley came in with no coaching experience. The first-year coach has already equaled last season’s win total for the team.
“When she first came she was not a great talker but you can do a lot by just showing people how to do things,” Campbell said of Staley. “This is crazy but talk is cheap. Actions speak louder than words.”
For Campbell actions speak just as loud as his words. In the team’s game against Xavier, for example, Campbell was on his feet yelling. The referee came over to him and slapped him with a technical foul, the first in recent memory for a Temple coach.
When those technicals turn into wins the team will get into the elite group that Campbell just left.
And when Campbell stops to look around the scenery will once again be what he’s used to.