A decision made for him by his coach at Sacramento City College changed Packers Offensive Line Coach James Campen’s life forever. Coach Jerry Sullivan decided Campen would become a center.
“Coach Sullivan asked me what I wanted out of football and I said I wanted to play professional football,” Campen said. That’s when Sullivan told Campen he would be moving to center.
“I struggled with that,” Campen said of the awkwardness of snapping a football. “I was getting my butt whipped every day.”
Campen stuck with it, became proficient at it and won a scholarship offer two years later from Tulane. All of a sudden, Campen was on track to pursue his dream.
What if he hadn’t agreed to the position switch?
“If I was a stubborn person, I don’t believe I would’ve scholarshipped to Tulane,” Campen said.
That means he wouldn’t have signed with the New Orleans Saints as an undrafted free agent in 1986, which means he wouldn’t have come to the Packers as a Plan B free agent in 1989, which means he wouldn’t have become a starting center for the Packers. All of that, of course, means that if Campen hadn’t listened to his coach at Sacramento City College, he likely wouldn’t be coaching the Packers offensive line today and that means he wouldn’t be wearing a Super Bowl ring on his finger.
One decision changed everything; life can be funny that way.
“I’m sure I would’ve been successful doing something. It just wouldn’t have been football,” Campen said.
That means he wouldn’t have been doing what he loves.
“I love football. I really knew I loved it,” he said.
He loved it enough to sit in the blazing New Orleans sun for four hours, waiting for coaches to come back from a golf outing and work him out as an undrafted free agent. Jim Finks, then president of the Saints, looked through his window and saw Campen sitting in the sun. When Campen was in his fourth hour, Finks mercifully came outside and said he would conduct the workout. When the workout was complete, Finks signed Campen to a contract.
It is with that same dogged passion that Campen pursued a coaching career. When his playing career ended, he went back to Shingle Springs, Calif., tucked in the heart of California Gold Rush country, and volunteered at his high school alma mater, Ponderosa High School, to help coach the offensive line. His offer was gratefully accepted.
By year three, he was also Ponderosa’s defensive coordinator and defensive backs coach. By year five, he was Ponderosa’s head coach.
The NFL, again, was his target.
“I had stayed in touch with a lot of coaches,” he said, including the names Jon Gruden, Andy Reid, Dick Jauron and Mike Sherman, then head coach of the Packers. “I called coach Sherman and I said I believe I’m ready now and I’d like your opinion. He said to come on out. One thing led to another and he hired me as assistant offensive line coach and quality control coach.”
That was 2004 and he’s been with the Packers ever since.
Now, he’s targeting a new challenge.
“We want to be able to run the ball,” he said. “The run game allows you to do more things and be balanced in your offense. We want to get it going early instead of late, like last year.
“It just comes down to pride; moving your guy one-on-one. That’s certainly something we’re going to emphasize in our room, the attitude to run-block. We need to get better at that and finish harder. When those things happen, that’s when the big runs happen,” Campen said.
In at least one way, Campen would seem to be on a run.