Arkansas high school coaching icon Don Campbell dies


Regarding the ability to coach high school football, Don Campbell once said you either learn or go into administration. Clearly, he learned. Campbell, an Arkansas high school coaching icon best known for his run-first state championship teams at Wynne, died late Monday afternoon at Comfort Care Center in Little Rock, his son, Chris, said. He was 80. Chris Campbell said in a text message early Friday afternoon that his father was entering hospice care and only had a few days to live because of a re-emergence of organ cancer, initially diagnosed in 2008. Campbell's condition had quickly deteriorated after contracting covid-19 in late October, his son said. "It's hard to even process right now," Chris Campbell said Monday night. "He touched so many lives." A Forrest City native, Don Campbell ranks among the winningest coaches in Arkansas high school football history. He compiled a 257-98-6 career record at three stops – Corning (1976-85), Sheridan (1986-90) and Wynne (1991-2006) – won or shared 15 conference championships and captured two state championships. Both Class AAAA state titles (2001 and 2004) were at Wynne. Campbell, literally, ran his way into the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame, normally mashing opponents with a devastating rushing attack out of the Diamond-T formation. "I felt like I could take average kids and win with it because we didn't have to hold blocks," Campbell said in an Arkansas-Democrat-Gazette interview on the eve of his 2014 induction into the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame. "Everything was quick. The worst thing we do in football nowadays is try to outfox somebody. It's simple things in football that get you." During an 11-year span (1994-2004), Wynne ran for more than 38,000 yards, with much of the damage coming on Campbell's signature trap play. Campbell became so synonymous with the play that his personalized license plate was "27 Trap." An offensive lineman in 1986-88 at Sheridan, Chris Campbell said his father "threw a little bit" there and at Corning before moving to tradition-rich Wynne, where his Diamond-T scheme flourished. In 16 seasons, Campbell was 147-46-3, won or shared eight conference championships and never missed the playoffs. "Really, when he got to Wynne, the running backs were a lot more advanced than he coached before," Chris Campbell said. "They had a different gear than anybody he coached before." Campbell's 2001 team was led by dynamic halfback DeAngelo Williams, who was the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette Offensive Player of the Year and later became the all-time leading rusher at the University of Memphis and for the NFL's Carolina Panthers. Campbell later coached standout halfback Antonio Warren. Campbell's stint at Wynne coincided with conference battles against fellow Arkansas high school coaching giants Bill Keedy of Newport, childhood friend Clinton Gore of Osceola and later Dave King of Batesville, who has led the Pioneers since 1996 and won the Class AAAA state championship in 2003. "Great coach, but an even better person," King said Monday night. "Just a fine gentleman. I remember when I first came in here, Wynne and Coach Campbell, were beating up everybody. Somebody's doing it, you want to dislike them. But once you got to know Don, he was a real gentleman and just a good person and did things the right way. I always admired him." After retiring from coaching following the 2006 season, Campbell moved to Vilonia to be closer to his grandchildren. Campbell was also 80-28-2 at Corning and 30-24-1 at Sheridan, highlighted by an 11-1 season and Class AAA quarterfinal playoff berth in 1987. "If you did a good job, he was going to praise you," Chris Campbell said of playing for his father. "If you didn't, he was going to exploit you. He said, 'The film doesn't lie.' You didn't want to disappoint him. If you didn't make your block or didn't make your tackle, when it came film time, you were going to be embarrassed if you didn't do your job. If you did do your job, you were going to get praised. You did not want to disappoint." Campbell graduated from Forrest City in 1958 and Henderson State in 1968. He was inducted into the Arkansas High School Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2008 and Henderson's athletic Hall of Fame in 2010. Funeral arrangements were pending Monday night, Chris Campbell said.