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Senior College Football Columnist

Eternal optimist Campo has an epic reclamation project at Kansas

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Kansas was dead last nationally in total defense and scoring defense in 2011. (US Presswire)  
Kansas was dead last nationally in total defense and scoring defense in 2011. (US Presswire)  

This is the second of a three-part series on The New Defenders, profiling defensive coaches fighting back in this age of record-setting offense.

LAWRENCE, Kan. -- They talk a lot in the abstract here. Don't ask Dave Campo about names or positions at Kansas. Specifics are scarce. It's hard enough comprehending how to fix one of worst defenses in the history of college football.

"Our depth chart," said the Jayhawks' new defensive coordinator, "is fluid."

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Yeah, like water. The unit that Campo is inheriting was epically bad. To paraphrase a 20-year old movie title, opponents ran through it in 2011. Kansas was dead last nationally in total defense (516.4 yards) and scoring defense (43.7 points). Seven times it gave up at least 43 points. Only halftime got in the way of Oklahoma State, which scored touchdowns on its first eight possessions in a 70-28 win last October. In 19 consecutive conference games, Kansas has given up at least 350 yards.

"If you give up 350 yards in the NFL you've had a bad day," Campo said optimistically. "In this league 350 is a great day."

That's one way to look at it. Here's the other: Campo has taken a job with a slumping program in an offensive league. In the Big 12, you either score or die, and Kansas as a program is wheezing. Since the middle of the 2009 season it has gone 5-26 (2-10 last season) and run off two coaches (Mark Mangino, Turner Gill).

Before the Jayhawks can run (to the ballcarrier), they at least have to walk (to the line of scrimmage). Ask Maryland. Kansas' numbers weren't too far off the Terps, who gave up a worst-ever 553 yards per game in 1993.

Had enough? The question should be asked of the 64-year old Campo, who could be enjoying retirement somewhere. Days after being released as Dallas' secondary coach in January, though, he was snatched up by Charlie Weis. The key word in Lawrence is quickly becoming "reclamation."

Of KU's defense.

Of Weis' career.

Of Campo's mojo.

A noted assistant -- Miami was 23-1 with a national championship in two years with Campo as secondary coach -- he also was the losingest head coach in Cowboys' history (15-33, 2000-2002).

"My strength," he said, "is teaching. You have an opportunity to do it on the college level more than the pros. The guys I liked best on the pro level were the guys just coming in."

To Campo, the young pros hadn't made their money yet. They listened. They were motivated. It was fun to be more hands-on than deal with an (Albert) Haynesworth.

"When they got to the next level, fundamentally they have to be coached again," Campo added. "In the old days, you had more of a chance to do that with guys because there were not [time-limit] restrictions. When Cortez Kennedy was at Miami, I thought he was one of the coaches. He was in the football office more than some of our GAs."

Still, this is Campo's first college job in 24 years since following Jimmy Johnson from Miami to Dallas. In between there and here, Campo was part of three Super Bowl champions. In his 18 years in Dallas, he was that bright-side-of-life guy who found a place in owner Jerry Jones' at-times cold heart.

KU is quickly becoming the national home of the celebri-coach. Offensive line coach Tim Grunhard and quarterbacks coach Ron Powlus were former Notre Dame stars. Recruiting coordinator Rob Ianello was on Weis' staff at Notre Dame. Weis himself chose Lawrence to make his head coaching comeback, to show the world that Notre Dame shouldn't be the last memory people have of him.

When Weis contacted him, Campo did the smart thing. Before he accepted, he flew in to watch film.

"Not of us," he said, "of the recruits."

That may be the best hope for the Jayhawks. Lawrence is once again expected to be the place where the Big 12 wipes its feet. The defensive line was particularly vulnerable last season. It was a mish-mosh of undersized guys and conversions from offense all adding up to a general lack of depth. Weis has recruited aggressively, loading up on D-linemen. That list includes Nebraska transfer Josh Williams and fifth-year senior Anthony McDonald, a one-year transfer from Notre Dame.

It's been a quarter century since he recruited, but Campo has a bit of college knowledge. He coached at 11 different schools from 1971-1988. His former bosses include Johnny Majors at Pittsburgh and Dick Macpherson at Syracuse. He coached at Boise (1977-79) before it was Boise.

"We lived on junior college guys," Campo said.

That's where the new coordinator hints where Kansas may have to go to solidify that defense. Weis has made the reference before. They've been recruiting jucos successfully for years up the road at Kansas State.

To make his point, Campo trots out the story of Larry Brown. What, you've forgotten the pride of Southwest Community College in Los Angeles? The defensive backfield star at TCU? The MVP of Super Bowl XXX for the Cowboys?

Campo had a feeling in 1991. The way the coach tells it, Jimmy Johnson was looking for a cornerback late in the draft. Campo talked his boss into taking Brown, who had been impressive in a private workout.

"After five games, Larry Brown is starting," Campo said.

Brown was a late bloomer for sure. At this point, Kansas would settle for any bloomers at all. Just don't ask how. Those specifics remain scarce.

Part III, Friday: New UCLA coach (and ex-NFL coach) Jim Mora Jr.


Anyone in need of a credential from all the BCS title games? Dennis Dodd has them. In three decades in the business, he's covered everything from the Olympics to Stanley Cup to conference realignment. Just get him on campus in a press box in the fall. His heart lies with college football.
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