WINNERS: Mark Campbell has joined his daughter Melody Stewart on the coaching staff of the Bixby Lady Spartans basketball team. Campbell coached his daughter at Claremore. The team is one of the best in the state this season.
TERRELL LESTER for GTR Newspapers
At the outset of this high school basketball season, Bixby girls coach Melody Stewart relinquished her seat on the bench.
She had two full-time assistants. She was gaining a third. A volunteer.
Ever so willingly, Stewart was making room for another coach.
“I moved over one seat,” Stewart said. “Not to make him uncomfortable, I gave him the first seat on the bench.”
Her move was made out of respect.
She was still the head coach. Beginning her third year as head coach at Bixby.
But her new assistant, the volunteer, was beginning his 34th year as a coach.
His resume as a head coach includes more than 800 victories and four state championships.
He had coached Melody Stewart through an All-State career at Claremore. He knows Stewart well. He is the reason she went into coaching.
The assistant coach is her father, Mark Campbell.
“This is pretty much a dream come true,” she was saying recently.
“I’ve played for him. I’ve played against him. Now, I’m coaching with him.
“There’s no doubt in my mind that he forgot more basketball before I was born than I will ever know. He just has a mind like I’ve never seen. And that’s the honest truth.”
The 64-year-old Campbell found himself out of work last spring after leaving his position as head coach at Claremore. In 17 years, he produced a record of 362-100 at Claremore, winning three straight state championships and finishing runner-up twice.
He was sought for other jobs, called in for interviews. He wanted to coach, had plenty to offer.
No one job appealed to him. Except for the one where he could coach with his daughter.
He is the father figure to a team and to a coaching staff that includes assistants Kailan DeCamp and Cori Baker.
“I’m having a blast,” he said. “This is so much fun.
“I’ve always said Melody does a good job coaching, but I didn’t know how good until I came here. Now, I see her every day and see what she does, and what a teacher of the game she is.
“I see how much we are alike.
“I’ve said many times, she is a better coach than me. I really believe that,” he said. “I think I know more basketball than she does. But she uses what she has. She’s great at substituting.
“She relates to her kids, and she gets more out of them. I think that’s what makes a good coach.”
From 2009 through 2012, Campbell and Stewart squared off against each other as rival coaches in the same conference. It was believed to have been the only father-daughter coaching matchup in Oklahoma.
It was a novelty that neither found amusing.
Following their initial meeting in 2009, a Claremore win, Campbell said: “I want to win. She wants to win. And I want her to win. When it’s all said and done, though, I just beat my daughter. And I did not enjoy that.”
Now, they are on the same side.
“It’s a great fit. He’s really been good for us, especially in the area of working with our post players,” Stewart says. “We’ve got some really good bodies in there that have a lot of potential. I think he’s drawn a lot out of them in a short amount of time.”
Campbell said that one of his daughter’s strongest elements is coaching the perimeter game.
That focus on two main elements of basketball, inside and outside, has made Bixby stronger this season, and given the team a solid footing in the Class 6A coaching polls.
One coaching adversary during the season told Stewart how lucky she was to have her father on the bench. He said that a good team just became better by Campbell’s presence alone.
“I’ve learned so much and developed so much of what I do, in my philosophy and my belief system, around a lot of the things that he did as I was a kid, watching him coach and then as a player for him and then as an opposing coach,” the 34-year-old Stewart said.
“What he offers, just in the details of things. He’s done this for so long. He understands the details that need to be fixed in order to make your team what you really want it to be.
“As a young coach, those are the things that you only get with experience.”
Melody, one of four children by Mark and Shirley Campbell, recalls the joys of being a coach’s daughter.
“I have been so blessed,” she says. “God has blessed me with opportunity after opportunity, and one of those opportunities is to grow up with a coach as a father.”
She mentioned going with her father to the NAIA men’s national basketball tournament at the Mabee Center, “taking a sack lunch and staying all day.”
In church, she said, father and daughter drew up plays on bits of paper while sitting in the pews.
“I’ve always had that desire and love to know more about the game,” she said. “Kind of like he did.
“I can’t depart from it. It’s who I am. It’s what I do.”
For Mark Campbell, coaching is what he does. And has done for more than half his life.
But this year, he says, has been unforgettable.
“I couldn’t be happier,” he said. “I’m so glad I didn’t get (those other jobs in 2012). I am as happy as I can be.”
His daughter made a place for him on her bench. In the No. 1 chair he held for so long as a head coach.
“I make a lot of suggestions to her,” Campbell said. “A lot of them, she takes. Some of them, she doesn’t. I would be the same way.
“We don’t always agree. But that’s just life,” he said.
Would he consider taking another head-coaching job in the future?
“I don’t know. I doubt it,” he said. “I am really happy here. I like what I am doing.”