After losing his wife, coaching at Iowa helps Gary native Erik Campbell

2009-11-26T00:15:00Z After losing his wife, coaching at Iowa helps Gary native Erik CampbellBY AL HAMNIK - al.hamnik@nwi.com, (219) 933-4154 nwitimes.com
November 26, 2009 12:15 am  • 

He still thinks about his beautiful wife, her room-brightening smile, her warm, comforting hugs and her ability to lift his spirits on the gloomiest of days.

Lori was a gift from God in the mind of Iowa assistant football coach Erik Campbell, a Roosevelt grad.

And after only four years of marriage, she was gone.

A brain aneurysm took her life at age 30.

That was in March of 2001 while Campbell was the receivers coach at Michigan. He and Lori had been talking about starting a family before she died.

"When my family went back to Gary, all I was left with was football," Campbell said. "Being at Michigan and surrounded by the players and the coaches definitely helped."

Football fills a huge void

Campbell is now in his second season as wide receivers and tight ends coach at Iowa and also recruits the Dallas, Houston and Detroit areas. He said a typical work day for him during the season is 7 a.m. until 11 p.m.

On this Thanksgiving Day, Campbell will be most thankful for family and football to fill his huge void.

"It's unreal. When we go up for a game, the next morning he's up before everybody and usually leaves us at home asleep while he goes back to the office to get his day started," said Earline Campbell, his mother.

"Football keeps you busy and that's a good thing," said Erik Campbell, a former Michigan star who played for Bo Schembechler. "It's been a while (since Lori's death) but when it happened, it was difficult to concentrate that first year and I don't know how productive or how good I was.

"All you can do is try to give your best and stay focused on the task at hand."

Campbell always has given 150 percent to every coaching job he's had and boasts a thick resume that includes the U.S. Naval Academy, Ball State, Syracuse and Michigan.

"Erik's a student of the game and a great young coach. We're thrilled to have him on our staff," Iowa's Kirk Ferentz said at the Big Ten Coaches' Media Day in Chicago this past summer.

The No. 13 Hawkeyes (10-2) reached double-digit wins this season for the first time since 2004 and are in the hunt for a BCS bid.

Football in Iowa City has been an exciting story this season for fans around the country and as much as Erik Campbell savors these special moments, he wishes he had Lori to share them with.

"I think about her all the time. That never goes away," he said. "You married this person you loved and lived every day with (so) the loss and all the good times you had are with you every day."

In October 2008, the Campbells lost son-in-law Glenn Miller, a former Roosevelt basketball coach. He was 62 and left behind their daughter Renee and three children.

"Soon as you get over one thing, then something else strikes you in the face," Earline said. "It just makes you stop in your tracks."

Once again, faith and family helped them endure heartbreak and move on.

Today, work can wait

Erik Campbell is spending Thanksgiving Day in Gary with his parents and other family members. They'll laugh, reminisce, talk some Iowa football and probably wipe away a tear or two.

"Family was the most important thing. That's the only thing that kept me together," Campbell said of Lori's passing. "Your mind's going all over the place. To have the family's support was huge. They helped me get through being alone again.

"Loneliness is the hardest thing ever. Your wife is the only person in the world who knows you better than your mom and dad. She's your best friend, confidant, everything else."

Earline and John Campbell are grateful their son has football to lose himself in for much of the year.

"Football is his companion and constant lifeline," she said.

But not on Thanksgiving.

Touchdowns, depth charts, won-lost records, bowl invitations and recruiting can wait.

"I get to see Mom and Dad and get Mom's cooking. That's the most important thing," Campbell said.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL

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