CHICAGO – Ohio State wide receiver Parris Campbell acknowledged that it was "devastating," that he was "stunned," when he found out that wide receivers coach Zach Smith had been fired on Monday evening.
Speaking with the media at Big Ten Media Days on Tuesday less than 24 hours after Smith’s firing, however, Campbell had already shifted his focus toward being a leader for his fellow wide receivers and bringing them together as they prepare for an unexpected coaching transition less than two weeks before the start of fall camp.
A fifth-year senior who is one of two returning captains (along with fellow wide receiver Terry McLaurin) on Ohio State’s roster, Campbell was already expected to be one of the top leaders of this year’s Buckeyes. Now, though, Campbell’s role as a leader has become even more important – and he’s embracing that.
"Honestly, I feel 100% responsible (for leading Ohio State’s wide receivers through the coaching transition), just because I am considered one of the leaders of the room," Campbell said. "I feel like they just need to hear a voice right now, and what better way to hear that from a fifth-year guy, an experienced guy, a guy who they’ve looked up to."
By the time he spoke Tuesday afternoon – at which point he had already been through a full day of media commitments – Campbell said he had already reached out to every other wide receiver on the team and talked to them, and that the wide receivers all planned to get together and talk on Tuesday night when he arrived back in Columbus.
"We’re going to all get around each other and just have conversations, have real dialogue and like I said, just get around each other and love one another and talk," Campbell said.
With less than six weeks remaining before Ohio State’s season opener against Oregon State, Campbell and his fellow wide receivers don’t know who their position coach is going to be. He expects them to persevere through it and still achieve success, though, because of the strong bonds they have with each other as teammates.
"It’s not something you expect, especially at a time like this when we’re a week out, but I think the main focus and the main goal for the wideout room is just to lean on each other," Campbell said. "We need each other in a moment like this. It’s a huge loss, but I think we’ll move forward. Everything hasn’t changed. We’re the same group. Still Zone 6, still have the same motives and ready to get going for the season."
While Campbell is placing the responsibility on himself to lead the wide receivers through the coaching transition, he said it does help to have two fellow fifth-year seniors at the position – McLaurin and Johnnie Dixon – who are also team leaders.
"I think it helps a lot, just because we have a lot of mature guys. We’re not naive to the situation. We understand what’s going on, and we understand the critical time that it is right now," Campbell said. "You get three different perspectives. I’m not going to say the same things Terry’s going to say, and Terry’s not going to say the same things as Johnnie, so just having three old heads and three different perspectives helps a lot."
“Honestly, I feel 100% responsible, just because I am considered one of the leaders of the room.”– Parris Campbell on leading Ohio State's wide receivers through their coaching transition
Their maturity gives Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer confidence, too, that his wide receivers will overcome the unexpected change in their position coach.
"This is the most mature group of receivers I’ve ever had in 30 years of being around the game," Meyer said. "These guys are the leaders of the team right now."
It also helps, Campbell said, that Meyer is himself a wide receiver coach by trade, as Campbell said Meyer has already taken a hands-on role in coaching the receivers throughout his time in Columbus.
"Coach Meyer has always been, since I’ve got there, he’s always been on the wideouts, 'cause he’s been a wideouts coach," Campbell said. "So he’s always kind of just overseen the wideouts, making sure we’re at our best. But just having a head coach that has that experience, just makes it that much better, just because we have more knowledge and we’re gaining more knowledge as wideouts."
As of Tuesday, Campbell said he didn’t know yet whether Ohio State planned to promote Brian Hartline – as has been widely speculated and even reported – as Smith’s replacement. Campbell said he first learned that Smith had been fired by seeing the news on social media, and as of Tuesday afternoon, Smith hadn’t yet been in touch with him, though Campbell believed Smith would eventually reach out.
Campbell said he didn’t know enough about the allegations made against Smith to comment on them specifically. Campbell did say, though, that he enjoyed the time he had with Smith as his coach.
"I don’t know the entirety of the story, no details or anything like that," Campbell said. "But as far as I know, the person that Coach Smith was to me, he was a great person, great guy, great coach. So that’s all I know."