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Aug 22, 2019 11:54 AMPublication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press

Bruce Muro Out, Chris Campbell In As Southampton Varsity Football Head Coach

Bruce Muro speaks to his team back in 2015. CAILIN RILEY
Aug 26, 2019 3:45 PM

Bruce Muro is out and Chris Campbell is in as head coach of the Southampton/Pierson/Bridgehampton varsity football team.

Muro decided to step down nearly two weeks ago, after taking a position with Eastern Suffolk BOCES. Chris Campbell, a Bridgehampton resident who spent his first season with the program last year as an assistant coach, was named Muro’s replacement by Southampton Athletic Director Darren Phillips.

Muro said last week that stepping down was one of the hardest decisions he’s had to make, but a job opportunity opened up that he couldn’t pass on.

“I gave everything I had, put my heart and soul into it, and I deeply regret having to step down as head football coach,” the Patchogue resident said. “It was a great opportunity, and Darren Phillips was, by far, my rock and supported me the whole way through. I couldn’t ask for a better A.D.

“I’m thankful to my superintendent and all my board members for supporting me, too,” Muro added. “I do feel bad. Actually, I feel terrible about it. I’ve had a hard time dealing with this emotionally. Coaching football is something I passionately love. And not to sound too full of myself, but I still feel I’m the right person for that job.”

Muro replaced Edgar “Hikey” Franklin in 2015 and had inherited a program that went 20-44 in the previous eight seasons and hadn’t made the playoffs since the program’s last county-title run in 2005. Muro had shown a propensity for turning programs around, having done so at Copiague before taking the Southampton job. His goal was to do the same at Southampton, but he leaves not having been able to accomplish that — the Mariners haven’t made the playoffs in 14 years.

One of Muro’s highlights came last season, though, when the Mariners defeated crosstown rival Hampton Bays to bring the Mayor’s Cup back to Southampton. In fact, Southampton has both the Mayor’s Cup and Hampton Cup in its trophy cases; the Hampton Cup is played between Southampton and East Hampton.

Muro said he’s going to miss the players and his coaching staff.

“Those guys supported me through thick and thin and helped me remain positive. They’re a very, very supportive and great group of guys,” he said of his staff. “Eddie West, he became my Southampton brother. He’s going to be the guy that I’m going to miss the most, just because we became so close. Sean Smith, he lives out where I live, and he was driving kids to practice constantly.

“I have a lot of deep ties with the parents as much as the children, and that’s what I’m going to miss the most,” Muro added.

With Muro’s decision coming about 10 days before the start of the football season, Phillips was kind of limited in what he could do in terms of a head-coaching search. But he’s confident Campbell, and the rest of the returning staff, can do the job.

“He’s a dedicated coach, and I’m hoping that his enthusiasm and passion rubs off on some of the other coaches, and players, for that matter,” he said. “But he’s going to have the same old challenges: getting 35 to 40 kids to play football every year.”

Campbell, 50, was a quarterback and safety at West Hempstead High School, where he helped lead the team to the Big School Championship against Garden City in 1986. Campbell’s team lost, but with just over 30 kids going up against a much larger school in Garden City, he knows what it takes to win with a small roster, which is what he’ll have to do at Southampton.

“I do have experience working with a team of that size, and I have an idea of what I want to do with the team,” he said. “We’re not going to be the biggest. We’re not going to be the strongest. But we will be the most focused team out there, because we have to be. We’ll definitely be in shape, and we will be disciplined.”

A few years ago, Campbell sent out a couple of emails to local varsity head coaches to let them know he was interested in getting involved in the local football scene. Muro replied to one of those emails and asked Campbell to come down so the two could meet. He liked what he saw and brought Campbell on as an assistant.

A year later, Campbell is now the head coach of the Mariners.

“They gave me the opportunity and I’ll never, ever forget that,” Campbell said of Muro and Phillips. “This is something I’ve been looking forward to since my playing days, and something I always knew I would get — maybe not as quickly and unexpected as it was — but I’m definitely excited about the opportunity, and I thank Bruce and Darren for giving me the chance.”

Campbell said that he appreciates the coaching staff staying on, which includes both Sean Smith and Eddie West. Former Mariner Onnaja Browning is a new assistant on varsity, along with Jaron Greenidge, and both will run the junior varsity program. Greenidge is a former Riverhead standout football player and brother to Ethan Greenidge, who currently plays for the New Orleans Saints.

“I’m going to be leaning on him so heavily through the first couple of weeks, just because he has such a good knowledge of the game,” Campbell said of Smith. “It’s all a lot to deal with right away, and I would not be doing this without him.”

Campbell has been married to his wife, Brandy, for 17 years and the couple have three children. His oldest son, Canaan Campbell, was a key player on the Bridgehampton boys basketball team a few years ago. With strong ties to the community, Campbell hopes to make everyone proud of the program.

“My Mom was a teacher for 30 years, and she taught me about being respectful and working hard,” he said. “I’ve been blessed with strong genetics and a little bit of talent, and adding all of that up, it’s gotten me to here and that’s why I got involved. I’ve got a high level of expectations, and my kids know that.”

Football runs deep within Campbell and his family. His earliest memories of the sport are of watching an old 8mm tape with his father of the New York Jets defeating the Baltimore Colts in AFL-NFL Championship Game in 1969. Having grown up in Hempstead, Campbell also remembers going to Rockaway Beach with his family and playing football on the beach.

Campbell was a highly recruited football player out of West Hempstead in the mid-1980s and was heavily recruited by some of the top programs in the country, including Virginia, Temple, and his all-time favorite, the University of Miami. Campbell said he still has the letters from those schools, including one from legendary Miami head coach Jimmy Johnson.

Ultimately, Campbell went to the University of New Hampshire, since that school gave him a full scholarship. Things didn’t pan out there, he said, so he enrolled in the U.S. Air Force, in which he served in Desert Storm as a mission and maintenance computer scheduler. He was tasked with scheduling some of the first missions to the Middle East.

During that time, with a passion for football still, Campbell went to an NFL Regional Combine in Los Angeles in 1994, when he worked out for a few professional teams, including the Buffalo Bills, New York Giants and newly formed Jacksonville Jaguars. An older rookie at 25 years old at the time, Campbell didn’t make those teams, and he still has the rejection letters that he pulls out from time to time, he said.

Campbell’s two cousins, Don and Miles McPherson, were top football players as well. Don McPherson played at Syracuse University where he finished second in the Heisman Trophy voting to Tim Brown in 1987. Campbell remembers playing hooky from school and somehow getting into the Athletic Club to watch the presentation — he still feels to this day that his cousin should have won the trophy over Brown, he said with a laugh. Don McPherson was drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles in 1988 and spent seven seasons in the NFL and Canadian Football League. Miles McPherson was a solid football player in his own right, having been the first player out of the University of New Haven to be drafted by the NFL.

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