Cameron's lineage helped prep him for Dolphins' challenge

Published: Sunday, January 21, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, January 21, 2007 at 12:00 a.m.

DAVIE — Cam Cameron's first coaching victory, of sorts, came against Bob Knight.

Cameron played basketball for Knight at Indiana, where he also was quarterback in the early 1980s. One day, as Knight put Michael Jordan and the 1984 U.S. Olympic team through practice, Cameron said he wanted to be a coach.

Knight, now the coach at Texas Tech, had other plans.

"You're too smart to coach. You're not coaching," Cameron recalls Knight saying. "You're going to law school. ... You get your law degree and after that we'll talk about you coaching."

But Knight eventually gave in and helped the reserve guard get a graduate assistant position with Bo Schembechler at Michigan, an assist that Cameron says was the one that truly started his coaching career. And now, a quarter-century later, Cameron is the new coach of the Miami Dolphins, who believe he can take the lessons learned from Knight, Schembechler and others and make the franchise a winner again.

The Dolphins hired Cameron on Friday, giving him a four-year contract to replace Nick Saban, who quit to take over at Alabama.

"He's a great motivator," said San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers, who starred in Cameron's offense with the Chargers, where the new Dolphins coach spent the past five seasons turning San Diego into an offensive juggernaut. "He has a great understanding of the game in all phases. He really has the demeanor about him that exudes a lot of confidence."

With one look at Cameron's resume, it's easy to see where that confidence comes from.

He's either played for, worked with or studied under some great coaches, including Knight, Schembechler, Marty Schottenheimer with the Chargers, Lee Corso and Sam Wyche at Indiana, even former Dallas coach Tom Landry. Cameron spent time as a college assistant going to Cowboys' training camp to study their system.

"You won't find three tougher men, guys that are mentally tough, than you would of Bo Schembechler, Bob Knight and Marty Schottenheimer," Cameron said. "It's a tough business, whether it be pro football or big-time college basketball. ... To be able to be tutored by those men, I don't think it can get any better than that."

Plus, Cameron began having coaching philosophies instilled in him as a kid.

When his stepfather, Tom Harp, coached at Indiana State in the 1970s the two would often have long strategy sessions — occasionally using the other as a blocking dummy while demonstrating their respective schemes.

"I knew I wanted to coach when I was probably 14 years old," Cameron said.

Knight originally thought Cameron meant he wanted to coach basketball.

Cameron was born in Chapel Hill, N.C., home of the North Carolina Tar Heels. As a high schooler, Cameron took his high school team to the Indiana state Final Four, was hailed as one of the top players in the state and eventually was honored by the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame. And after deciding to help Cameron realize his coaching dream, Knight's first call wasn't to Schembechler, but to Carolina basketball coach Dean Smith.

"If I hadn't said anything, I'd probably be coaching basketball right now," Cameron said.

Fortunately for the Dolphins, he spoke up.

"If Cam has played for me and then worked for Schembechler and he can't succeed," Knight told the Chicago Tribune in 1997, "then they probably just ought to shoot him."

Cameron headed to Ann Arbor in 1984 and stayed a decade. He was quarterbacks coach for the Washington Redskins from 1994-96, then spent five seasons as Indiana's head coach — going 18-37 and never finishing over .500 — before Schottenheimer hired him to be the Chargers' offensive coordinator.

The Chargers ranked fourth in the league in offense this season and finished 14-2, best in the NFL. And San Diego's offense nearly doubled the Dolphins' scoring output; Miami averaged 16.3 points in 2006, its lowest figure since 1967.

And Cameron is innovative, too.

San Diego running back LaDainian Tomlinson threw two touchdown passes this season; that's as many TDs as Daunte Culpepper threw in his injury-shortened first season with the Dolphins. And on Dec. 10 against Denver, Cameron called a "Bumarooski," a trick play named for defensive coordinator Wade Phillips' father, Bum, that resulted in a 4-yard touchdown run by fullback Lorenzo Neal.

Neal lined up close to Rivers, who took the snap. The quarterback then essentially snapped the ball again to Neal, who hid it near his legs. While Rivers and Tomlinson ran right, attracting defenders, Neal faked a block before running left and plowing into the end zone.

On the sideline, Schottenheimer could be seen saying, "He's crazy."

Which, of course, he meant affectionately.

Schottenheimer has spent most of the last three years telling Cameron that he'd be an NFL head coach, and this year pulled his coordinator aside to tell him, "It's your time."

The Dolphins can only hope Schottenheimer was right.

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