Dave Campbell, the pioneering sports journalist who transformed media coverage of football in Texas, died Friday at his home in Waco. He was 96.
Campbell is best known as the founder and editor-in-chief of the eponymous Dave Campbell’s Texas Football magazine — affectionally called “the bible of Texas football” by readers — though his accomplishments stretch far beyond. Campbell was a former president of the Football Writers Association of America — from which he was awarded the Bert McGrane Award — the longtime Southwest sectional representative for the Heisman Trophy committee, an inductee into the Texas Sports Hall of Fame, the longtime sports editor of the Waco Tribune-Herald, and so on.
But to many who knew him, worked with him or learned from him, he was simply Dave.
Born in Waco in 1925, Campbell was a true son of Waco — he attended La Vega High School in Bellmead, took a job as a copy boy at the Tribune-Herald three days after graduation, and soon enrolled at Baylor. His initial stint at both BU and the Trib was short-lived, though — in September 1943, Campbell was drafted into World War II.
Campbell fought in France and Germany with the 14th Armored Division of the U.S. Army, earning a Bronze Star for heroic or meritorious service. His three years overseas represent the only time in his 96 years that he lived away from Waco.
Upon his return to Texas, Campbell picked up where he left off, earning a degree from Baylor, a full-time job at the Tribune-Herald, and the hand of his college sweetheart Reba —the pair were married for 70 years until her death in January 2020.
Campbell took over as sports editor of the Tribune-Herald in 1953 after the death of his mentor Jinx Tucker, a position he would hold for the next 40 years. From that perch, he would cover everything from Final Fours and Super Bowls to tennis tournaments and high school baseball.
But football was his true passion. In his early years as sports editor, he cut his teeth on the Southwest Conference press tour, covering the Bear Bryants and Darrell K Royals with a motley crew of now-iconic pressmen like Dallas’ Blackie Sherrod, Fort Worth’s Dan Jenkins and Houston’s Mickey Herskowitz.
And in 1959, Campbell hatched the idea at his kitchen table for a magazine devoted to football in the Lone Star State — intended to make up for what he perceived to be a shortage of coverage of the Southwest Conference, along with coverage of the state’s schoolboy teams. Together with his Tribune-Herald colleague Hollis Biddle, he launched the product in 1960 — it lost $5,000, but gained a foothold in the football-crazy state of Texas. The magazine was Texas Football — more widely known as Dave Campbell’s Texas Football.
Though Campbell sold the magazine in 1985, he remained the magazine's editor-in-chief for the remainder of his life, penning the magazine's letter from the editor each year and overseeing the publication's blossoming from a niche into a phenomeon, growing into a rite of summer for hundreds of thousands of Texans and the state's foremost authority on the gridiron.
Campbell's profile expanded nationally with his tenure as president of the Football Writers Association of America, and took on a leadership role in the Heisman Trophy voting process. But while he became known around the country, he remained tied to Texas, and specifically Waco.
Campbell retired from the Tribune-Herald in 1993, but remained involved in writing, spearheading the Baylor athletic department's newsletter for 15 years and helping in the production of multiple books. Campbell's name adorns the press box as Baylor's McLane Stadium, and he was a constant presence at Baylor athletic events up until his death.
Perhaps his proudest post-retirement accomplishment was his efforts to rescue the Texas Sports Hall of Fame, which was floundering at its Grand Prairie location before Campbell pushed the city of Waco to move the museum to the heart of Central Texas, where it's stood ever since.
Campbell is survived by his sister Jo Campbell; his daughters Becky Roche and husband David, and Julie Carlson and husband Alan; grandchildren Campbell Roche and his wife Katie, Jackson Roche and his wife Caroline, and Derby Carlson; and many nieces and nephews.
Remembering Dave Campbell
“When I think of Mr. Campbell, I think back to the first time I got to meet him and he was such a genuine kind man, I was at Coaching School as a young coach back in the early 1990’s and it was a real thrill for me. I grew up and the magazine and it’s the law when it comes to Texas High School Football. I was in the magazine in the summer of 1980, and we couldn’t wait to get that magazine and even today it’s still a big deal for the kids now. As the years progressed I always made sure to come see him at Coaching School and shake his hand and see how he was doing.” — Todd Dodge, Austin Westlake head coach
“Mr. Campbell was a fixture of Texas High School Foootball, one of my greatest memories of Mr. Campbell was his unbelievable memory even at an advanced age, me and my Dad would go to Coaching School to get our magazine signed by him and he’d remember all these details about my Dad, the year he became a head coach, the good seasons they had and things like that. His memory and kindness was just amazing, he put a personal touch on everything and it made you feel good that Dave Campbell didn’t just call you ‘Coach’ but he would refer to my Dad and I as ‘Coach Criss’. He had such a passion for high school football, I could tell that every part of his magazine meant something to him and when I think of Mr. Campbell I have nothing but the fondest memories and respect for him and what he meant to our game.” — Anthony Criss, Arlington Sam Houston head coach
“It was a thrill to see Mr. Campbell at Coaching School and it was an honor to shake his hand and have him sign the magazine every year, it was one of the highlights for me of Coaching School. I’ve been an avid reader of his magazine since I was in high school and even today this age of digital media when kids see their names in the magazine, they light up and the pride of the families posting pictures of their kids names in the magazine, it’s such a thrill. We are in a rural area so the kids still drive an hour to go pick up the magazine and it’s a legacy that will last many more generations after we are all gone and it speaks to the type of visionary he was. There’s no doubt Mr. Campbell was one of the most important figures in the history of Texas High School Football.” — Andreas Aguirre, San Saba head coach
"All of us at McLane Group mourn the passing of Dave Campbell. Our condolences go out to his daughters Becky and Julie, and the entire Campbell family. Mr. Dave earned his reputation as the leading voice on Texas high school and college football through his fairness and sincere interactions with generations of players and coaches. We will miss Dave Campbell and will continue to carry on the fine tradition he created." — Drayton McLane Jr., Drayton McLane III and Denton McLane
"Texas lost an all time legend today with the news of Dave Campbell’s passing. Personally, I lost a beloved friend and mentor. He was always there for me with advice or great stories that were lessons on journalism, business, and life. Great people do great things that make a difference. Legends do great things that make those around them better people and enrich the lives of those they do not even know. Dave Campbell was a Texas legend. I will miss him terribly but cherish my time with him over the 17 years I have known him." — Adam Hochfelder, president of Dave Campbell's Texas Football
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