The inspiration for Ted Lasso, Lee's Summit North teacher Donnie Campbell, is surprised by his instant fame
Donnie Campbell, much to his surprise, has become somewhat of an internet celebrity over the past two weeks.
The likeable Lee’s Summit North High School math teacher was Saturday Night Live alum Jason Sudeikis’ basketball coach at Shawnee Mission West High School in the 1990s (Sudeikis graduated in 1994).
And Sudeikis recently thanked his former coach for so many of the memorable lines from his hit Apple TV+ series “Ted Lasso,” for which Sudeikis won an Emmy for lead actor in a comedy series. The series also brought home the top award for a comedy series.
It broke the mark for Emmy nominees for a first-year series with an all-time record 20 nominations.
“It’s funny,” said Campbell, who has been a coach for 36 years and now helps North head coach Mike Hilbert by coaching the Broncos freshman team.
“I was walking down the hallway the other day and a teacher friend of mine said, ‘There’s our famous coach.’ I didn’t know what he was talking about.”
In fact, Campbell knew his former left-handed point guard starred in “Ted Lasso,” but because it was on a streaming service, he had not seen it.
“And I did not know that Jason had said that he used many of the comments I used when I was a coach in his new series,” Campbell said.
“Back then, I had a lot of sayings I would use to motivate my players, and I never knew if they were listening. But I guess some of them were — like Jason.”
Campbell, who played quarterback at Kansas State and one year of basketball for the Wildcats under coaching legends Jack Hartman and Lon Krueger, began every practice with a quote.
One that brought big laughs on “Ted Lasso,” was, “Jason, you’re as nervous as a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs.”
That brought a smile to Campbell’s face.
“Jason was a good little point guard,” Campbell said. “And he’d get so nervous before a game, so I told him that. I guess it stuck.”
The pride of tiny Lyons, Kansas, whose homey charm made him a hit with players and the students alike, also called Sudeikis Su-eikis.
“I did call him Su-eikis,” Campbell said, with perfect timing, “because he didn’t have any D.”
Another favorite line often came the day before big games, when Campbell would urge his players to get a good night’s sleep.
“You can’t hoot with the owls at night,” he said, “and fly with the eagles in the morning.”
And now, following a taped appearance on NBC’s “The Today Show,” that his daughter filmed on her phone, and countless national and local interviews, Campbell has seen all of Season 1 of “Ted Lasso” and is ready to watch Season 2, which began on July 23.
“It’s a great show, and you can tell how much Jason loves what he’s doing, how he’s portraying his character, and it’s really funny,” Campbell said.
“This is my fifth year at Lee’s Summit North, and I love it here. I’ve always loved kids and teaching, and hopefully made an impact on their lives.”
And a skinny point guard from Overland Park, Kansas, with no D backs up that statement on the most successful program in the history of Apple TV.