Detroit Lions HC favorite Dan Campbell ‘a players’ coach who you want to go to battle for’

Detroit Free Press

Dave Birkett
| Detroit Free Press

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The Detroit Lions canceled their scheduled interview with Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive coordinator Todd Bowles on Friday and appear to have a front-runner for the job.

A league source told the Free Press that New Orleans Saints assistant head coach Dan Campbell has emerged as a finalist to replace Matt Patricia as head coach, with NFL Network calling him “the favorite” to be hired.

The Lions currently are in a holding pattern when it comes to scheduling second interviews, but plan to meet with at least one candidate in person before formalizing a deal.

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Campbell, a former NFL tight end who played the 2006-08 seasons with the Lions, interviewed by Zoom last week and is not eligible to meet in person until the Saints are eliminated from the playoffs.

New Orleans hosts the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in a divisional playoff game Sunday.

The Lions brought just one general manager candidate in for a second interview, the Los Angeles Rams’ Brad Holmes, who they hired Thursday.

Holmes is expected to be involved in the Lions’ coaching hire, though a second league source described the final pairing as something of an arranged marriage.

Holmes, 41, spent his entire NFL career with the Rams before agreeing to a five-year deal with the Lions. 

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Campbell, 44, played for four teams over 11 NFL seasons and has spent the past decade as a coach with the Saints and Miami Dolphins. He has never been a coordinator at any level, but went 5-7 as interim Dolphins head coach in 2015.

“It’s hard to put a finger on what people say when they say a players’ coach, but to me, he is the definition of a players’ coach who you want to go to battle for,” former Dolphins tight end Jake Stoneburner told the Free Press earlier this week. “He’s your coach and he wants to pump you up, but he’s not going to bullshit you, to put it lightly. Cause he’s played and he’s been there and he’d tell you how it is. If he thinks you can do it, you can probably do it because he’s been there and done that. And he just demands a very high, high amount of respect around the locker room.”

Campbell, who has worked closely with tight ends in both of his coaching stops, compared his coaching philosophy to that of Hall of Fame coach Bill Parcells in a 2018 interview with The Sporting News.

Campbell played the 2003-05 seasons for Parcells with the Dallas Cowboys, and worked with him as a coaching intern with the Dolphins in 2010, when Parcells was the team’s executive vice president of football operations.

“Just from a philosophy standpoint on how you play the game, offensively and defensively, it was like identical,” Campbell said. “It’s about running the football. Your quarterback makes smart decisions. You don’t win or lose with the quarterback. Your defense is balls-to-the-wall, all-out.

“Those are the (games) you’re winning because of your defense and you’ve got time of possession with the run game. And then when you throw it, they’re explosive passes.”

Saints coach Sean Payton, who coached Campbell in both New Orleans and with the New York Giants, said Campbell brings the same passion and toughness to the sideline as a coach that he did to the field as a player.

“I think he’s a great worker. He’s always a good team guy,” Payton said in 2016. “I had a chance to see him coach in Miami and watch the success he’s had, and then even in a short period of time, becoming the head coach there, so that was an easy decision for me (to add him to our staff) because I just know how he is. And i’ll know he’s a great teacher.”

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The Lions have interviewed six candidates for their head coaching job: Campbell, interim head coach Darrell Bevell, ex-Cincinnati Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis, and coordinators Robert Saleh of the San Francisco 49ers, Arthur Smith of the Tennessee Titans and Eric Bieniemy of the Kansas City Chiefs.

Saleh accepted the New York Jets job Thursday night, and Smith accepted the Atlanta Falcons job Friday.

Bowles was expected to interview virtually Friday.

Campbell, who has not interviewed anywhere else during this hiring cycle, did not return a text message from the Free Press.

Contact Dave Birkett at Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett.

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