Lions hire ‘high-energy’ new head coach Dan Campbell

Detroit News

Justin Rogers
 
| The Detroit News

The Detroit Lions on Wednesday hired Dan Campbell as their new head coach.

The NFL Network is reporting it’s a six-year deal.

Campbell, an 11-year veteran who transitioned into coaching a decade ago, is known for his ability to motivate more than his schematic prowess. He is being brought in with the hope he can install a new culture envisioned by owner Sheila Hamp Ford, president and CEO Rod Wood and special assistant Chris Spielman.

“This is an exciting day for our organization as we introduce Dan Campbell as the new head coach of the Detroit Lions,” Ford Hamp said in a statement. “With more than 20 years of experience as both a coach and player in the National Football League, Dan knows the rigors of professional football and what it takes to be successful. He will help promote the culture we want to establish across our organization, while also bringing with him high energy, a respect for the game and an identity with which everyone can align themselves.”

Campbell replaces Matt Patricia, who was fired after two-plus seasons after the Lions’ Thanksgiving loss to the Houston Texans, along with general manager Bob Quinn.

Campbell, a former third-round draft pick, capped his playing career with a three-year stint in Detroit. The 265-pound tight end was primarily known for his blocking, but delivered his best production as a pass-catcher during his first season with the Lions, recording 21 receptions for 308 yards and four touchdowns in 2006.

Injuries plagued him at the end of his career. He was limited to just three games during the 2007 and 2008 seasons. He would sign with New Orleans in 2009, but spent the entire season on injured reserve with a knee injury.

Not previously interested in coaching, Campbell had a change of heart in 2010, asking Texas A&M coach Mike Sherman if he could observe the school’s spring practices. Shortly after, he latched on as a coaching intern with the Miami Dolphins.

The following year, Campbell was promoted to coaching the team’s tight ends. And in 2015, when the team fired Joe Philbin four games into the season, Campbell was named the interim head coach.

He made aggressive changes during the trial run, most notably ramping up the physicality of the team’s practices. His early incorporation of the Oklahoma drill — a confined-area, one-on-one drill more commonly seen at the college and high school levels — drew national interest.

“All I wanted to see was guys come out and compete, and violently compete, and I felt that today,” Campbell said after his first practice in the interim role. “…It’s all about being primates. That’s what they have those pads on for. Got to learn to use those things again.”

Campbell’s physically demanding practices, paired with his high-energy personality, resonated with a team that could easily be classified as dysfunctional. In his first two games at the helm, they beat a pair of struggling conference opponents by a combined score of  82-36.

“Everybody would run through a wall for Dan Campbell,” Dolphins tight end Jordan Campbell said in 2015. “Everyone in this locker room would say the same thing.”

Unfortunately, the Dolphins weren’t able to sustain that success, but still finished with a respectable 5-7 record under Campbell’s leadership. He ended up interviewing for the full-time job in the offseason, but the team settled on up-and-coming offensive coordinator Adam Gase for the position.

Campbell quickly would latch on with the New Orleans Saints, where he’s been the past five seasons. He’s interviewed for multiple head-coaching jobs in recent years, including in Green Bay and Indianapolis, where he was a finalist, but has fallen short of another opportunity until winning over Detroit’s decision-makers during a virtual interview this month.

“Dan’s passion for this opportunity was evident throughout our interview process,” Wood said. “When we began the search for a head coach, it was imperative that we find the right leader who values our commitment to building a winning culture based on organizational alignment and collaboration. The leadership Dan has exemplified throughout his football career has prepared him for this next step, and we are excited to support him as our new head coach.”

When Spielman took the job in December, and conducted a joint news conference with Wood, the clear emphasis was installing a new culture. Spielman did his best to describe what that meant to him.

“For the team, when you have players playing for each other and not worrying about anything else,” Spielman said, “ just playing for each other … going back to (former Lions special teams coach) Frank Gansz, who had a great impact on me, what you give will grow and what you keep you will lose. If you give that to your teammate on each and every play, everything that you have, that’s the type of culture you want.”

The more you listen to what former teammates and pupils say about Campbell, that’s who he is. He’s about tapping into what motivates a player and maximizing that potential. That’s something he studied and learned from legendary coach Bill Parcells.

“I feel like I’ve been blessed with the ability to read people somewhat, understand what makes them tick, what helps them, what hurts them,” Campbell said in a 2015 interview with NFL.com. “I’ve been fortunate that way. I love to help. I want to help. I love this game, and I love being around these guys. It’s great. It’s fulfilling.

“I want to pull out the most production from each and every guy,” Campbell continued. “That’s my job. I want those players to know that I’m coaching for them. That inspires me. That drives me. That makes me want to give more.”

Parcells has had a massive impact on Campbell. In a Sporting News interview in 2019, he discussed a college research paper he wrote on the former coach, comparing him to then-A&M coach R.C. Slocum.

“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.”

Campbell would then get the opportunity to play under Parcells for multiple years in Dallas, where he further gained an appreciation for both his motivational tactics, as well as his willingness to think outside the box while game-planning.

Campbell tried to incorporate all those teachings during his short stint in Miami, but there’s only so much you can do when you take over midseason.

In that 2019 interview, he said he sometimes let empathy as a former player get in the way of how hard he would push. From the sounds of it, he plans to be tougher this go-around.  

“I didn’t hold them accountable all the time like I should have,” Campbell said. “It wasn’t that I didn’t want to. It’s kind of like when you’re in that position, you’re trying to keep some life in this team and you’ve got to be careful, because if you go full bore the other way you’re not gonna get anything out of them. They’d already lost a coach and you’re already in dire straits. So you’ve gotta try to keep upbeat and positive.

“But if I had it my way and I was going in fresh, I’d have been a little bit harder. Just call things out for what they were more than I did.”

Now that the Lions have Campbell in place, the next step will be building out his staff. Not only will that group be expected to facilitate the cultural overhaul, but also strengthen the perceived schematic weaknesses of the head coach.

jdrogers@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @Justin_Rogers

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