| The Detroit News
New Detroit Lions coach Dan Campbell wants the team he’s taking over to be a reflection of the city.
Campbell isn’t talking about the blue-collar, lunch-pail-and-hard-hat song and dance you’ve heard from just about every coach and player that’s rolled through this town the past couple decades. No, Campbell is looking for this Lions team to embody the gritty, fighting spirit of Detroit — a city that’s been knocked down, and knocked around by outside pundits, yet continually gets back up despite the adversity.
And Campbell, who spoke for more than an hour during his introductory press conference on Thursday, didn’t spare any colorful detail when he described the fighting attitude he planned to instill.
“This community is strong,” Campbell said. “This place has been kicked, it’s been battered, it’s been bruised. And I can sit up here and give you coachspeak all day long, I can give you, ‘Hey, we’re going to win this many games,’ but none of that matters and you guys don’t want to hear it anyway. You’ve had enough of that s—. Excuse my language.
“Here’s what I do know,” Campbell continued. “This team is going to take on the identity of this city. And this city has been down, but it found a way to get up. It’s found a way to overcome adversity. So this team is going to be built on we’re going to kick you in the teeth, all right? And when you punch us back, we’re going to smile at you. And when you knock us down, we’re going to get up. And on the way up, we’re going to bite a kneecap off, all right? We’re going to stand up, and then it’s going to take two more shots to knock us down. And on the way up, we’re going to take your other kneecap. And we’re going to get up and it’s going to take three shots to get us down. And when we do (get up), we’re going to take another hunk out of you. Before long, we’re going to be the last one standing. That’s going to be the mentality.”
There’s no way to sugarcoat it, the Lions have been pushovers for far too long. For the better part of six decades, they’ve been a laughingstock, permanently residing in the basement of league’s standings. There is no hiding from the facts: No Super Bowl appearances, just one playoff win since 1957, no division titles since 1993.
Campbell, along with new general manager Brad Holmes, are being charged with fixing that. And in the minds of ownership, that doesn’t start with Xs and Os or schematics, it begins with establishing the culture, and that culture that will be set by Campbell.
“Look, we need to bring some hope back into this place, and I’m willing to do whatever, man,” Campbell said. “I’m not kidding you. I’m a big mind-over-matter person and a lot of you will think I’m a kook a little bit here, but I do believe you can will things to happen in some regard, if you’re a positive thinker positive I believe that positive things can happen for you and then those around you begin to grow from that, they feel your energy.”
It also can’t hurt that Campbell knows Detroit and knows this franchise intimately. He spent three years here as a player, including the winless 2008 season, although he’s quick to admit he didn’t experience the full breadth of that misery because he was away from the team after suffering a season-ending injury in the first game.
But during that stretch here, he claimed he fell in love with the area. And when the Lions job opened up, Campbell prodded his agent to do anything he could to get him an interview, even joking he would pretend to be Matt Campbell — the popular Iowa State coach believed to be a top target early in the search process — if it meant getting a foot in the door.
That wasn’t necessary. According to team president Rod Wood, throughout the team’s GM search, a number of the team’s dozen candidates named Campbell — Dan, not Matt — as a coach they would like to work with.
The Lions similarly believe Campbell’s personality will be able to lure top assistant coaches.
“I talked to (Saints general manager) Mickey Loomis and asked Mickey about that,” Wood said, “and he said, ‘Dan is the kind of head coach that coaches are going to run to Detroit and want to be on his staff.’ He will attract people because they’ll want to work with him.”
Building a staff will be the next priority. Prior to the press conference, he noted he’d already talked to four coordinator candidates and is reportedly close to bringing on Saints defensive backs coach Aaron Glenn as his defensive coordinator.
As for the offensive coordinator job, Campbell is more concerned with philosophical alignment than finding a guy that’s willing to run a specific scheme. And the No. 1 tenet of his philosophy is exploiting mismatches.
“Here’s my philosophy on offense, and defense for that matter: We’re going to run a system that puts our best on your worst,” Campbell said. “That’s what we’re going to do, because that’s what we did in New Orleans. So, uh, we’re going to find a way to put our guys in one-on-one matchups, whether it’s run or pass.
“…I’m not a system guy, as far I’m going to come in with this offense,” Campbell said. “I’ve been through all of them, I’ve seen all of them. So I’m not caught up in that. I want to find the best coordinator who is going to come in, he’s going to have the vision of how he wants to run it with mine. There’s concepts that I know work, and that we did well that I’m going to implement and want implemented. But other than that, let’s put our guys in the best position to have success. That’s what I’m about. “
Is this going to finally be the magic mix that works? Who knows? Campbell, for all the enthusiasm he managed to generate on his first day, will be met with equal waves of skepticism. That’s only natural when you’re trying to go against the tide of history with words.
His only promise is this Lions team won’t go down without a fight.
“We’re going to learn that any loss that we take, we’re going to make sure that we feel the full pain of it, not go numb to it, and learn from it and not want to taste it again,” Campbell said. “We’re going to be competitive, every game. I can’t sit up here and guarantee wins and losses. I just can’t do it. But I will guarantee this, man, these guys are going to fight, and they’re going to scratch and claw, and they’re going to be something this city is proud of because they’re going to take on the identity of this city.”