| Detroit Free Press
Detroit Lions hire Dan Campbell: Digging deeper on what he said
Dave Birkett, Carlos Monarrez and Shawn Windsor break down what we heard during Detroit Lions coach Dan Campbell’s news conference on Jan. 21, 2021.
Shawn Windsor, Carlos Monarrez and Dave Birkett, Detroit Free Press
The day after the most memorable introductory news conference in Detroit Lions history, Dan Campbell’s bite-your-kneecaps-off speech still was the talk of social media and across the NFL.
Campbell, introduced as Lions coach Thursday, said in multiple appearances Friday his passionate description of his vision for his new team reached its intended audience — his players and the fans of Detroit — and he was not worried about any negative feedback nationally.
“No offense to anybody else that’s outside of this community, my message was for our players and for our community, for Motown,” Campbell said on NFL Network. “That to me was who I needed to reach. It wasn’t about, no offense, everybody outside of this community.
“I’m (not) trying to reach New York and Dallas and Los Angeles. That didn’t mean anything to me. I knew that this was the community that I was speaking to, and I felt like what do you give them something that — I wanted them to have a piece of me but I wanted them to know that, man, I get it.”
Campbell opened his news conference Thursday with an emotional 19-minute speech about the road he took to becoming a head coach and why he was a fit in Detroit.
A Lions tight end in 2006-08, he said he wanted the job “bad” because “I felt like I knew this community.”
“This place has been kicked, it’s been battered, it’s been bruised, and I can sit up here and give you coach speak all day long,” Campbell said. “I can give you, ‘Hey, we’re going to win this many games.’ None of that matters and you guys don’t want to hear it anyway. You’ve had enough of that shit, excuse my language.
“Here’s what I do know, is that this team is going to take on the identity of this city. And this city’s been down and it found way to get up. It’s found a way to overcome adversity. So this team’s 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 knee cap off. And 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 then it’s going to take three shots to get us down. And when we do, 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.”
Campbell’s speech, along with his entire 90-minute news conference, was generally received positively in Detroit, where he was seen as honest and intense and emotional and genuine; traits NFL coaches rarely show in public.
Nationally, however, Campbell was the butt of a few jokes in Jimmy Fallon’s “The Tonight Show” monologue and derided by some for his caveman approach to football. Others opined that a minority coach with Campbell’s resume — he has never been a coordinator at any level — and unpolished public presence never would get the chance to be a head coach in the NFL.
The league has struggled with its minority hiring practices historically, and currently employs just two Black head coaches: The Pittsburgh Steelers’ Mike Tomlin and the Miami Dolphins’ Brian Flores. Washington’s Ron Rivera and the New York Jets’ Robert Saleh also are minorities.
The Lions have drawn mostly high marks from the Fritz Pollard Alliance, which analyzes minority hiring practices in the NFL, over the years. In the past 12 years, the Lions have hired two Black general managers, Martin Mayhew in 2009 and the recently hired Brad Holmes, and a Black coach in Jim Caldwell.
“I can’t really comment on what other teams have done or not done,” Lions owner Sheila Ford Hamp said Thursday. “I think when you’re looking for a coach, you’re looking for the best candidates or the best fit for your organization. I think everyone goes in colorblind, honestly. I do think the league, and I think everyone’s aware, can do a better job of creating a pipeline and teaching and developing and working with diverse candidates. I think it’s something the league can do a lot better at. I think everyone’s aware of it and trying hard. It is kind of what it is right now.”
And Campbell is who he is, too, which is why his speech Thursday seemed to connect with most in the city, even if it left others shaking their heads.
“Everything that I said yesterday is no different than a coach that speaks exactly the way you should speak and say the things you should speak, because at the end of the day it’s about wins and losses, so none of that matters,” Campbell said on NFL Network. “We still got to win. But I know this, man. This place needed hope and I felt like I needed to give it to them. I needed to give them something, man.”