Detroit Lions hit on personality, miss on real expectations with Dan Campbell, Brad Holmes

Detroit Free Press

Carlos Monarrez
 
| Detroit Free Press

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It was a whirlwind week of activity for the Detroit Lions.

We were introduced to general manager Brad Holmes on Tuesday. Coach Dan Campbell was hired Wednesday, and he was introduced Thursday.

To put this breakneck speed in proper historical context, all of this happened after Episode 2 of “WandaVision” on Disney Plus and before Episode 3 even aired.

Rams, Saints, philosophies, weird stuff about service, Zoom crashes. It was a lot. And it was enough to make me nostalgic for the glacial attrition rates of the Russ Thomas and Wayne Fontes eras.

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So now that I’ve had time to catch my breath, collect my thoughts and watch Episode 3 of “WandaVision,” here are some of the hits and misses from the introductions of Holmes and Campbell.

Hit: Personalities

These weren’t only hits, they were on-the-screws knocks. Campbell hit a grand slam with his “we’re going to bite a kneecap off” speech that instantly became canon for Lions fans. He was funny, charismatic and genuine. It’s hard to imagine anyone coming away from Campbell’s long introductory news conference and not finding something to like about him.

Most NFL coaches take themselves too seriously and act like they’re preparing to land on Omaha Beach. I was worried Campbell would be too uptight when team president Rod Wood brought up some “leader of men” nonsense. Maybe that was more of a veiled slap at Matt Patricia’s treatment of his players. But it worried me they might hire a meathead coach who works “football” into every sentence.

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Campbell is decidedly not a meathead and hit every note like a virtuoso. He looks and sounds the part. I’ve found something to like about the Lions’ past three coaches, but Campbell has set himself apart from the outset. And he’s also raised the bar for expectations.

I’ll give Holmes a standup double for his intro. He came off as prepared and smart and had some heartfelt anecdotes about his family and his connection to Detroit through his uncle, Luther Bradley, who played for the Lions.

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Detroit Lions GM hire analysis: Is Brad Holmes the right choice?

Free Press reporters Carlos Monarrez and Dave Birkett discuss and debate Detroit Lions decision to hire Brad Holmes as general manager, Jan. 14, 2021.

Dave Birkett and Carlos Monarrez, Detroit Free Press

It’s much harder to gauge Holmes because he’s largely worked behind the scenes and doesn’t have the kind of visible resume Campbell does as a player and a coach. And he didn’t offer many specifics about his plan and how to improve the Lions, beyond making sure he’s aligned with Campbell, who wasn’t hired at the time he spoke. But Holmes referenced passion throughout his news conference and his own passion for the job was evident.

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Hit: Ford Hamp’s visibility

Being an owner is a difficult dance. Owners are often seen as being either overly involved meddlers or absentee landlords. But Sheila Ford Hamp’s involvement, for better or worse, throughout this hiring process tells us she’s definitely involved and she definitely cares.

I’ve always defended the Fords as being owners who care about the Lions, even if it doesn’t always seem that way to fans. Caring about the Lions has been a personal family endeavor ever since Hamp’s father, late owner William Clay Ford, attended his first Lions game in Detroit with his father, Edsel, in 1934.

I think Hamp wants to make her mark with the Lions and be remembered as the person who brought the franchise out of the darkness and made it the respectable and proud franchise it was in the 1950s. Or maybe she’d settle for the ’90s. Heck, if the Lions win a single playoff game during her reign the city should erect a statue of her.

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Hamp has been much more accessible to reporters and the public than her father was toward the end of his tenure, and also a lot more accessible than her mother and brother were. She spent a good deal of time on Zoom calls with reporters this week, and don’t forget she also had a Zoom conference call to address the firings of Bob Quinn and Matt Patricia.

This is good leadership from the very top. We have to remember that even though Hamp served as her mother’s aide-de-camp since 2015, she’s new in her role as principal owner.

The more fans can see Hamp, the better. She just needs to remember the difference between being informed and involved, and being a distraction and an impediment.

Miss: Experience

For as well as Holmes and Campbell came off, I didn’t get a strong sense that either is ready to be successful right away. And I’m not talking about making the playoffs this year. I’m talking about the methodical process of constructing a team that can start winning consistently three years from now.

Both men cited some of their influences and the people they had learned from and some philosophies about leadership, teamwork and personnel. But neither has done his respective job before on a full-time basis. I didn’t get a sense that Campbell is ready to out-coach Andy Reid and Matt LaFleur and that Holmes is about to out-draft Kevin Colbert and Rick Spielman.

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Holmes and Campbell arrive with sterling reputations and recommendations. But let’s face it, they’re a little light on actual experience. In their introductions they didn’t provide a lot of concrete evidence and examples of why they would be successful.

Miss: Truthful expectations

I’ve said it before. I usually don’t like it when a new regime starts slow-playing a rebuild in order to lower expectations and buy itself time. But a slow rebuild is actually what this regime is about to go through.

Yet, strangely, Holmes and Campbell were reluctant to embrace the enormity of their undertaking. Holmes refused to call it a rebuild and insisted on calling it a “retooling.”

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Before his news conference, Campbell spoke about the roster and told the Lions’ website he was “not so sure this is what some may think it is or as far away as some may think it is.” He walked that back a little when a reporter asked him about the comment. But he referenced Holmes’ retooling and alluded to the idea that with some success in the draft and in free agency “some things can happen.”

Ugh. Come on, man. The Lions have five draft picks, a banged-up quarterback who’s about to turn 33 and might want to leave town, no elite receivers under contract and a defense that probably needs an entire overhaul.

Campbell was at least realistic about the offense having more pieces in place than the defense. But why are they selling false hope? For the purpose of rah-rah optimism? That would be silly, but it would be preferable than something more damaging like instructions from their bosses who might want to sell fans on the possibility of a quick turnaround in order to sell tickets.

Contact Carlos Monarrez at cmonarrez@freepress.com and follow him on Twitter @cmonarrez.

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