Todd Bowles: Detroit Lions ‘didn’t feel like waiting,’ canceled my head coach interview

Detroit Free Press

Dave Birkett
| Detroit Free Press

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The Detroit Lions interviewed at least six head coaching candidates before hiring Dan Campbell in mid-January. Apparently, they did not feel like waiting around for No. 7.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive coordinator Todd Bowles said Monday at Super Bowl LV the Lions canceled his scheduled head coaching interview.

Bowles was set to meet virtually with the Lions on Jan. 15, two days before the Buccaneers’ divisional playoff win over Campbell’s New Orleans Saints.

“I never got to interview,” Bowles said. “I think they didn’t feel like waiting. They had their mind made up.”

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The Lions interviewed interim head coach Darrell Bevell, Arizona State defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis and three NFL assistants — Arthur Smith of the Tennessee Titans, Eric Bieniemy of the Kansas City Chiefs and Robert Saleh of the San Francisco 49ers — before officially hiring Campbell three days after the Saints’ season ended, on Jan. 20.

They also showed strong interest in college coaches Pat Fitzgerald of Northwestern and Matt Campbell of Iowa State. Fitzgerald never formally interviewed for the job, and it’s unclear the nature of the Lions’ conversations with Campbell.

Smith was due in for a second interview Jan. 15, the same day the Lions were set to meet with Bowles, but never made it after he took the Atlanta Falcons job.

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Bowles, who was an assistant coach with the Dallas Cowboys when Dan Campbell played for the team in 2005 and coached with Campbell with the Miami Dolphins, said the Lions hired “a great coach” and “a great person.”

“Strong leader. Very smart, very intelligent, very diligent,” Bowles said. “He’s going to hold everyone accountable. Happy for him.”

The New York Jets head coach in 2015-18, Bowles and Bieniemy were two of the top minority coaching candidates in this year’s hiring cycle who once again were passed over for jobs.

Of the openings this year, two went to minority candidates. The Jets hired Saleh, an Arab-American from Dearborn, and the Houston Texans hired David Culley, who is Black.

Former Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh said he was disappointed neither Bowles nor ex-Lions coach Jim Caldwell was hired to be a head coach.

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“For us as African-American people to not see these guys that are well qualified and proven candidates to not get opportunities to get an opportunity to go and change an organization, especially an organization like Houston or any other ones that have been available, is definitely disappointing,” Suh said. “So for me, it’s disheartening, but at the same time it’s not our decision to make those changes. We just got to continue to fight and make sure that those guys are prepared at any point in time to get an opportunity.”

Bowles, who interviewed for openings with the Falcons and Philadelphia Eagles, said as disappointed as he was to be passed over for a head coaching job, he is just as excited to be coaching in the Super Bowl.

“I hope that they just see a coach and not an African-American coach,” Bowles said. “We see it every day in the mirror. We want to be recognized as just coaches in this league cause we all grinded and worked our way up to this point, and got to the game by being good coaches, not by being good Black coaches. And just for people of color, as you’re a young kid growing up and you see part of this game, it’s good to see some of us in this position, so from that standpoint, you want to be proud and do things or them. But you want to be recognized and leave an impression first and foremost as a football coach and nothing more than that.

“I think when we start seeing us more as just football coaches instead of African-American coaches, I think we’ll start to move the needle a little bit more than it’s been moving, but it’s got to move a little bit faster. The message you send is to do your job the best way you can do it and try to go out and compete and win the ballgame as a coach, and I think everything else follows that.”

Contact Dave Birkett at Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett.

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