Bill Cowher: Detroit Lions never were a tough team. Dan Campbell can change that

Detroit Free Press

Dave Birkett
| Detroit Free Press

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Bill Cowher looks like he could have bitten off a few kneecaps during his coaching days, so it’s no surprise the Hall of Fame coach-turned-NFL analyst is a fan of new Detroit Lions coach Dan Campbell.

Speaking at Super Bowl LV on Wednesday, Cowher said he believes Campbell will bring needed toughness to a Lions team that has lacked that ingredient for as far back as he can remember.

“I always looked at the Detroit Lions, to me, I’ve never thought about them being a tough team,” Cowher said. “Why is that? I just never have. And does it go back to Barry Sanders and his way of running and his style, which was so uniquely special. But Dan Campbell does give them a unique personality that is going to — he’s going to sit there and talk about a culture that’s based on us being tough, biting off kneecaps on the way getting back up, we’re not going to be defined how many times we get knocked down, and if we keep getting knocked down, we’ll start biting off your ankles. So he’s going to go down fighting.”

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Campbell made headlines for his 90-minute introductory news conference last month, when he spoke passionately about what type of team he wanted to build in Detroit.

Campbell, who played for the Lions in 2006-08, said he identified with a team and a city that “has been kicked, it’s been battered, it’s been bruised” for far too long.

“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,” Campbell said. “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 knee cap. 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 (get up and) take another hunk out of you. Before long, we’re going to be the last one standing. That’s going to be the mentality.”

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Cowher drew laughs from fellow CBS analyst Boomer Esiason as he re-enacted his own version of Campbell’s speech Wednesday.

But the ex-Pittsburgh Steelers coach said Campbell is “going to change the face” of the Lions, a process that started with last week’s trade of Matthew Stafford for Jared Goff and three draft picks.

“That’s kind of who he is, and I don’t think that’s a bad thing,” Cowher said. “Honestly, why not? It starts from the inside-out. There’s going to be a degree of toughness they’re going to play with, they’re going to have to practice with. That will be their approach. We’ll see how it unfolds. But you know what, if I’m in Detroit right now, it’s refreshing newness that you have now just had.”

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As for the quarterback swap, Cowher echoed Esiason in saying Stafford is “in a better place, at a better fit right now,” and that Goff, who has fallen on hard times after helping the Rams reach the Super Bowl in the 2018 season, has a chance to resurrect his career in Detroit.

“It’s a chance to kind of have a second time around,” Cowher said. “And I think they’re going to get back to running the football. I think with Dan Campbell, you saw at his first press conference, I think there’s no doubt his personality, a little bit different than Matt Patricia. So they needed to get a different face in the building to maybe light a little fire. And to establish a little bit of uniqueness to who you are, which is going to be a degree of toughness.”

Contact Dave Birkett at Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett.

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