No one is giving the Detroit Lions much of a chance ahead of the 2021 season. They’re one of two teams, along with the Houston Texans, who aren’t favored in any of their 17 games, and only the Texans have longer Super Bowl odds.
And outside of blind optimism, why should it be any other way? The Lions are coming off a season where they won five games, traded their longtime starting quarterback Matthew Stafford and saw the franchise’s new front office take a hacksaw to the roster (which was obviously merited).
But quarterbacks coach Mark Brunell has seen this before. In 1995, he joined the expansion Jacksonville Jaguars. Sure, they went 4-12 that first season, before reeling off four straight trips to the postseason, including a run to the AFC Championship game in the franchise’s second season.
“I was part of a team that very few people gave us a chance to do anything,” Brunell said during a call on Wednesday. “Going into 1996, the expectations were really low. All we heard was, ‘Maybe get to .500, maybe win five or six games, a lot of inexperience, a lot of lack of talent’ and this and that. We actually started out that season and the first 11 games we were 4-7, and then we turned it around.
“My point in saying all that is we were a team that people didn’t give much of a chance to do anything. It kind of sounds familiar doesn’t it? My point is that it can happen. We believe it’s going to happen, and there’s something about being part of a football team where everyone outside the building says that you can’t and the message inside the building is, ‘You know what? Forget about what you’re hearing or what people are saying. You have to believe that you can.’ Certainly this is going to be a group that is going to believe that we can, that we can do some good things early, regardless of what’s being said out there, outside of the Detroit Lions.”
Brunell, who played 17 seasons in the NFL, is coaching at this level for the first time. He spent the previous eight years coaching high school football in Jacksonville. Asked why, at 50 years old, now was the time to re-enter the NFL grind, he didn’t hesitate with his response.
“It’s easy. Dan Campbell,” Brunell said. “Dan Campbell, all day long.”
The two were briefly teammates for a season in New Orleans, where they managed to form a quick bond. So when the Lions hired Campbell to run the show this offseason, Brunell was quick to offer up his services.
He’ll begin this next phase of his football life working with Jared Goff, a new arrival cast off from his only NFL home as part of the Stafford trade. But Goff has an impressive resume as a former No. 1 overall pick who has twice been named a Pro Bowler and played in a Super Bowl during his first five seasons.
“Very talented, hard-working, positive attitude, everything that you’re looking for,” Brunell said about Goff. “Competitive quarterback that has won, I believe as a starter, 42 games in addition to leading a team to the Super Bowl. That’s who we’re getting. That’s who I get to coach and I’m looking forward to that.
“We just worked together on Zoom. He’s very bright. He’s picked up this offense and he’s very hungry, motivated. Honestly, he’s just been incredible. I cannot wait to get him on the field and see what he can do in person. I’ve seen a lot of tape. I’ve seen some incredible plays, some incredible games and I’m absolutely thrilled to coach this young man. He can’t get here soon enough.”