The Detroit Lions did not swing and miss on Matt Campbell in their winter coaching search because they did not swing at all.
But a Lions source with knowledge of the team’s search process said Friday no formal offer was made to Campbell, and that the Lions got the No. 1 candidate on their list: Former New Orleans Saints assistant head coach Dan Campbell.
Iowa State’s Campbell, the Ohio native and former Toledo head coach, has been a hot name in NFL circles for years.
The Lions are one of at least two teams believed to have talked to Campbell during this year’s hiring circuit, with the New York Jets being the other, but the source said the Lions’ conversations with Campbell did not go beyond their first interview.
Campbell, who does not have an agent, posted a message on Twitter on Jan. 10 saying he was staying at Iowa State. Less than a month later, he agreed to a new eight-year contract that ties him to the school through the 2028 season.
“So grateful for the commitment of so many to continue to want to build our program together,” Campbell wrote on Twitter. “Our foundation has been built on Loyalty and Faithfulness and it will continue to be our guiding light. Humbled and Grateful to continue to lead to be different.”
The Lions interviewed Dan Campbell on Jan. 11, the first day they were allowed to speak to him per NFL rules, and quickly settled on offering him the job, a move they made official when the Saints’ season ended with a playoff loss to the eventual Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Jan. 17.
The Lions ran parallel coach and general manager searches, both of which were thorough in nature.
They interviewed 12 candidates for the GM job, beginning in December after the firing of Bob Quinn and Matt Patricia, and at least seven candidates for head coach: Dan Campbell, Matt Campbell, Marvin Lewis, Robert Saleh, Arthur Smith, Eric Bieniemy and interim head coach Darrell Bevell.
The Lions also expressed interest in Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald, though it is not clear if Fitzgerald ever formally interviewed for the job. They also canceled an interview with Bucs defensive coordinator Todd Bowles after they zeroed in on Dan Campbell.
Though Campbell came to Detroit with minimal head coaching experience — he was interim head coach of the Miami Dolphins for 12 games in 2015 — he was one of the coaches most commonly cited by GM candidates as someone they hoped to hire in Detroit.
Saints executives Jeff Ireland and Terry Fontenot, who was hired as Atlanta Falcons GM, both expressed a desire to hire Campbell in their interviews with the Lions, as did internal GM candidates Lance Newmark and Rob Lohman.
Campbell, who received a six-year deal from the Lions — an unusually long commitment for a first-time coach who had no other interviews in this hiring cycle — joked at his introductory news conference that he told his agent to make sure the Lions “think I’m Matt Campbell.”
“I think that’s how this has really worked out great for me,” Campbell said at the time. “So now that I’m in the seat, I am Dan Campbell. But I do know this, you can’t go wrong with a Campbell.”
Asked directly in January if the Lions offered Matt Campbell the job, Lions president Rod Wood declined comment.
“I’m not going to comment on any college coaches,” he said. “I think I’ve talked to a couple of you about that, out of respect for their current position and recruiting. I’m not going to say whether we interviewed a college coach or whether we didn’t or whether we extended an offer. I’ll just leave it at, no comment on any college coaches.”