Allen Park — Detroit Lions coach Dan Campbell doesn’t usually talk on Thursday, but when news broke a day earlier that his team had put veteran linebacker Jamie Collins on the trade block, the coach did what his predecessor wouldn’t and addressed the news head on.
“At some point, it’s like what are we doing?” Campbell said. “It’s like you can only hide so long. As much as we can be, we want to be as transparent as we can, particularly with the player. It is what it is. If we feel like this is where we need to go and it’s best for the player and it’s best for us, why are we messing around?”
For all the metamorphoses the Lions organization is undergoing this year, beyond the eventually hope of winning meaningful games, this is one fans should be the most eager to embrace.
This changing approach speaks to more than just who Campbell is, it’s a reflection of what owner Sheila Ford Hamp envisioned after studying the previous regime and determining what she wanted to do differently when she went looking for their replacements.
“The whole idea that football is secret and we’re not going to tell anybody what we’re doing, it was like, ‘What?'” Hamp told the Detroit News during a sit-down interview this month. “Obviously, you don’t want to tell your opponents what your game plan is, but you want the fans to know what you’re doing.”
In no small part, that’s what Campbell altering his weekly routine reflects. He wants the fan base to know what the team is thinking, within reason.
But it’s not just respect for the fans Campbell is trying to cultivate. He’s made it clear from the start that transparency and direct communication with the players will be an essential part of his program. That’s something he learned from mentors Bill Parcells and Sean Payton.
Campbell believes honesty, even if it’s not what a player wants to hear, is always the best policy.
“I know I did when I played,” Campbell said. “I would want to know. You don’t want to hide from it, you don’t want to sugarcoat it. You just tell it like it is, because you can respect that. You may not like it, but you’ll always respect it.”
Transparency also means making sure the rest of the roster understands why the team is going a different direction.
“After Brad (Holmes) and I both talked to (Collins), I talked to the leaders and captains and just explained it to them,” Campbell said. “And you don’t expect them to totally agree, but they just need to know where I was coming from and nothing against Jamie. There is still a business side to it, and we wish him well.”
But, as noted, there’s a limit to Campbell’s transparency, particularly with what he’s willing to share with the public. Throughout his comments on Thursday, he was careful with how he framed the end of Collins’ time in Detroit.
The criticisms the coach levied toward the linebacker’s performance on Monday night were washed over in favor of praise for his lengthy, productive career, praise of his efforts to lose weight to better fit the scheme during the offseason and praise for the way he was handling the news the team wants to move on.
There’s little to be gained by kicking a guy on his way out the door, but it’s not difficult to read between the lines with the move. Listen to the way Campbell described the play of his other starting linebacker, Alex Anzalone, after the loss to the Packers.
“When you watch him, you watch every one of the plays he had, he’s all over the field,” Campbell said in an interview with 97.1 FM. “I mean, the guy is like balls to the wall every play. Is it perfect? No, but I know this, it’s all-out effort. … I just know it starts with effort and intensity and he’s got that. No, it’s not always perfect, but that’s at least a start for what we’re looking for on defense.”
Remember, when comparing and contrasting the performance of the two players the day after the game, Campbell directly said Collins’ effort didn’t match Anzalone’s.
Additionally, when projecting what rookie Derrick Barnes will bring in place of Collins, Campbell again highlighted the youngster’s effort.
“Look, he’s going to have some growing pains,” he said. “Things are going to come up, but he can make up for a lot with his effort, which he’s done.”
But asked directly if Collins’ effort was a factor in the team’s decision, Campbell took the high road.
“I don’t want you to think I’m avoiding this, but I don’t want to do that,” he said. “I’ve got too much respect for him, and he gave what he have and there again, we felt like it was time to move on.”
That’s fine, but the eye test tells the story. Since he arrived in Detroit, it’s always felt that Collins has coasted by on his exceptional athleticism, particularly on the practice field. NBA Hall of Famer Allen Iverson told us years ago, practice doesn’t matter if you show up in games, but Collins’ Green Bay film similarly raised questions about his effort.
There’s a reason Campbell is highlighting it with the other linebackers. And trading Collins weeds out someone who isn’t necessarily rowing a different direction, but isn’t rowing hard enough in the same one.