We are watching Dan Campbell go through the stages of grief coaching Detroit Lions

Detroit Free Press

I like Detroit Lions coach Dan Campbell — a lot.

He is as genuine and refreshing as an A&W root-beer float at sunset, as fiery as a ticked off rattlesnake, as open and honest as a full blast of truth serum and as caring and compassionate as a Hospice worker — a trait uniquely useful for a Lions coach.

Plus, he’s a motivator. If I were playing on his team, I’d run through a wall for him.

Campbell is everything this organization needs: A natural leader.

But he’s in a miserable spot.

The Lions lack talent and have been hammered by injuries. Yes, I know, injuries are part of the NFL. But when you have little depth and your margin for error is thinner than my hairline, injuries become magnified.

MORE SEIDEL: Don’t be fooled: Matthew Stafford didn’t escape Lions, he was part of the problem

This has left Campbell in a vulnerable position. His postgame news conferences have become legendary, must-watch, mini-dramas. It’s like he’s going through the stages of grief, right before our eyes.

Maybe not in the exact order. But no one grieves the same way, right?

We saw Crying Dan after the Lions lost to Minnesota.

We saw Compassionate Dan after a couple players were lost to the season with injuries.

But Angry Dan is my favorite Dan.

Or at least, the most entertaining.

After the Lions were crushed by the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday, 34-11, you could see the emotion bubbling under the surface. Campbell started speaking and let out his inner Tasmanian Devil.

“All right so, state the obvious here — we got whipped,” he said. “That was brutal. We took it and they got after us.”

Finally, a coach who speaks the truth. If nothing else, I appreciate him for that. It’s like he stands at the podium, opens a vein and out pours his emotions.

I loved it because he was sending a clear, direct message to his team: This is not acceptable.

He was motivating through the media, something the best coaches do. Tigers manager AJ Hinch is a master at it.

“Now, I will say this — I feel like he needs to step up more than he has,” Campbell said of struggling quarterback Jared Goff. “And I think he needs to help us just like everybody else. I think he’s going to need to put a little bit of weight on his shoulders here and it’s time to step up, make some throws and do some things.”


Benching Jared Goff after his worst game isn’t the answer for inept Lions ]

Stages of grief

There are five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.

And we have seen Campbell go through most of them.

“Denial: When you first learn of a loss, it’s normal to think, “This isn’t happening.” You may feel shocked or numb. This is a temporary way to deal with the rush of overwhelming emotion. It’s a defense mechanism.” — from WebMD.

Campbell had a look of denial on his face after losing to Baltimore.

An NFL record field goal? That bounced over the crossbar?

Yeah, every single Lions fans felt the same way: This can’t be happening!

And that is how he sounded for a time this Sunday, trying to explain some of the things that happened.

“Shoot man, Amani (Oruwariye) comes up with the ball again,” Campbell said. “He’s got a great interception. What do we do offensively? We end up — we can’t make the catch and it’s an interception right back to them.”

This first-year Lions coach sounds like every Lions fan for the last half century — frustrated, exasperated and in disbelief. Isn’t that what Lions fans have always wanted? For somebody to acknowledge their pain?

For somebody to scream to the heavens: I will not accept this!

Ticked off and frustrated

“Anger: As reality sets in, you’re faced with the pain of your loss. You may feel frustrated and helpless. These feelings later turn into anger.” — WebMD.

Yes, this brings us to Angry Dan.

The frustration has built to the point where he is ticked off.

Welcome to Detroit, Dan.

After the game, Campbell was asked if this was the first loss that has made him disappointed and angry: “Yes, yes it is. That was brutal. We weren’t even in that fight. We weren’t even in it. Everything that we did there — you look at our stats offensively, that was because they were in some prevent Cover 2. We should make those plays. It’s not good enough. And defense — if that’s the game, if that’s the way it’s going, our defense can’t allow us — they can’t allow the opponent to score then. So be it. That’s life. If you’re the ones who are playing best, then you have to hold them and keep us in the game then. Keep it to where we can score maybe one score and find a way to win the game. But that — it’s not good, it’s not good.”

MORE SEIDEL: Dan Campbell must learn one thing: Heartbreak is not a block to build on

Reflective Dan

“Bargaining: During this stage, you dwell on what you could’ve done to prevent the loss. Common thoughts are “If only…” and “What if…”  — WebMD

After his anger started to cool, we saw Bargaining Dan on Sunday.

“Well, I probably should have been a little bit more forceful on Wednesday is probably what I should have done,” Campbell said. “We didn’t go pads, maybe we should have gone pads. I’m going to think about all of this. I know this — I’ll be looking directly at myself tonight first before anything else because that’s the bottom line. You don’t get whipped like that unless your freaking — your head coach has a hand in that. That’s the truth.”

Again, I love the honesty. I love how he held himself accountable first.

That’s leadership.

Sliver of hope

“Acceptance: In this final stage of grief, you accept the reality of your loss. It can’t be changed. Although you still feel sad, you’re able to start moving forward with your life.” — WebMD.

All Lions coaches have gone through this stage. But usually, not until they leave the organization. And they can’t get another head coaching job.

But here is a tiny sliver of hope: If Campbell can break this chain of loss and grief, if he can turn this team into a winner (yeah, I’m talking way down the road, when this roster is completely turned over), he will need to avoid this last step.

He can never accept losing. And my gut says he won’t. That’s not in his DNA. His inner Tasmanian Devil won’t let him.

Contact Jeff Seidel: jseidel@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @seideljeff. To read his recent columns, go to freep.com/sports/jeff-seidel.

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