I have a message for Dan Campbell: Hey, man, hang in there.
Actually, that’s not just a message from me. That’s the message the Detroit Lions coach got from just about everyone on his phone after Thursday’s brutal 16-14 loss to the awful Chicago Bears at Ford Field.
The way that game ended summoned the kind of burn-it-all-down rage from Lions fans in the stadium and on social media that I haven’t seen a long time. The three straight penalties against offensive line. The draw on second-and-22, the illegal consecutive timeouts.
Yes, it was hard to watch. I’m sure it was hard to hear all the criticism that came forth locally and nationally, with much of it directed at Campbell. I asked him Monday how aware he was of the criticism leveled at him and whether he thought it was warranted.
“I’m not aware just because I don’t read that,” he said. “I don’t read the good or bad because I think it will sway you one way or another if you are not careful and neither one of them is good. I think just to stay where you feel, what you see, what your team tells you, what your coaches — just kind of living in this world if you will.
“Now, that being said, I get plenty of — it’s almost like I get the texts and I get the calls: ‘Hey man, hang in there.’ And so it’s like the more that I get, the more I know there is chatter. I know there’s chatter out there. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be getting all of these calls out of the blue or these texts.”
Clearly, there’s only one answer here. Campbell must put his phone under one of his car wheels and drive over it several times.
With all due respect to Campbell, I seriously doubt he’s unaware of the criticism. For all the chest-thumping that NFL coaches and players like to engage in when it comes to long hours at the facility. Believe me when I say coaches and players have a lot of time on their hands. A. Lot. And that means screen time.
I don’t know how much Campbell likes to doom scroll, but if he’s anything like the rest of us humans, I’m sure he’s at least taken a peak or two at some headlines. It’s actually good for anyone to have some sense of the temperature in the room, instead of pretending it’s always a perfect 70 degrees.
For the record, and as I’ve stated many times, THIS IS A REBUILD. It was never going to be pretty. This is the result of going in a completely different direction from Bob Quinn and Matt Patricia. The Lions opened this season with 27 players who weren’t on their roster when they opened the 2020 season. That’s more than a 50% turnover on the 53-player roster.
Yeah, the Lions are 0-10-1, but they really should have beaten the Minnesota Vikings and the Baltimore Ravens. And if you’re any kind of NFL fan, you know they have the league’s worst record but that they’re better than the Jacksonville Jaguars, the New York Jets and probably the Houston Texans.
The start of a rebuild can get ugly. The last time the Lions made this kind of wholesale change to their franchise in one year — new quarterback, new coach, new general manager — they went 2-14 under Jim Schwartz in 2009. Two wins, people. Two years later, Schwartz took the Lions to the playoffs for the first time in more than a decade. If you want to rip off the Band-Aid, there’s going to be blood.
Thanksgiving Day games are unique animals. Besides early season college basketball tournaments, there isn’t much going on in sports. That means the entire NFL fandom, plus casual sports fans with time on their hands, are watching the games. And they all have opinions and the means to amplify them.
I asked tight end T.J. Hockenson how aware he was of the criticism of the Lions after Thursday’s game.
“With social media now, everybody has a voice,” he said. “I think that’s the biggest thing and for myself, I really don’t get on social media much. I don’t do a whole lot unless I have to. So I haven’t really seen all of it.”
But it’s clear the noise can’t be entirely eliminated in a locker room full of young men. Trust me, they’re on their phones all the time. ALL. THE. TIME. And Hockenson tacitly admitted the noise, especially the negative noise, could be harmful and destructive if too many players give it credence.
“I think if every guy (buys in) to what’s going on in here and what we’re being told, you can go in the same direction,” Hockenson said. “But when guys are hearing different things and ‘why didn’t we do this’ and ‘why did we do this,’ ‘why is this going on,’ I think that just puts thoughts in some guy’s head and it hurts the culture of what we’re building or whatever.
“I think guys just need to get away from that and understand what’s going on here and really care about the guys in here want from you and what we’re listening to.”
When I asked Hockenson how much the noise and criticism has affected Campbell, his mood and message brightened.
“Coach Campbell’s always the same guy,” he said. “He’s a very upbeat person. That’s the one thing that is good to have as a coach is someone that’s steady throughout. Whether we’re winning or we’re losing, it think he’ll have the same (thing to) preach to the team, the same thing (to say) to the team.
“So I personally (think) it’s been great to have Coach Campbell in this situation, just being a steady leader throughout the whole thing. He’s always been the same guy.”
Campbell provided evidence of Hockenson’s claim of consistency when he addressed my question about whether all the criticism he has faced lately has been warranted.
“As far as being warranted, when you don’t win a game, I should be getting criticized,” he said. “I don’t blame anybody for that. That’s the reality of it right now.
“I would love to be able to say there is something I can tell everybody that’s going to make everybody feel better. But as you guys know, it’s about winning and we haven’t done that yet.”
Actually, it’s about more than winning. It’s about learning how to put a team together. It’s about improving a defense that’s nowhere near as bad as everyone thought it would be. It’s about having elite special teams. It’s about admitting mistakes and learning from them. It’s about making an excruciating call and stripping your offensive coordinator of his main duties. It’s about keeping the drama down and locker room together. It’s about the future.
So let Dan Campbell trend on Twitter. Let social media call for his firing. I hope he doesn’t listen to any messages from the outside. Except maybe for this one.
Hey, man, hang in there.
Contact Carlos Monarrez at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @cmonarrez.