It’s time to lay off of Dan Campbell after first win as Detroit Lions coach

Detroit Free Press

Dan Campbell said something that made me sad. He said it about a moment that should have been full of joy and redemption. Instead, the moment was uneasy for him, full of concern even about all the good things that had happened.

It’s a special moment for any coach when they get their first victory. Campbell had won games before as the Miami Dolphins’ interim coach in 2015. But that was six years ago, when he was trying to keep the ship afloat for a fired captain and salvage what he could from a lost season.

This is different. The Detroit Lions are his ship, and he finally got her out of the harbor, set the mainsail and tacked hard out of the doldrums Sunday with his first win as a full-time NFL head coach.

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After all the celebrating and speechifying in a postgame locker room following a 29-27 last-second comeback win over the Minnesota Vikings, Campbell had nothing left by the time he got home. He shared the moment with his family, built a fire and sat on his couch for a few moments before he cracked open his iPad and started watching game film.

Then the words came and saddened me.

“I was spent, so I really didn’t have much left,” he said Monday. “However, I couldn’t sleep. In a good way, though. Normally you don’t sleep when things don’t go great, but I didn’t sleep well in a good way. You’re kind of full of, just things going through your head, the positives. You still go through things you wish you had done better.”

Campbell should have been Leonardo DiCaprio screaming from the bow of his ship: “I’m the king of the world!” Instead, he was Leonardo DiCaprio clutching a piece of wood in the freezing ocean, wondering if Kate Winslet might scooch over just a bit.

It’s clear this season has taken a toll on Campbell, like it does on most football coaches. An 0-10-1 start with two heartbreak losses certainly hasn’t helped. He cried after a last-second loss at Minnesota in October. He gritted his teeth in anger the next week after a blowout loss at home to Cincinnati.

And now he can’t sleep, whether he wins or loses, trapped in a restive state without any rest in sight. Introspection on overdrive. Because the NFL loves workaholics who worry themselves into a frenzy.

So this is what I propose. How about if we all lay off of Campbell for the rest of the season? No more mean tweets. No more trying to get #firedancampbell to trend after a loss. No more minute dissection of every nuance after a victory.

It’s not going to be perfect. Nothing ever is.

But the man has done enough to show us he’s capable of leading this team and making some tough calls and adjustments. He earned that trust with his first win, which came with a roster that was short on talent to begin with and has been ravaged by injuries as the season has progressed.

I don’t think the Lions will win again in their final five games. And that’s OK, because the only thing of consequence left to determine is NFL draft order.

Knowing that, I realize we’re humans made of baggy flesh and emotions, and there’s context to every game. A bad loss that might result from blowing a big lead in a game the Lions should have easily won rightly invites more criticism than, say, getting blown up from the start against a top team like the Arizona Cardinals.

But we have to look past the immediacy of results, because this season is about one thing only: The foundation upon which everything else will be built. And let’s face it, foundations aren’t works of art. They are simply unadorned underpinnings.

That’s an effective run game. Solid tackling. Fewer mental errors. A sharper passing game.

If you examine the statistics from Sunday’s game, the Vikings look like they won by a clear margin in more categories. But it was Campbell who held the Lions together just long enough for one final play on one final drive when it mattered most.

In a video the Lions posted of their locker-room celebration, Campbell gave just about everyone credit. After a restless sleep, and no doubt two venti-sized Starbucks Pike Place roasts with four shots of espresso, Campbell kicked off his Monday presser thanking everyone again.

This is one of Campbell’s secrets. He validates everyone. He’s thoughtful with his words and actions. That’s why it’s funny — but also sad — that the guy who kicked off his tenure talking about biting kneecaps has had to endure so many critics this season who’ve wanted to take a chunk out of him. Casual observers only see the record and write him off as a caricature at best, or a buffoon at worst.

You hear the “winning solves everything” cliché a lot. People love to spout it because it’s clean and simple. But sometimes winning too easily and undeservedly masks deficiencies and bigger problems. Ask the Raiders.

The Lions might not win another game, or they might win a few more. It’s pretty clear Campbell won’t rest either way. But even if the Lions’ coach isn’t able to give himself much of a break, maybe the rest of us can.

Contact Carlos Monarrez at and follow him on Twitter @cmonarrez.

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