Detroit Lions’ Dan Campbell: I’ll use Sean Payton as sounding board in 2022

Detroit Free Press

MOBILE, Ala. — Sean Payton may be temporarily retired from the NFL, but Detroit Lions coach Dan Campbell plans to put his old mentor to work this spring.

Campbell said he hopes to use Payton, who resigned as New Orleans Saints coach last month, as a sounding board this offseason.

“Yeah, certainly I could,” Campbell said Wednesday at the Senior Bowl. “Look, I know that he would help me. He’s said that over and over. It’s like, ‘Man, whenever you need anything, you hit me up,’ and certainly now he’s got more time to listen, so that’s a good thing. But I’ll use him.”

Campbell spent eight of his 11 NFL seasons as a player with Payton, both when Payton was an assistant with the New York Giants and Dallas Cowboys and head coach of the Saints, and he worked as Payton’s assistant head coach for five seasons in New Orleans before coming to Detroit.

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The two are close friends, and Campbell considers Payton his biggest influence in coaching.

“I learned more under Sean than any other coach in my time,” Campbell said. “I got both facets of it as a player and a coach, so really everything that I am or what I’m about, the way I think, really does come from him, in a sense.”

One of football’s most creative offensive minds, Payton went 152-89 in 15 seasons with the Saints and led the organization to its first Super Bowl in 2009.

His influence on Campbell was noticeable this season, when the Lions set an NFL record for most fourth-down attempts and Campbell took an aggressive approach to special teams while calling offensive plays for the final nine games of the season.

“I think he was always ahead of the game, he was innovative,” Campbell said. “He knew how to pull the most out of his players. He knows how to give his players, to put them in position to have success better than anybody I’ve ever been around. He knows how to use the totality of the roster on game day. And I think his ability to know that, hey, man, this is what this player needs. This player needs a boot in the rear or this player needs a hug, or just on how to motivate. I think those are things you never forget.”

Because he remains under contract with the Saints through the 2024 season, Payton cannot join the Lions in an official capacity.

Campbell said he expects Payton, 58, to be an NFL head coach again one day.

“I know this, they’re going to miss him across the way. I do know that,” he said. “But I think he’ll be back at some point, I do. He’ll be back in the seat.”

Until then, Campbell said he will squeeze whatever insight he can out of Payton to help build his program in Detroit.

“He’s already told me, he goes, ‘Hey man, I’ll see you in the spring,'” Campbell said. “So I don’t know when that’ll be. I don’t know if he’ll be in shorts, I don’t know if he’ll have a margarita in his hand. But we’ll see him and we’ll certainly sit down and talk with him and use him, but I think the world of him. I think he’s another legend in this league, I really do.”

Contact Dave Birkett at dbirkett@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett. 

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