Lions’ Campbell reflects on mentor Sean Payton’s retirement, opportunity to pick his brain

Detroit News

Mobile, Ala. — Of all the people who have shaped the football mind of Detroit Lions coach Dan Campbell, none have had a more profound impact than former New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton.

Not only did Payton serve as a direct mentor to Campbell in New Orleans the five years before he accepted the job in Detroit, but Payton was also on the coaching staff for eight of Campbell’s 11 seasons as a player.

“I got both facets of it, as a player and a coach,” Campbell said. “So really everything that I am, or what I’m about, or how I think, really does come from him in a sense.”

During a media session at the Senior Bowl Wednesday morning, Campbell offered his first thoughts on Payton’s decision to step down as the Saints coach last month.

Payton was hired by the Saints in 2006, a year after Hurricane Katrina decimated the city. And in just four seasons, he led the team to their first Super Bowl victory.

For subscribersDetroit News Lions beat writer Justin Rogers’ observations from Senior Bowl practice

“It was so much deeper than even turning the place around to win, and you win a Super Bowl, but I felt like it really pulled the community together and got them back on their feet,” Campbell said. “I think there’s something to be said for that. It’ll never be forgotten.”

As a coach, Campbell said Payton was always a step ahead of his peers, not just with his ability to construct an innovative offense, but his ability to get the most out of his roster.

“He knows how to put his players in a position to have success, better than anyone I’ve ever been around,” Campbell said. “He knows how to use the totality of the roster on game day. And man, I think his ability to know, hey, this is what this player needs. This player needs a boot in the rear, or this player needs a hug, or just how to motivate. Those are things you never forget. I know this, they’re going to miss him across the way.”

Campbell also offered a prediction shared by many in the industry, that Payton’s goodbye is only temporary and it’s only a matter of time before he returns to coaching. In the meantime, Campbell sees an opportunity to increase the utilization of his mentor as a sounding board.

“Look, I know that he would help me,” Campbell said. “He’s told me over and over, it’s like, ‘Hey man, whenever you need anything, just hit me up.’ And certainly now he has more time to listen, that’s a good thing.

“I’ll use him,” Campbell said. “He said, ‘Hey man, I”ll see you in the spring.’ And so I don’t know when that will be. I don’t know if he’ll be in shorts or if he’ll have a margarita in his hand. But we’ll certainly see him, and we’ll sit down and talk to him and use him.”

Here are some other notes from Campbell’s media session:

► With Payton out in New Orleans, a candidate for that opening is Detroit defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn, who is interviewing with the Saints on Wednesday.

Glenn followed Campbell from New Orleans to Detroit and the Lions coach has conflicted feelings about the situation.

“Listen, I do not want to lose AG,” Campbell said. “That’s how much I think of him and what he’s brought to us and the life he’s given our defense and knowing where it’s going to go. I’m just telling you the guy is going to be a home run as a head coach. He’s passionate, he’s smart, he’s got a good feel of personnel, how to use his own guys.

“I love AG and I don’t want to lose him, but he’d be an outstanding coach.”

► With the realistic possibility of losing Glenn, Campbell admits he’s able to take solace knowing he has a couple backup options already on staff.

Aubrey Pleasant, the team’s defensive backs coach and passing game coordinator is currently serving as a defensive coordinator at the Senior Bowl. It’s an unofficial audition for the job, if it were to open up.

“I think a lot of AP, I really do,” Campbell said. “He’s got a bright future ahead of him.”

Additionally, Campbell noted defensive line coach Todd Wash has previously served as a coordinator in the NFL, leading the Jaguars defense from 2016-20.

“You’ve gotta have a contingency plan,” Campbell said. “To know you have somebody, or feel like you’ve got one or two in the building that can step up and serve that role, it does make you feel better.”

► Handing the reins of coaching the Senior Bowl to assistant head coach Duce Staley has allowed Campbell to shift his attention to the player acquisition phase of the offseason.

“I actually just left a meeting with (general manager) Brad (Holmes),” Campbell said. “We’re talking about free agents, we’re still talking about other guys that are going to be involved in the draft that aren’t at the Senior Bowl. So the work doesn’t stop just cause we’re here. And so that actually helps me, frees up some time to be involved with all of it.”

► One of the most intriguing players on the Senior Bowl roster being coached by the Lions this week is quarterback Malik Willis. The Liberty University dual-threat has made a positive first impression with Detroit’s coaching staff.

“Listen, yesterday was our first day of practice with him and I think he throws a nice ball,” Campbell said. “I think he’s pretty athletic, he’s built better than — from afar you don’t know. That’s why, to see these guys up close, he’s a good looking player. He’s built right, looks like he’s built to last. Shoot, he handled our playbook pretty dang good yesterday. We had a couple run checks in there. Defensively, we had a couple of pressure looks that I thought he handled. Look, Day 1, did a good job.

jdrogers@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @Justin_Rogers

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