Dre Bly spent four of the best years of his life in Detroit.
He signed a big free agent contract with the Detroit Lions in 2003, made the only two Pro Bowls of his career as a player, and celebrated the birth of two of his children while in town.
Bly could not help the turn the Lions into winners like he hoped as a player, but given the opportunity as a coach, he jumped at the chance.
The Lions hired Bly as their new cornerbacks coach last weekend in a move the team announced Thursday. He replaces Aubrey Pleasant, who was fired Oct. 31.
“I wanted to deliver as a player,” Bly told the Free Press in a phone interview Thursday. “I was involved in the community, I had radio shows, I did stuff during the holidays. Like, I poured into the city — and I knew how bad the city wanted it. So to have a chance to come back and to see the direction that they’re headed in, Dan (Campbell) has done a tremendous job with this staff. At the end of the day, what being a great coach is all about is a guy that can lead and Dan is a tremendous leader. He’s a guy that can lead coaches, he’s a guy that can lead his players, and you see that. So that’s why at the end of the day, why these guys played as hard as they played.
“As a coach, you want to be a part of something like that. That’s something that excites you to want to come here and join what they got going on. So I’m here, man. I’m fired up. I’m going to be in the office working and trying to figure out how I can put my stamp on the players.”
Bly played 11 NFL seasons with four teams and finished his career with 43 interceptions (19 as a Lion). He won a Super Bowl as a rookie with the St. Louis Rams during the 1999 season, when he was teammates with assistant Lions general manager Ray Agnew, and was teammates with Campbell for the 2006 season in Detroit.
Bly coached high school football and travel baseball after his playing career, then joined the NFL as an intern with the New Orleans Saints in 2017. He spent that summer working alongside Campbell and Lions defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn, Saints assistants at the time, and was cornerbacks coach the past four seasons at his alma matter, North Carolina.
Bly and Glenn have remained close since their time together in New Orleans. Contemporaries as players, Bly considers Glenn one of his mentors as a coach.
“Being on a staff like this with a bunch of familiar guys, a bunch of like-minded guys that kind of had the same path, I think it’s going to be fun,” Bly said. “Just looking at how they’re wired, there’s a lot of energy, there’s a lot of passion. That’s one of the things that Dan was looking for when he talked to me. He wanted a guy that was very passionate, a guy that’s relational, a guy that played where you can not just tell him, but you can show him. And so I just think I fit what these guys are looking for.”
Glenn remains in the running for two head coaching jobs, with the Arizona Cardinals and Indianapolis Colts, but the Lions are almost done tweaking their staff for 2023.
They also announced the previously reported hire of new tight ends coach Steve Heiden on Thursday, and have a replacement to find for running backs coach/assistant head coach Duce Staley, who is leaving to join the Carolina Panthers.
Bly inherits a cornerback unit that was part of the Lions’ 30th-ranked pass defense in 2022 and could see major changes this offseason. Jeff Okudah and Jerry Jacobs are the only returning players under contract, and Amani Oruwariye, Mike Hughes and Will Harris will be unrestricted free agents in March.
Known for his confidence, flair and playmaking ability as a player, Bly said he wants his unit to embody that same persona in Detroit.
“If you know anything about me as a player, you should know that about me as a coach,” Bly said. “We’re going to compete, we’re going to have fun and our swag is going to be tremendously high. Now we got to back it up by how we play, but half of the battle is what you believe in yourself.”
Check out this week’s “Free Press Sports with Carlos and Shawn” podcast, talking Red Wings and the Lions’ window of opportunity. Subscribe to the show and listen below or on Apple, Spotify or wherever you load up podcasts.