Lions coach Dan Campbell’s penchant for fakes developed from regret after interim stint

Detroit News

Allen Park — Dan Campbell has quickly established a reputation as one of the NFL’s most aggressive coaches, rarely hesitating to go for it on a fourth down in a critical situation, call for a fake punt or even spring a surprise onside kick on an opponent.

But he wasn’t always this way.

After serving as the Miami Dolphins interim coach the final 12 games of the 2015 season, Campbell said he had an epiphany while reflecting on how he had handled the opportunity.

“I just remember once I was done there, I had regrets, particularly in special teams, that I didn’t use it more,” Campbell said. “With (special teams coordinator) Darren Rizzi, he’s at New Orleans now, he’s an outstanding special teams coach and I just remember it just stuck with me.”

That aggressive mindset, the willingness to pull out all the stops to win a game, was only reinforced the next five years while serving as Sean Payton’s assistant head coach in New Orleans.

“He made everything very clear,” Campbell said. “We knew exactly when critical (calls) were going to come up, what we were going to do, how we were going to handle it. Just being under Coach Payton for five years, it gives you a whole different perspective. It did for me. So, I think that’s really where it comes from.”

Now, that way of thinking is rubbing off on Campbell’s assistants, none more than special teams coordinator Dave Fipp. Serving in that same role for eight seasons with the Philadelphia Eagles, Fipp said the team called two fakes. In Detroit, the Lions have run eight fake punts and converted on seven, including a daring effort deep in their own territory during last Thursday’s season-opening victory over Kansas City.

“Obviously Coach Campbell embraces that part and he’s pushed that to another level, certainly for me, and I love it,” Fipp said. “It’s been great. When I sit in there and watch the film, I’m looking at all the rushes and he’s like, ‘Oh, rushes, that’s perfect. If they’re rushing us, we can do this, this, this.’ The first thing he’s looking at is all the fakes off it. He’s an offensive coach. It’s really helped me being around him and seeing the game kind of through his eyes that way.”

Like most coaches, Fipp is fixated on mistakes, in this case the one the Lions didn’t convert. The play was actually executed as designed, but running back Godwin Igwebuike dropped punter Jack Fox’s pass. But when Campbell called for the fake against Kansas City at his own 17-yard line, Fipp had no doubt it would work.

“In my mind, we were going to get it and it really didn’t matter where it was,” Fipp said. “It was just like, OK, we’ve got an opportunity if we get in a certain situation here to run this thing and kind of all those parameters came up on that play. … You don’t even think that way of it not working. You’re just thinking how to make it work.”

jdrogers@detroitnews.com

Twitter/X: @Justin_Rogers

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