Dan Campbell is not your typical NFL head coach. He is a former player who spent 11 seasons in the league as a tight end for four different teams. He is a passionate leader who wears his emotions on his sleeve and inspires his players with his fiery speeches. He is also a visionary who has a clear plan for the future of the Detroit Lions, a franchise that has struggled for decades to achieve consistent success.
In this blog post, we will explore how Dan Campbell is building a new culture for the Lions, what his vision is for the team’s long-term development, and what challenges and opportunities he faces in his first year as head coach.
Building a New Culture
One of the first things that Dan Campbell did when he was hired as the Lions’ head coach in January 2021 was to assemble a coaching staff that included several former NFL players who shared his passion and knowledge of the game. Among them were Anthony Lynn (offensive coordinator), Aaron Glenn (defensive coordinator), Duce Staley (assistant head coach/running backs), Mark Brunell (quarterbacks), Antwaan Randle El (wide receivers), Hank Fraley (offensive line), Kelvin Sheppard (linebackers) and Aubrey Pleasant (defensive backs/passing game coordinator).
Campbell said he wanted coaches who could relate to the players and teach them the fundamentals and techniques of their positions. He also wanted coaches who could instill a sense of accountability, toughness and resilience in the team.
“I want guys that are going to be able to help these players reach their potential,” Campbell said. “And I want guys that are going to be able to get the most out of these guys every day.”
Campbell also made it clear that he wanted to create a culture of collaboration and communication among the coaches, players and front office. He said he wanted to have an open dialogue with general manager Brad Holmes, who was also hired in January 2021, and work together to build a roster that fits their vision.
“I think it’s important that we’re on the same page,” Campbell said. “I think it’s important that we have a mutual respect for one another. I think it’s important that we trust one another. And I think it’s important that we’re able to disagree with one another.”
Campbell also emphasized the importance of listening to the players and understanding their needs and concerns. He said he wanted to create an environment where the players feel comfortable expressing themselves and giving feedback.
“I want these guys to know that I have their back,” Campbell said. “I want these guys to know that I’m here for them. I want these guys to know that I’m going to do everything in my power to help them be successful.”
Vision for the Future
Campbell inherited a team that finished with a 5-11 record in 2020 and had not made the playoffs since 2016. He knew that turning around the Lions would not be an easy or quick task. He also knew that he had to be realistic and patient with the process.
“We’re going to have to build this thing,” Campbell said. “It’s going to take some time.”
Campbell’s vision for the Lions is to build a team that can compete for championships in the long run. He said he wants to develop a core of young players who can grow together and form a strong identity and culture. He also said he wants to add veterans who can provide leadership and experience.
“We want guys that love football,” Campbell said. “We want guys that are smart. We want guys that are tough. We want guys that are competitive. We want guys that are team-oriented.”
Campbell said he wants the Lions to play with a physical and aggressive style on both sides of the ball. He said he wants the offense to be balanced and versatile, able to run and pass effectively depending on the situation. He said he wants the defense to be fast and disruptive, able to pressure the quarterback and create turnovers.
“We want to be a team that nobody wants to play,” Campbell said. “We want to be a team that makes you earn every yard, every point, every win.”
Campbell also said he wants the Lions to play with passion and emotion, reflecting his own personality as a coach and a former player.
“We want to have fun,” Campbell said. “We want to enjoy this game. We want to celebrate our successes. We want to support each other through our failures.”
Challenges and Opportunities
Campbell faces several challenges in his first year as head coach of the Lions. One of them is dealing with the expectations and pressure from the fans and media, who have been frustrated by years of losing and mediocrity.
Campbell said he understands the fans’ hunger for winning and respects their passion for the team. He also said he welcomes the challenge of proving himself and changing the perception of the Lions.
“I love it,” Campbell said. “I love being in this position because I know what’s ahead of us.”
Another challenge for Campbell is managing the transition from being an assistant coach to being a head coach, which involves more responsibilities and decisions.
Campbell said he has learned from his previous experiences as an interim head coach for the Miami Dolphins in 2015, when he led them to a 5-7 record after replacing Joe Philbin midseason, and as an assistant head coach/tight ends coach for the New Orleans Saints from 2016 to 2020, when he worked under Sean Payton, one of the most successful coaches in the league.
Campbell said he has also sought advice from other head coaches, such as Bill Parcells, Mike Vrabel and Mike McCarthy, who have mentored him throughout his career.
“I’m always trying to learn,” Campbell said. “I’m always trying to grow.”
A third challenge for Campbell is navigating through a competitive NFC North division, which features three teams that made the playoffs in 2020: the Green Bay Packers, who won 13 games and reached the NFC Championship Game; the Chicago Bears, who won eight games and earned a wild-card spot; and the Minnesota Vikings, who won seven games and missed the playoffs by one game.
Campbell said he respects all three teams and knows they will pose tough tests for the Lions.
“They’re all good teams,” Campbell said. “They’re all well-coached teams.”
However, Campbell also sees opportunities for improvement and success in his first year as head coach. One of them is working with quarterback Jared Goff, who was acquired from the Los Angeles Rams in exchange for Matthew Stafford in February 2021.
Goff is a former No. 1 overall pick who has led his team to two NFC West titles, one NFC Championship Game victory and one Super Bowl appearance in his five-year career. He has thrown for over 4,000 yards three times and has made two Pro Bowls.
Campbell said he believes Goff can thrive in Detroit under offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn’s system.
“I think he’s got all the tools,” Campbell said. “I think he’s got all the intangibles.”
Another opportunity for Campbell is developing some of the young talent on the roster, such as running back D’Andre Swift, tight end T.J. Hockenson, wide receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown, offensive tackle Penei Sewell, defensive end Romeo Okwara, linebacker Derrick Barnes and cornerback Jeff Okudah.
Campbell said he sees potential in all of them and wants to help them reach their ceiling.
“I think we’ve got some good young players,” Campbell said. “I think we’ve got some guys that can be difference-makers.”
A third opportunity for Campbell is creating a strong bond with the fans and the community. He said he wants to make the Lions a source of pride and joy for the people of Detroit and Michigan.
“I want to be a part of this city,” Campbell said. “I want to be a part of this state.”