ALLEN PARK, Mich. – He was not the expected choice or the overwhelming choice of the paying public, either. But none of that will matter if Dan Campbell ends up doing what hasn’t been done consistently with the Detroit Lions in six decades: win.
Campbell, 44, is expected to be named the head coach of the Detroit Lions now that the New Orleans Saints are out of the playoffs, according to ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter. It would complete a search that took less than two months and flips one regime to the next.
Before that happens, the Lions likely will want to bring him in for a second interview, but barring something unforeseen, this seems to be the direction Detroit is going.
Gone are head coach Matt Patricia and general manager Bob Quinn, with three straight last-place finishes in the NFC North. In are Brad Holmes, largely unknown two months ago as the Los Angeles Rams director of college scouting who impressed enough to land the Detroit general manager job, and Campbell, a former Lions player who spent the past five years learning under Sean Payton.
With these hires, something team president Rod Wood said when he spoke to the media two weeks ago continues to stand out.
Lions to hire Brad Holmes as GMpic.twitter.com/3nXwdqJ— Detroit Lions (@LionsPR) Jan. 14, 2021
“There’s going to be no surprise I don’t think at the end [with] who we end up hiring on both sides,” Wood said Jan. 5. “What we’re looking for is people that can work together and be partners, and not one working for the other necessarily.”
It’s not clear how the power structure will work and how this expected marriage of Holmes and Campbell will go. No one will truly know for at least a year. Maybe longer.
But Detroit stuck to its principles when it looked for a general manager, hitting a lot of the criteria it checked. And it seems to have done that with its likely head coach.
More than anything, the Lions appeared to search for leadership. That is probably Campbell’s biggest strength. He doesn’t have a ton of coaching experience -- 11 years -- but Campbell played in the NFL for a decade, including three years with the Lions. He doesn’t have any coordinator experience, either, which some teams chose to focus on.
He did, though, hold a Miami team together as an interim head coach for 12 games during the 2015 season, going 5-7 in an adverse situation. He inherited a 1-3 team and a roster that had not been over-.500 for the last three seasons prior to his short head coaching stint.
In a 2016 interview with the Globe & Mail, Dolphins owner Stephen Ross said he chose Campbell as interim head coach, in part, because “he’s a real motivator and I think that’s what you really need in running a football team.”
The Lions have clearly agreed. Everything Wood, special assistant Chris Spielman and owner Sheila Ford Hamp have said since firing Quinn and Patricia was about unity, inclusion, teamwork and working together.
Motivating people toward the same mission is one of the main jobs of any head coach -- and they believe Campbell has the personality to do it.
Campbell also seems to grasp another thing the Lions were looking for -- adaptability and flexibility. On “The LiucciCast,” a Texas A&M podcast, Campbell said he knows coaches have to adjust to today’s athletes -- and he understands the need for it.
“You have to be willing to listen and I feel like there needs to be more of a working relationship with your athletes, certainly at the NFL level these are grown men that we’re dealing with,” Campbell said. “So I always approach it as we’re working together. Now rookies are a little different but once you’ve been trained a little bit, we are working together.
“Now, how do I make your job easier? That’s my job. How do I pull the most out of you? That’s my job as a coach. Your job is to use me as a resource, player, so what do you need from me? How can I help you?”
Campbell would come to Detroit with a certain level of understanding, too. He has been in NFL locker rooms -- and specifically, he’s been in the Lions locker room as part of the team from 2006 to '08. He’s seen how tough it is for the Lions to win and was part of the franchise’s 0-16 team.
So perhaps more than any other candidates, he understands the uniqueness of Detroit and the challenge it’ll be -- and what it’ll mean if the team is able to turn around and win.