ALLEN PARK, Mich. – As new head coach Dan Campbell put together his staff for the Detroit Lions, there were two basic tenets he had in place when making decisions on who he wanted to hire.
First, they needed to be a good person. Second, they needed to be a good coach. If someone had one and not the other -- even if they were someone Campbell liked a lot personally -- it wasn’t going to work for him.
“In my head, I said, who is the best dude that I know as far as person that I know as an outstanding teacher and coach,” Campbell told ESPN. “That was the criteria. Those were always the standards set, and I swore I was never going to hire the coach first and the person second. I hired the person first and the coach second.
“I refused to hire my friends that are average coaches or the guy that I owe but is an average coach but outstanding human being. Because that’s how you become average.”
It is coincidence, then, that many of his staff members are former NFL players. Campbell himself was in the league for 11 years before going into coaching. Offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn played for eight seasons. Defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn played 15 years in the league, was a first-round pick and made the Pro Bowl three times.
Quarterbacks coach Mark Brunell had a 19-year NFL career, made three Pro Bowls and is Jacksonville’s all-time passing leader. Running backs coach/assistant head coach Duce Staley and offensive line coach Hank Fraley played 10 seasons, as well.
Campbell insists he didn’t go into this trying to hire ex-players, though. He said the thought “never entered my mind.” It just happened some of the coaches who fit his criteria happened to be ex-players.
“It was a bonus that I knew AG,” Campbell said. "It was a bonus that I knew A-Lynn because those are outstanding human beings who are outstanding coaches and so, I just went into this thing literally saying, ‘Where do I find the best guys? How do I find the best guys? Who are the best guys?’"
Staley might have been the most surprising one for Campbell. Not in his criteria but because he was available at all. Campbell had targeted him for his staff when he interviewed for the Miami full-time job after the 2015 season.
So when he was looking for a running backs coach, Campbell would have loved to have Staley, a coach he considers one of the best running backs coaches in the league and someone who “should be a head coach.” He figured Staley would get the head coaching job in Philadelphia. Or at worst, the Eagles would make sure that he stayed with the franchise. Then he heard Staley might end up being available.
“Next thing I know, somebody said, looks like Duce may get out of there, like Chicago, so I’m like, ‘Hey, Duce. Duce, I thought you were staying,’ “ Campbell said. “So I got after him and he was all on board. He wanted to be here. He wanted to be something special.”
Campbell didn’t hire just ex-players, though. As much as he talked about the NFL playing familiarity with some of his coaches, he made clear the coaches without that on his resume were people he was exceedingly excited about.
He called special teams coordinator Dave Fipp one of the two best in the league along with Saints special teams coordinator Darren Rizzi, under whom Fipp learned. Tight ends coach Ben Johnson, who was on Detroit’s staff under Patricia, is a coach Campbell said is “going to be a coordinator one day.” He praised the work inside linebackers coach Mark DeLeone did with Roquan Smith in Chicago last season and said Aubrey Pleasant’s secondary with the Rams was playing as well as any group in the league last year including Glenn’s Saints defensive backs.
But in the coaches who are ex-players and those who are not, one thing became apparent to Campbell in the group of coaches he hired.
“All of these people, anybody I brought in, they would make Sheila [Ford Hamp] proud as human beings,” Campbell said. “And that was the most important thing because you want to change the culture? You bring in great people.”