After firing head coach Matt Patricia after a 45-21 loss to the Houston Texans, the Detroit Lions had a head coaching vacancy for Chris Spielman to fill. The former broadcaster and brother to Minnesota Vikings GM Rick Spielman was named the Lions CEO and special assistant to the owner in the final weeks of the season and immediately had a significant decision to make.
Although Detroit probably could’ve gone with Robert Saleh, a native of Michigan and someone who grew up a fan of the Lions, they instead decided to hire the New Orleans Saints assistant coach and former member of the infamous 0-16 Lions, Dan Campbell.
While his introductory press conference was quite entertaining — he alluded to biting off opponents’ kneecaps — I was able to gather some thoughts on how Campbell might function as the head coach of this destitute franchise.
When looking at the type of tough physical player that Chris Spielman was, it seems like he got a coach in Campbell that perfectly matches his football ideology.
In his opening press conference, Campbell delved into what he wanted his football team to be:
“This team is going to be built on, uh, we’re going to kick you in the teeth. Alright?” Campbell growled. “And when you punch us back, we’re going to smile at you. And when you knock us down, we’re going to get up. And on the way up, we’re going to bite a kneecap off. Alright? And we’re going to stand up, and then it’s going to take two more shots to knock us down. Alright? And on the way up, we’re going to take your other kneecap.”
He made it evident that he doesn’t want to be coaching the Lions teams that we are all used to seeing just roll over after going down early. He made it very clear that he expects this team to give their opponents their all for 60 minutes in every game.
He further corroborated this statement by saying, “We’re gonna be competitive every game.”
He suggested that his Lions team “take on the city’s identity,” overcoming adversity as Detroit has.
After hearing that, I thought back to the most iconic Detroit sports team, the Bad Boy Pistons, and how they relied on physicality. They personified the blue-collar city they represented, playing a gritty basketball style that led them to success.
In his press conference, he referred to the city’s current state and how they had been “kicked, bruised, and battered” in recent history, much like the Lions themselves.
Campbell talked about how much he wanted this job and how much he loved the city, saying it’s the best place he’s ever been and how he wants to give back to the Lions fans. He stated that winning is his only mission and he will be preaching “principles of competition, identity and toughness.”
While watching the press conference, I couldn’t help but think back to another downtrodden midwestern franchise that brought in a new head coach who preached about cultural changes. When the Cleveland Browns hired Kevin Stefanski, he also preached a shared collective vision. Although he might not have shared the same boisterous enthusiasm of his Lions counterpart, Stefanski shared how significant change was for a franchise that hadn’t won a playoff game since 1994 and last qualified for the postseason in 2002.
While the Browns were in a much better spot to compete right away, given the talent they already had on the roster, I think Campbell’s hiring could signify a new Lions team emerging in the NFC North.