Dan Campbell will have plenty of big decisions to make this offseason. Among the most significant is regarding his level of involvement. After taking over play-calling duties following the bye week, he and the front office will have to figure out if he should keep calling the plays next year.
In the first three games that Campbell was calling plays, Detroit’s offense was abysmal. The Lions posted a combined 40 points in those three contests and went 0-2-1. There was no direction, little rhythm, and plenty of conservative play-calling from Campbell. In the weeks since, not only has this team earned a couple of wins, they’ve also found an identity on offense through Campbell. All the while, offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn has become a sitting duck.
When Campbell took over the play-calling duties, it stripped Lynn of his primary responsibility. It’s hard to imagine him wanting to come back in a similar role next year if he’s not calling the plays. It’s left Campbell with the decision of what to do beyond this year, and it begs the question: Would Campbell be making a mistake by keeping himself as the play-caller?
Campbell has said that it has been a learning process, and it’s taken some time for him to adjust to calling the plays for Detroit. The good news is that the Lions are in a rebuild, so there’s wiggle room for even the head coach to adjust to the added role. However, that same slack may not be there next year when fans and ownership will expect better results in his second year. Regardless of who is under center, there won’t be as much time for Campbell to go through a trial-and-error process as the play-caller. The pressure will be dialed up that much more, whether it’s realistic or not. Campbell will have to weigh whether or not he’s ready to assume the role on a full-time basis.
On Wednesday, he discussed how the transition has worked this year.
“I can tell you this, I’m miles ahead of where I was three or four weeks ago,” Campbell said. “I feel that way. I am so much more comfortable now, I do think. I’m starting to figure it out. Doesn’t mean I’m perfect by any means, but I do feel a lot more comfortable.”
Despite Campbell feeling ahead of where he was weeks ago calling the plays, he knows being the head coach revolves around far more than just that.
“Running a team is like having a garden,” Campbell said. “The minute you neglect one area, it’ll wither and die if you’re not giving it attention or not pulling weeds, you’re not watering. And, unfortunately, you start figuring that out the hard way.”
And that is exactly what Campbell will be considering this offseason.
Bringing in a new offensive coordinator to call the plays or going the highly unlikely route of keeping Lynn around and giving him the duties back would free up Campbell to survey everything going on with the team. There are plenty of head coaches who also call plays for one side of the ball. But this was new for Campbell and especially notable given that he’s a first-year head coach who anointed himself the play-caller midway through the season. It wasn’t part of the initial plan, making the choice that is still to come that much more critical. Whoever has the gig will be inheriting a far from a finished product.
Detroit’s offense still needs plenty of pieces, but there is a foundation that is being cemented. Young names like Amon-Ra St. Brown, D’Andre Swift, T.J. Hockenson, and Penei Sewell are all pillars for the Lions from now on. There is still a vacant spot for a franchise quarterback, and the offensive line could use bolstering. Wide receiver is an area of need as well, even with the emergence of St. Brown. Next year, whoever is calling plays won’t be walking into an empty cupboard, but it will still be a challenge.
Despite their poor record, Dan Campbell has not struggled to get his players to buy into the message this year. This team has continued to bust their hump for their head coach time and again, and they’ve been rewarded with unpredictable wins over the Minnesota Vikings and Arizona Cardinals. There will be plenty of massive decisions to be made in the offseason, but none may be more critical than Campbell’s decision about the play calling.