It’s a new day in Detroit.
The Detroit Lions have officially hired Dan Campbell as their head coach. Campbell will become the 30th head coach in franchise history, as the Lions hope they can instill some stability and a new path forward.
The last three full-time head coaches of the Lions have coached less games than the last, and no Lions head coach has been in town longer than five seasons since Wayne Fontes (1988-1996).
Detroit has given a huge show of support to Campbell, signing the 44-year-old a 6-year contract. The team has a new GM as well, having signed former Rams Director of College Scouting Brad Holmes to a 5-year contract last Thursday.
Are they making the right bet at head coach?
Campbell was not a hot candidate during this recent head coaching cycle, but clearly impressed enough with the only team he interviewed. He’s received interviews in years past, but has never been the must-have coach in any offseason.
Campbell has head coaching experience from 2015 when he was the interim head coach of the Miami Dolphins, going 5-7 in 12 games after the team started 1-3 under Joe Philbin before he was fired. However, he has never been a coordinator. It’s very rare for a first time head coach to never have any coordinator experience. Of the other 30 NFL head coaches at this time, only two had no formal coordinator experience prior to becoming a head coach: Brian Flores and Andy Reid.
Campbell was a tight end for 11 seasons (including 3 with Detroit) before retiring after 2009. He then became a coaching intern with the Dolphins in 2010, then their TEs coach in 2011. After his interim HC stint, Sean Payton (who Campbell played under for 6 seasons when Payton worked for the Giants and Cowboys) hired Campbell as their assistant head coach and TEs coach.
Campbell is considered a great leader, and the Lions are betting on his leadership ability to move the franchise forward. He’s been compared to Mike Vrabel, but I’m not sure that’s an apt comparison. Vrabel is also considered a great leader of men, but he had coordinator experience and grew up the son of a coach (albeit basketball) and educator. He seemed to have an upbringing more inclined to coaching, and he has shown an ability to be one of the better situational coaches in the NFL; I don’t get the same vibes from Campbell.
Leadership is important, but to a point. Can he actually COACH? New Jaguars head coach Urban Meyer says schemes are great but it’s not the main reason teams like the Patriots are so successful year-after-year. Yes, you need to build a winning culture, but players need to be put in the best situation to win, and schemes and in-game coaching (something Patriots coach Bill Belichick is considered the best at) are vital to success. Campbell will have to build a strong staff around him to help bridge his inexperience (his DC is set to be Saints secondary coach Aaron Glenn, a former player himself).
We are seeing a rise in former players who spent considerable time in the NFL as players quickly enter coaching. Mike Vrabel is the first in this wave to become a head coach, and Campbell is next. Names that could soon follow included Glenn, Jerod Mayo, DeMeco Ryans, Kevin O’Connell, Mike Kafka and Larry Foote. Maybe Campbell is a new type or archetype that could be set up for success.
Still, for an organization with such a void of stability and success, I worry about the chances of success here. That does not mean Campbell can’t set a new chapter for Detroit and become a great coach, it’s just hard to do so with a team that has had to so with every new head coach the past 25 years because the previous coach never had any success or did anything truly positive (except maybe Jim Caldwell).
His inexperience making big in-game decisions worry me, where he’s going worries me. He’s being given a long leash to learn on the job (which is good), so it seems the Lions expect a learning curve, but how much patience will they truly have? We should know by Year 3 whether this has any chance of going well, but don’t expect it to be rosy between now and then.
Credit to photo above from WDIV
Follow Hold My Drink Sports on Twitter (@holdmysporttake) and Instagram (@holdmytakesports)