‘Winning is the only mission’
Before Campbell took the podium, owner Shiela Ford Hamp and team president Rod Wood took questions about their decision.
Hamp said something Lions fans have been waiting to hear for decades: the organization’s top goal is to win football games.
“Dan will be the first to tell you that winning is the only mission,” Hamp said. “But the way in which he plans to go about that is perhaps the most important.”
She said Campbell’s philosophy is founded on the principles of competition, identity, toughness and operating an entire team with one heartbeat.
Preparing for this offseason
Wood touched on some of the important aspects of this offseason, as the Lions try to transition to a new coaching staff and a new general manager in Brad Holmes while also making important roster decisions.
“While Dan’s only been in the building for a day, he and Brad area already hard at work assembling a coaching staff, evaluating our team, preparing for free agency and the draft,” Wood said.
Under Bob Quinn and Matt Patricia, the Lions struck out on many of their top draft picks, including Jarrad Davis, Teez Tabor and Jahlani Tavai.
Likewise, many of the team’s free agent signings haven’t worked out the way they hoped.
Holmes and Campbell will need to not only nail the draft and free agency to improve the team, but also make sure a strong staff is in place to try to coach up some of the young players already on the roster, such as cornerback Jeff Okudah, tight end T.J. Hockenson and running back D’Andre Swift.
What Lions were looking for in a coach
Wood listed off some of the specific criteria the team was looking for during the head coaching search.
Here’s what they wanted:
- A leader of men who could command the room and the attention of the entire team.
- Someone with the temperament to handle the grinds of an NFL season, including dealing with injuries, losses and outside distractions.
- A positive voice for the organization with the media, the league, colleges, staff members and fans.
- Someone with the ability to assemble an “excellent staff.”
“Dan checked every box,” Wood said.
‘Dan stood out’
During interviews for the general manager position, the Lions asked candidates to list some of their possible head coaching options. Campbell was mentioned numerous times, Wood said.
New Orleans Saints general manager Mickey Loomis and other members of that organization, including head coach Sean Payton, gave positive feedback about Campbell as a leader and potential head coach.
Hamp said her reaction to interviewing Campbell was similar to the vibes she got from Holmes.
“There was kind of another ‘wow,’” Hamp said. “Dan stood out.”
She said he sent them a book ahead of the interview, and it contained his ideas and philosophies if he were to become the head coach.
“I read his statement on culture and leadership, and it was like he read out minds,” Hamp said.
The Lions feel confident that Campbell will be beloved by his players, in part because he played in the NFL and for this organization.
“It’s obvious that Dan -- I think the players are just going to love him,” Hamp said. “They’ll respect him. He played, and I think his presence in the locker room is going to be incredible. I think having played the game does make a difference. I think players will respect what he’s saying because he’s been there and he’s done it.”
“In addition to that, the fact that he played here and he wanted to be a Detroit Lion,” Wood said.
GM was involved in decision
When the Lions hired Quinn to take over as general manager in 2016, he inherited head coach Jim Caldwell, which wasn’t necessarily a good match from the start.
Wood and Hamp were asked about how this process was different, and they said Holmes was, in fact, part of the decision making process.
“We did have Brad involved, kind of behind the scenes in this,” Wood said. “His voice was listened to, and I would say it was impactful. He came to the same conclusion we did: That Dan should be our head coach.”
“I’m confident we have two terrific men,” Hamp said. “They’re both incredibly smart, articulate in what they’re looking for in our team. They’re both winners. I think they speak the same language, and I think it’s going to be an awesome relationship. It already is, and they hadn’t really known each other.”
‘Coaches are going to run to Detroit’
One of the questions about Campbell’s ability to be a head coach is his experience with the actual schematics of the game. That’s expected to be addressed through the coordinator and position coach hires.
Wood said he’s confident Campbell will be able to assemble a strong coaching staff. Loomis told Wood that Campbell is the type of coach others would scramble to join.
“He said, ‘Dan is the kind of head coach that coaches are going to run to Detroit and want to be on his staff. He will attract people because they want to work with him,’” Wood said.
Hamp said smart people know their weaknesses or where they could use help, and she believes the coaching staff will be constructed in a way in which everyone compliments each other.
According to reports, Campbell has agreed to a six-year contract with the Lions.
That’s a long commitment to a first-time true head coach, so Wood was asked if that’s a sign of the Lions’ confidence in Campbell or a sign that the sport is trending more in that direction.
Wood declined to address contract details in any way.
“I’m not going to comment on Dan’s contract or anybody else’s contract,” Wood said. “I know there’s speculation out there about it, but I’m not going to confirm or deny how long the contract is. That’s a private matter between Dan and the Lions.”
Lions’ attraction to Saints organization
During their search for a general manager and a head coach, the Lions interviewed three members of the Saints organization.
In the past, the Lions seemed to target former members of the New England Patriots -- Quinn, Patricia and seemingly half the roster.
This search wasn’t about the Saints, but more so the individuals, Wood said.
“We weren’t necessarily attracted to the Saints organization -- we were attracted to the individuals who worked there,” Wood said. “We were more interested in the individuals than going to one particular organization.”
He said both of the general manager candidates from the Saints organization said their top head coaching choice would have been Campbell.
Hamp said after interviewing those candidates, she has a lot of respect for the Saints.
Campbell’s love for Detroit
One of the main themes of the press conference was how much Campbell loves Detroit and wants to be here.
“He admits when he was coming here in the first place he wasn’t too sure, but then once he got here, he said it’s the best place he’s ever been,” Hamp said. “He just loves it. He really, really wants to be here, which is so exciting. I think the really understands the city. He understands the fans.”
As soon as he took the podium, Campbell echoed those same sentiments.
“I’m excited to be here, beyond belief,” Campbell said. “This is one of those jobs that I identified. I told my agent, ‘Whatever you have to do to get me in front of Shiela and Rod, please do.’
“I played here. I know the city. I know what it’s about. I know the people and it’s a special community. It’s a special place.”
‘I wanted this job, bad’
The quote of the day came early in Campbell’s introduction, when he was talking about the hiring process.
“I wanted this job, bad, because I felt like I know this community,” Campbell said. “I played here. Here’s what I know: Just as an overall philosophy, you’re gonna say, ‘Well, what’s this team going to be? What’s it not gonna be?’
“Here’s what I know: I know that Detroit’s made up of great people, some really good people. This community is strong. This place has been kicked, it’s been battered, it’s been bruised, and I can sit up here and give you coach speak all day long. I can give you, ‘Hey we’re going to win this many games.’
“None of that matters, and you guys don’t want to hear it anyway. You’ve had enough of that sh*t. Excuse my language. Here’s what I do know: This team is going to take on the identity of this city, and this city’s been down and it’s found a way to get up. It’s found a way to overcome adversity.
“So this team’s going to be built on, we’re going to kick you in the teeth. When you punch us back, we’re going to smile at you, and when you know us down, we’re going to get up and on the way up, we’re going to bite a kneecap off. We’re going to stand up, and it’s gonna take two more shots to knock us down. On the way up, we’re gonna take your other kneecap. Then we’re gonna get up and then it’s gonna take three shots to get us down. And when we do, we’re gonna take another hunk out of you.
Before long, we’re gonna be the last one standing. That’s gonna be the mentality.”
Campbell talked extensively about his time with the Saints, where he served as Payton’s assistant head coach and the tight ends coach.
He said he wants to create a working environment and a culture where everyone works together and covers for each other.
“One man’s strength is another man’s weakness, and vice versa,” Campbell said.
Compatibility is important to Campbell. He said he’s very conscious of making sure the pieces of the staff fit together personality- and ideal-wise.
Something the city’s proud of
Campbell acknowledged his tenure won’t just come with positives. He wants his team to feel every loss and learn from them.
But he stressed that he wants the Lions to be a team the city can be proud of. That often hasn’t been the case over recent years.
“We’re gonna be competitive every game,” Campbell said.
He said he can’t guarantee wins, but he can guarantee the team will show fight and scratch and claw for victories.
“They’re gonna be something this city’s proud of because they’re gonna take on the identity of this city,” Campbell said.
He said his players will play for each other, and he’ll never ask them to do anything he wouldn’t do.
Finding the right staff
“I’m gonna find the right staff,” Campbell said. “I’m gonna find a staff that’s not loaded with just a bunch of people who look good on people.”
He’s scouring candidates around the country and even beyond the country, he said.
“There’s great coaches out there,” Campbell said. “You’ve just got to find them.”
He wants compatibility in Detroit like he had around him in New Orleans.
“It’s not about the best 53 -- it’s about the right 53,” Campbell said.
Relationship with Brad Holmes
Even though they were both hired within the last week, Campbell said his relationship with Holmes is already growing.
“I didn’t know Brad before I got here,” he said.
Through research and mutual contacts, Campbell said he learned more about his new general manager and didn’t hear “one bad word” about him.
Campbell said he’s been in contact with Holmes for awhile, including Wednesday, when they were working late into the night.
He said he’s not going to make any hires without Holmes’ approval, but stressed that he wouldn’t have to because they’re on the same page.
“He and I are tied at the hip,” Campbell said. “This guy, he’s unbelievable. You want to talk about vision? We see the game very much the same way. We see players very much the same way. Last night, we were talking -- we finished each other’s sentences twice. One of them was about vision.”
Campbell said his 12-game stint with the Miami Dolphins as an interim head coach game him some experience with in-game coaching.
“I learned a lot in my time at Miami,” he said. “Listen, I got through the lumps of a season as a head coach.”
He said he went through the game management, including disruptions, roster management, timeout usage and more. While he wasn’t ready for it at the time, he said he is now.
“We’ve seen success, Campbell said. “We know what it looks like, and we’ve got the right people in place here to get it done.”
Recruiting free agents?
While complimenting the team’s facilities, Campbell joked that he might even be recruiting free agents, like a college coach on an official visit with recruits.
“Our facilities are outstanding,” he said. “These are outstanding. Maybe I’m recruiting free agents right now. Who knows, right? You never know.”
Campbell said the Lions have “top-notch” facilities, and that as a coach, it’s all he can ask for.
Getting city back on its feet
Even though his job is with the Lions, Campbell said he also wants to help the city as a whole.
“My job is also to get this city back on its feet,” Campbell said. “I don’t blame you fans one bit. There’s no telling how many of these press conference you’ve seen. I’m not going to stand up here and give you coach speak, but I’m gonna tell you this: This team is gonna freaking take on your identity.
“There’s been enough hard times here and you always found a way back up, and this team’s gonna freaking do the same thing. Every time we get hit, we’re gonna get back up stronger. That’s what I do know.”
The Lions will need to make the right coordinator hires to help Campbell as he tries to acclimate to being a head coach.
He said that process has already begun, but he and Holmes want to make sure they get it right.
“I’m gonna put the right coordinators in place,” Campbell said. “I’m going to put the right staff together with those coordinators. They’re going to be the right mix, the right balance to compliment who I am.”
In the short time they’ve known each other, Campbell said he’s learned Holmes is no different than himself. They want the same things, he said.
They’ve already interviewed four coordinator candidates on both sides of the ball, Campbell said.
He specifically mentioned Saints defensive backs coach Aaron Glenn as someone he’s talked to about the defensive coordinator job. There have been multiple reports that Glenn will be joining the staff, but the team has not confirmed, as of Thursday (Jan. 21).
Nobody really knows what to expect with Campbell’s in-game coaching philosophy, but he offered a bit of insight during Thursday’s press conference.
His philosophy on both sides of the ball is to run a system that puts the Lions’ strengths against the opponents’ weaknesses. He said that’s the game plan in New Orleans, and that’s what he plans to bring here.
“We’re gonna find a way to put our guys in one-on-one matchups whether it’s run or pass,” Campbell said. “If we can exploit a weakness, we’re going to do it.”
If the Lions have an advantage somewhere, they’ll press that advantage until it’s taken away, he said.
Instilling new culture
For many decades, the culture of the Lions has been finding ways to lose, but Campbell’s job is to instill a new culture.
He credits Payton with teaching him how to create a long-term culture.
“I think it starts with the people,” Campbell said. “I think it starts with the right people. You have to have people that don’t have egos, that have real humility. They’re hardworking. They’re people that want to do, want to be, want to say everything that you represent.”
Campbell has been in situations where different departments don’t work as one, but that wasn’t the case in New Orleans, he said. That’s what he wants to bring to Detroit.
“Everybody knew exactly who was in charge, and there was never any of these closed-door conversations about somebody,” Campbell said. “We were all moving the same direction. That’s my vision for Brad and myself.”
Galvanizing the community
Campbell said he wants to build a team that galvanizes Downtown Detroit and the entire community.
“I want to galvanize this city,” Campbell said. “You may be at the subway down the street and I may just pop in with a camera. So you just be ready.”
He praised Payton’s ability to confront people in a constructive way and say things the way they really are.
Campbell said he wants to be able to explain to his coaches and players how and why they’re doing something wrong.
Current roster makeup
The Lions are coming off a difficult 5-11 season, but Campbell said the roster might be closer to competitive than many believe.
He and Holmes are planning to dive deeper into the roster this weekend.
“There’s some pieces here that I’m fired up about,” Campbell said.
He admitted there are probably more pieces in place on offense than on defense.
“There’s always the ability to hit on a good draft and sign a few free agents that you feel like believe the same way you do as a program and come from winning programs and they fill a role, they fit a piece and some things can happen,” Campbell said.
Retooling the roster will take some work, but there are some pieces in place that can be salvaged, he said.
Will Matthew Stafford still be a Detroit Lion when the next season begins? That’s what everyone around the state wants to know.
Unsurprisingly, Campbell complimented Stafford, but didn’t commit to anything going forward.
“He’s a stud,” Campbell said. “He’s one of the toughest quarterbacks you’ll ever see. He’s extremely talented.”
Campbell and Holmes are going to discuss the quarterback position in the future.
Is quarterback a consideration in first-round?
The Lions own the No. 7 overall pick in this year’s draft, and Campbell was asked if he and Holmes would consider taking a quarterback there.
This year’s draft has several options at the position, including Trevor Lawrence, who’s likely to go No. 1 overall to the Jacksonville Jaguars. Justin Fields will most likely be off the board, as well, by the time the Lions’ selection arrives.
Zach Wilson, of BYU, Trey Lance, of North Dakota State, and possibly even Mac Jones, of Alabama, could be options.
“I’m open to anything right now,” Campbell said. “There’s a million avenues that you can go with the quarterback talk. This is just too early right now to talk about that.”
“Same Old Lions” is a saying synonymous with the long struggles of the Lions, and Campbell said he wants to change that culture.
“I think we need to bring some hope back into this place, man,” Campbell said.
The Lions have only won one playoff game since 1957 -- that’s going on 65 years. Detroit is one of four franchises to never even reach the Super Bowl, and two of those four are expansion teams from the last 30 years.
Detroit has never won an NFC North title, even though there are only four teams in the division.
“I do believe you can will things to happen,” Campbell said. “If you are a really positive thinker, I believe that positive things will happen to you.”
Addressing anti-gay remarks
Campbell was asked about some anti-gay comments he made in college, and he explained what happened and apologized for them.
“It was a bonfire comment,” Campbell said. “I went to Texas A&M. It was a rivalry game for us, so you’re in front of the student body. I was 22 years old and I made a comment I shouldn’t have made is exactly what it was.”
He said at the time he thought it was just speaking during “something exciting,” but when he got home, it slapped him right in the face that he had made a mistake.
“It’s something where I was young, and I wish I wouldn’t have said it,” Campbell said. “If I could go back, I wouldn’t have. But here we are and it’s out there, and all I can do is apologize for it.”
Competing for division championships
Campbell singled out the Green Bay Packers as the model of what the Lions want to do within the NFC North Division.
“If you’re just talking about the standard of the division, you’re talking about the Green Bay Packers right now,” he said. “Let’s call it what it is.”
Since the division took on its current form in 2002, the Lions have finished in last place nine times, including each of the last three seasons. They have finished third six times and second four times.
It would be an understatement to say the Lions have been the doormat of the NFC North.
“How do we get to where they’re at?” Campbell asked, referencing the Packers. “That’s where we want to go. We want to be competing for the division championship every year. If we’re not shooting for that, then what are we doing?”
Once the team is competitive in the division, then it can move on to higher goals, Campbell said.