Dan Campbell spent three years of his playing career in Detroit. More than a decade later, the former tight end returned as the Lions' latest head coach. That reunion is off to a blazing start.
Hired more for his motivational techniques, general philosophy, and leadership than Xs and Os, Campbell came out of the gate hot in his introductory press conference. Most who listened probably left ready to run through a wall.
"Here's what I know just as an overall philosophy," the demonstrative coach said. "You're going to say what's this team gonna be, what's it not gonna be? I know that Detroit is made up of great people, some really good people. The 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 s---. Excuse my language.
"Here's what I do know is that this team is going to take on the identity of this city. This city's been down and it 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, and when you punch us back, we're going to smile at you, and when you knock us down, we're gonna get up and on the way up, we're gonna bite a kneecap off, alright, and we're going to stand up and then it's gonna take two more shots to knock us down, alright, and on the way up, we're going to take your other kneecap and we're going to get up and then it's going to take three shots to get us down, and when we do, we're gonna take another hunk out of you. Before long, we're going to be the last one standing, alright? That's going to be the mentality."
As a former player, Campbell promised to mold a tough squad.
"My job is to make this team better, make it competitive, make it a winner," he said. "Look, I can't guarantee wins, but I know this, man: My job is also to get this city back on its feet. ... I don't blame you fans one bit. I get it. There's no telling how many of these press conferences you've seen. I'm not going to stand up here and give you coachspeak, but I'm going to tell you this, man: This team is gonna freaking take on your identity. There's been enough hard times here and you've always found a way back up, and this team is going to do the same thing. Every time we get hit we're going to get back up stronger. That's what I do know."
Campbell spent the past five years under Sean Payton in New Orleans as the assistant head coach and tight ends coach. He credited Payton with teaching him all aspects of running a club, from everyday planning to game management. Previously, Campbell spent part of 2015 as interim head coach in Miami after six seasons with that franchise.
One of the few head coaches hired without offensive or defensive coordinator experience, Campbell is aware his assistant hires will play a key role in his success or failure. The 44-year-old has a vision of how he wants his team to run on the field.
"We're going to run a system that puts our best on your worst," he said.
Along with new general manager Brad Holmes, Campbell is charged with turning around a franchise that has finished last in the NFC North each of the past three seasons under Patricia.
"He and I are tied at the hip," Campbell said of Holmes. "This guy, he's unbelievable now. 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 and we finished each other's sentences twice. One of them was about vision."
Added Campbell: "We can build this the way we want it. I get to start from scratch with Brad. Man, last night we looked at each other and were like, you know what, we can do this the way we want to do this, the right way. He came from a winning program, no different than I did. We've seen success, we know what it looks like, and man, we've got the right people in place here to get it done."
Campbell and Holmes are tasked to climb a steep hill from the bottom of the league, turning around a perennial loser. The first big question is what the club does at quarterback with Matthew Stafford.
Campbell didn't explicitly say whether the club wants to build around Stafford or move in another direction. He did, however, sing glowing praise of the most prolific QB in franchise history.
"Man, he's a stud. Alright, he's a stud," Campbell said. "He's one of the toughest quarterbacks you'll ever see. He's extremely talented. I know he's a team guy. And listen, I know he wants to win. And so, I'll leave it at that. That's what I do know."
What we do know is that it's the dawn of a new era in Detroit. Hopefully, the latest restart is finally the one that sticks.