Dan Campbell shockingly emerges as right guy for Lions

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The Lions needed to detox from the Matt Patricia era.

The Lions needed to detox from the Matt Patricia era.
Image: Getty Images

There was no better choice for coach for the 2021 Detroit Lions than Dan Campbell. Sure sometimes he seems more like a caricature of a football coach than a real one when he gets carried away talking about toughness with those broad shoulders, and the Lions aren’t actually a better football team than they were last season. They won five games in 2020, and with three games remaining in this season they would have to win out to match that win total. However, what Campbell has provided the Lions this season is exactly what they needed: a detox.

The Lions were a little stagnant in 2017. They went 9-7 for the second consecutive season but missed the playoffs after making it the season prior. Also, they still had not won a playoff game since 1991. The organization decided to make the move to bring in, what they believed, was the ultimate winning culture by hiring New England Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia.

That era started off badly when it was learned that Patricia had been indicted on sexual assault charges on a spring break trip when he was in college. The only reason that he never stood trial is that the accuser decided not to go through with it due to the stress, and the charges were dropped. Patricia has always said that he did not do what he was accused of.

Once the season got underway, though, Patricia embarrassed himself several times. He, with that unkempt hair and beard, actually told a reporter to sit up during a press conference and scolded that reporter about a lack of professionalism. And he pulled that stunt while reportedly being late for pressers and for meetings himself. Patricia’s “Patriot Way” never took hold with the team, and the players felt more disrespected than anything else. He was fired last year just 11 games in.

Campbell was hired in January 2021, and his introductory press conference was mocked in the media. In trying to emphasize that the Lions were going to be a tough team he used some hyperbole, saying that if they get knocked down they were going to keep getting up, and biting kneecaps, and whatever else was necessary until they emerged victorious.

Of course it was silly, just like it was silly in training camp when he was doing up-downs with the players, but that’s a much better situation than having a know-it-all coach condescend everybody from players to reporters.

Then the season began with Detroit’s new quarterback, Jared Goff, and it started off almost as poorly as possible. The Lions began this season with eight consecutive defeats, some of them heartbreakers. A loss to the Vikings in Week 5 was their second in three weeks to come from a 50-plus yard field goal as time expired, and Campbell actually cried during the press conference. That’s atypical of a football coach not named Dick Vermeil, but it showed a stark difference in the organization. Patricia may have cared about the players and was simply doing a poor Bill Belichick impersonation — because he believed that was the way to win — but Campbell made it abundantly clear how he feels about the players in the Lions’ locker room.

That care showed when the team finally won its first game of the season. Campbell gave a rousing speech in the locker room following the win and players gave him the game ball. Then, two weeks later — this past Sunday — the Lions beat the top team in the NFC at the time, the Arizona Cardinals, thoroughly, from start to finish. Kyler Murray and the Cardinals did not score a single point in the first half and the final score was 30-12. This provided another opportunity for a Campbell locker room speech, and he knocked it out of the park again.

This team is still nowhere near where it wants to be. The Lions have two wins, Goff is not the answer at quarterback, and Football Outsiders has them ranked 29th in total, offensive, and defensive DVOA. Campbell hopes he’s the man to lead them to more successful days, but even if they finish this season with only two wins he’s been a success in 2021.

A pressure wash was necessary to get rid of all the toxins left behind from the Patricia era. Campbell has been that, and a rinse and deodorizer as well. That post-game video from Sunday has nearly two million Twitter views in less than 48 hours. It feels good seeing somebody who, while intense, is still very much in touch with the human element of leadership. If people not only know where a leader is coming from, but can feel where a leader is coming from, they will respond so much better.

Campbell has the Lions responding to him. Let’s see if they can inject some talent into this group and get their record to match Campbell’s passion in 2022.

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