Dan Campbell shows his emotion as the Lions get their first win

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
·4 min read
In this article:
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Detroit Lions
    Detroit Lions
    LiveTodayTomorrowvs--|
  • Dan Campbell
    American football player and coach
  • Nick Sirianni
    Nick Sirianni
    American football coach

When the Detroit Lions made the decision to hire Dan Campbell as their next head coach, his introductory press conference illustrated the emotion inside the man. Campbell, in a presser that lasted over an hour, talked about biting kneecaps, getting back up, and biting more kneecaps.

He was described as a testosterone-fueled Ted Lasso, and some wondered if his style of coaching would endear himself to an NFL locker room.

But also included in his press conference and during the kneecap discussion was this discussion about taking on the identity of a region:

Here’s what I do know. This team is going to take on the identity of this city and this city has been down and it found a way to get up. It’s found a way to overcome adversity, right? So this team is going to be built on, we’re going to kick you in the teeth, right? And when you punch us back, we’re going to smile at you. And when you knock us down, we’re going to get up and on the way up, we’re going to bite a kneecap off. All right? And we’re going to stand up and it’s going to take two more shots to knock us down. And on the way up, we’re going to take your other kneecap and we’re going to get up and it’s going to take three shots to get us down. And when we do, we’re going to take another hunk out of you.

Sure, it did seem like a lot at the time.

But while the Lions struggled this season, what they never lost was the faith their head coach had in them. After the Lions lost to the Minnesota Vikings on a last-second field goal to drop to 0-5, Campbell wore his heart on his sleeves:

Then two weeks ago, Campbell was again emotional in the wake of a loss to the Cleveland Browns:

In some corners, the comments after losses were indications that the coach was in over his head. That the NFL was too much for him, and that the locker room would soon begin to tune his message out and the team would fall to pieces.

The funny thing about locker rooms is this: You never know when messages are actually getting through. Consider another first-year head coach, Nick Sirianni of the Philadelphia Eagles. A few weeks ago Sirianni addressed the media and talked about “fertilizer” and “planting seeds.” The comments were mocked as signs that another young head coach was in over his head.

But in that locker room? They blossomed. The players bought in, and a winning streak soon followed. Now? The Eagles are in the thick of the playoff hunt, and with a favorable stretch of games coming up — along with a bye — Philadelphia might just bloom into a playoff team.

For the Lions, that is not in the cards, although CBS Sports did identify a crazy scenario where Detroit could actually sneak into the playoffs. Unfortunately, with the New York Jets losing to the Eagles, that scenario seems shattered.

What does not seem shattered, however, is the spirit in Campbell’s locker room. That was evident in the moments after Jared Goff found Amon-Ra St. Brown with a game-winning touchdown pass on the final play against the Vikings:

Building an identity and shaping a team takes time, and it takes work. It also requires a coach who is honest with his team, but also has their back along the way, and puts blame on his shoulders in the process. During this season, Campbell’s style of coaching has been questioned, but his faith in his players has never waivered. For example, quarterback Jared Goff has been a lightning rod for criticism, but Campbell even recently has defended the struggling passer.

So Goff’s sprint towards Campbell, and the embrace between quarterback and coach, needs to be viewed through that lens.

Of course, Sunday’s victory does not come without questions. Campbell’s decision to go for a fourth down late in the game was questioned in the moment, and moreso when the Lions failed to convert.

Furthermore, the Lions are in line for another bevy of early-round draft picks. Goff may end up seeing the organization draft a quarterback with one of their two first-round selections next spring. And who knows what the future holds for the organization.

Yet Campbell, much like Sirianni a few weeks ago, has illustrated how outside perception might be flawed when it comes to inspiring a locker room. Campbell’s emotional honesty may, as we saw with the Eagles, actually been the glue that held a team together, rather than driving it apart, when the losses were piling up.

And not a kneecap was harmed in the process.