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NFL

Dan Campbell Isn’t Here To Do Fancy Things Like “Call Plays”

at Sun Life Stadium on October 25, 2015 in Miami Gardens, Florida.
Chris Trotman/Getty Images

The Lions have tapped Dan Campbell, aka Man Campbell, aka Slab Bulkhead, aka The Neck, to be their next head coach. This would qualify as the Lionsiest move in recent memory were it not for them getting turned down by a local boy who’d rather take a job with the Jets, and were it not for them leaking—or at least not doing anything to squelch the rumor—that Robert Saleh bombed his interview, thus explaining why they’re hiring a guy who wasn’t considered a future head coach by any other franchise.

But perhaps Campbell’s record explains why Detroit couldn’t pass up this opportunity to get their man. Let’s take a look… I see he “has never been a coordinator at any level.” And is “without experience calling plays on either side of the ball.” And is “known for his ability to motivate more than his schematic prowess.” And went 5-7 as the Dolphins’ interim head coach. And has spent the last few years as a tight ends coach in New Orleans, where the tight end play has been pedestrian since he took over.

Oh, but here’s some high praise for Campbell!

“The big thing about him is Dan’s a tough guy now. Dan doesn’t take any bullshit and Dan is a guy that when he practices, he practiced how he played.”

That character reference comes from, ah—Gregg Williams, noted character guy.

Look, maybe this works. Given the franchise history here, and given that front offices are endlessly enamored with lantern-jawed steakheads and other coaching archetypes whose ability to look the part outstrips their actual aptitude, I wouldn’t put a lot of money on it. But at least the organization is explicit about what they’re trying to accomplish with Campbell’s hiring and clear-eyed about what he can and cannot bring. He’s not an X’s and O’s guy, and he will not call plays, and he won’t be expected to. He is instead in Detroit to be, more or less, a motivational speaker, a guy who hopefully can get Lions players to work hard and build a united and inspired locker room. The value of this to a successful team shouldn’t be underrated, and a pro football team is a large enough operation that having a head coach serve mostly as a figurehead can conceivably work, as long as he brings in the right coaching staff. It’s rare that an organization has been so up-front about such a nontraditional hiring strategy, but it’s not as if anything else has worked for the Lions over the last 63 years.

Also in Campbell’s favor is how low the bar has been set. He’d have to do a lot to do worse than Matt Patricia. But give him time—the Lions sure will, with a six-year contract! For a guy who hadn’t interviewed anywhere else! That’s the art of Detroit Lions negotiation, baby.