With the New Orleans Saints’ elimination from the playoffs on Sunday night, the door is now open for the Detroit Lions, who are expected to make Saints assistant head coach/tight ends coach Dan Campbell their new head coach, sources told ESPN’s Adam Schefter.
Though the deal has not been finalized yet, there aren’t expected to be any more obstacles to Detroit’s hiring of Campbell, sources told Schefter.
The Lions’ new head coaching hire comes after another disappointing season under Matt Patricia saw the team start a decent 4-5, only to lose their next two contests by a combined score of 61-25, the second of which was a 41-25 loss on Thanksgiving Day that ownership could not abide, resulting in the dismissals of Patricia as well as general manager Bob Quinn.
Wide receivers coach Robert Prince stepped in as the temporary head coach for the week after Patricia was canned before offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell took over as the interim head coach for the rest of the season, during which the Lions finished last in the NFC North with a 5-11 record. Bevell wasn’t expected to be the long-term answer at head coach, however, and the veteran OC may leave the team during this offseason.
The Lions had an ugly season in 2020, to put it mildly. The Motor City allowed more yards (419.8 per game) and points (32.4 per game) than any other team in the NFL, even the one-win Jacksonville Jaguars.
They fared only slightly better on offense, where they were without their top wideout, Kenny Golladay, for most of the season, a fact that was exacerbated by Detroit’s 30th-ranked rushing attack (93.7 yards per game) whose personnel was bungled so often that it surely made more than a few Lions fans sprout a gray hair or two. They also allowed the 10th-most sacks (42) while posting the seventh-fewest QB takedowns of their own (24).
The 44-year-old Clifton, Texas native is a bit green and has never been a coordinator in the league, but he at least has more NFL coaching experience (11 years) than Brandon Staley (4 years), to whom the Los Angeles Chargers entrusted their franchise to on Sunday.
Campbell has been around the league for two decades: he was a third round pick in the 1999 NFL Draft and went on to play 11 seasons in the league, including three with the Lions, one of which was the dubious 0-16 2008 season, before finishing his playing career off on injured reserve but with a Super Bowl ring courtesy of the 2009 New Orleans Saints.
The very next year Campbell went right into coaching as an intern with the Miami Dolphins. He served as the tight ends coach in South Beach for four years before getting his call up in 2015 when head coach Joe Philbin was sacked midway through the season and Campbell was asked to step in on an interim basis.
The Dolphins went 5-7 under Campbell to finish off that season, but when the franchise decided to go with Adam Gase (who’s been one of the worst coaches the NFL has seen over the past couple of decades) as their long-term head coach, Campbell jumped ship and headed to the Bayou. There, he has learned for five years under Sean Payton, waiting for the time he would get his chance at a top job again.
Detroit decided to give the Texas A&M alumnus that chance not because they thought he could be a play-calling whiz or an X’s and O’s maestro, but because they see him as a leader of men, capable of unifying a locker room that has been torn asunder more than a few times over the past several seasons.
Campbell will be looking to turn the tides and make the Lions the well-respected team they haven’t been since Barry Sanders was scampering around the Silverdome while leading them to their last playoff win in 1991 and their last division title in 1993.
In fact, the Green Bay Packers—who are +220 odds favorites (Betway) to win this year’s Super Bowl—have won Detroit’s division in seven of the last ten years thanks to a guy named Aaron Rodgers. It’s going to be an uphill for Campbell and company to dethrone those Cheeseheads.
Right away Campbell and new general manager Brad Holmes will have several big decisions to make. These will include whether or not to bring back Golladay, who has shown a very high ceiling when he’s stayed on the field, what to do with longtime quarterback Matt Stafford, whose contract expires in 2022, and which position of need (there are a lot, the offensive and defensive lines among the most pressing) they will try to fill with the seventh overall pick in the draft.
It’s not pretty, but Campbell got his wish and he’s going to be an NFL head coach—for real this time. All we can say is, be careful what you wish for.