ALLEN PARK, Mich. – Dan Campbell’s epic press conference to open his tenure with the Detroit Lions lasted over an hour and went to places no one could have expected, from a spit-take about Don Muhlbach’s longevity with the franchise to references to ‘The Big Lebowski’ and biting kneecaps.
But beneath the humor and the one-liners and the bluster of Campbell’s very memorable debut in Detroit, there were many bits of real information the 44-year-old head coach was willing to share about the franchise, where he sees it going and what the future could be.
So while many will see the intensity and the passion -- both of those are clearly real and unquestionably could be helpful to galvanize a locker room that sorely needs it after Matt Patricia’s three poor years with the club -- Campbell did offer up some of what this team might look like.
1.The Matthew Stafford question remains an open one: Both general manager Brad Holmes and Campbell praised Stafford this week, but both also essentially gave versions of ‘we’re looking at the whole roster,’ when asked about their future plans about the quarterback or the No. 7 overall pick this spring.
“We’ve had discussions but here’s what I’d say about Matthew,” Campbell said. “He’s a stud. He’s one of the toughest quarterbacks you’ll ever see. Extremely talented. I know he’s a team guy and I know he wants to win. So I’ll leave it at that. That’s what I do know.”
Holmes essentially said the same thing Tuesday -- and then said he had to look at the roster. Campbell did acknowledge “there’s a million avenues that you could go with the quarterback talk,” before saying it’s too early to get into it.
But unlike past years and past regime changes, it feels clear like there at least will be a conversation about Stafford’s long-term viability with the Lions. And based on the way Stafford spoke at the end of the season, those are probably conversations he would have opinions about as well.
Campbell did acknowledge the NFL “is a passing league right now,” and that a strong quarterback boosts the odds of success. No matter what, Stafford’s situation will be one to watch.
2.So what’s Campbell’s style? There’s no question about his passion. You got that from him about 14 seconds into his presser. But how he handles the offense and the defense -- and the hires he makes there -- are going to be critical.
Aaron Glenn, the former Jets cornerback and New Orleans secondary coach, is coming over as the defensive coordinator. That’s one hire down -- and a potential good one at that. Glenn is viewed very highly around the NFL and has potential as a future head coach. Offensive coordinator and the majority of position coaches should come together in the next few weeks but this is his style:
“We’re going to run a system that puts our best on your worst,” Campbell said. “That’s what we’re going to do because that’s what we did in New Orleans. We’re going to find a way to put our guys in one-one-one matchups, whether it’s run or pass. If you’re telling me that our left tackle is better than their right end, and we can run outside zone all day -- we’re going to run outside zone, as long as we cut off the back side. Why not? If we can exploit a weakness, we’re going to do it.”
Every coach is going to try to do something like that, but Campbell acknowledged the flexibility he wants his coordinators to work within. Specifically, Campbell said “I’m not a system guy,” but rather he’s going to trust his coordinators to run their systems and put players in the best position to be successful and play to their strengths.
3. The goal is harmony: That at least is what it sounds like between Holmes and Campbell -- although time will be the true arbiter here of how successful Detroit’s attempt at a collaborative approach for making 53-man roster decisions is going to truly work.
Campbell acknowledged he and Holmes won’t always agree -- the two haven’t delved deep into the current roster yet, let alone the future -- but they’ll have similar visions. That much was clear to Campbell. And Holmes told Campbell his goal is to make sure he gets him the players he’s searching for.
“That’s exactly what this is about -- the collaboration. So as a head coach everything has been about, ‘Coach, what do you need? What do you need? How can I help you,’"Campbell said. “And I told Brad, ‘Brad, what can I do for you? Tell me how I can help you? Can I get you something that’s going to help you do your job well?’ I’ve already said it, I don’t want to make a move without him knowing about it. We’re going to be on the same page. We’re in this thing together.”
4. The roster reality: Holmes might not want to use the word rebuild, but the amount of change that will likely have to come on the defense is clear. Holmes mentioned it during his first presser. So did Campbell. Both men were transparent about that.
“There’s probably more pieces offensively than defensively that super fire me up, but that’s tentatively kind of how I feel,” Campbell said. “I’m going to go through it, but I also know this; there’s always the ability to hit on a good draft and sign a few free agents that you feel believe the same way that you do as a program and come from winning programs, and they fit a role, they fit a piece."
They'll likely start with a decision on Stafford, but Detroit has holes in every portion of its defense, many questions at receiver and some smaller issues on the offensive line and at running back.
So it’s not going to be an easy job for either man, especially if they are trying to be competitive in 2021.
5.This is a different deal in Detroit: The Lions have been mediocre at best for most of the last six decades. That’s likely longer than most of the people reading this have been alive or at least can have memories of. So yes, Campbell came off unconventional in his first meeting publicly. Talking about biting kneecaps is something that will be remembered.
But maybe this is what Detroit needs, a completely out-of-the-box, comfortable-in-who-I-am, tell-it-like-he-sees-it coach because so much else has just not worked. Pair him with a forward-thinking general manager -- and Holmes appears to be that -- and it’s at least the Lions trying something new, which is more than they’ve done for so long.
Campbell is transparent and refreshing. He spoke openly about wanting to hire Glenn, told a great story about how he learned to not judge somebody on preconceived notions in a story about Terry Glenn and answered a difficult question about comments he made about homosexuality as a student at Texas A&M with contrition and another apology, more than 20 years later.
Will this work out? One press conference won’t tell you that. One hire won’t, either. This is going to be a long-term play. But considering Detroit’s last regime, it’s clear there’s a difference with the Lions whether it leads to success or not.
“He really understands the city,” Hamp said. “He understands our fans, he’s going to understand you guys and all the things we’ve been through and he’s determined to bring us all a winner and a new pride for Detroit.”