PHOENIX – Hall of Fame head coach Jimmy Johnson knows just how hard it is to take over a team down on their luck and turn it into a winner.
He took over a Dallas Cowboys team fresh off a 3-13 season in 1988. In Johnson's first season with the Cowboys in 1989 he won just one game, but he improved that mark to 7-9 in his second season. In his third season, Johnson led the Cowboys to an 11-5 record and a playoff berth, losing in the divisional round coincidentally to the Detroit Lions. Johnson would end up winning back-to-back Super Bowls the next two seasons.
Lions head coach Dan Campbell has had a similar start to his NFL coaching career in Detroit. He took over a 5-11 team from the 2020 season and in his first season was 3-13-1 as he implemented his schemes, systems and style of play. He improved that mark to 9-8 in Year 2 this past season, just barely missing the playoffs.
The expectation now is for Campbell is to compete for an NFC North title and at the very least be a playoff team in the NFC.
Asked about Campbell Tuesday at the Super Bowl, Johnson said he's impressed with the way Campbell has turned things around in Detroit. Not just from a wins and losses standpoint, but the identity he's building with this football team as well.
"I think Dan Campbell has been impressive because early with Dan you saw the team play extremely hard and they were a very physical team," Johnson told detroitlions.com. "In fact, I made the comment on FOX NFL Sunday, I said, 'Man, they play hard, they are well coached, but they don't win.' Well, all of the sudden that hard work and that effort started paying dividends and they started winning games."
After a disappointing 1-6 start, the Lions ended the season on an 8-2 streak and were one of the hottest teams in the NFL. Not many teams in the NFC playoffs likely wanted to see the Lions in a win-or-go-home game in the postseason the way they were playing.
"He's done a great job there," Johnson said of Campbell. "I'm very impressed with Dan Campbell."
Campbell said after the season he's proud of the way his team fought all year and the way they grew and welcomed the expectations that are coming for this team heading into his third season.
"I guess if anything, it just proves we're on the right track," Campbell said after the season. "I do think it can catapult you if you allow it to. If we just say it, and say the words, and don't put in the work that we did last year with the growth that has taken place, then we'll be average.
"But I believe in the team. I believe in the chemistry, the identity of this team, and the work they put in, and so I really do believe we're only going to grow and get better. Ultimately, that's what this was all about was eventually get into the tournament because once you get into the tournament, anything can happen."