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O'HARA: Campbell's passion for football is authentic

Dan Campbell has given some thought to the message he wants to deliver to his players in his first meeting as the new head coach of the Detroit Lions.

He won't have to think long. What he'll have to say mirrors the approach he took to football playing tight end for 10 NFL seasons, and he has taken that approach as an assistant coach since retiring as a player.

There won't be any doubt about the kind of team Campbell wants to build. He'll preach toughness and resiliency.

"I just want these guys to be fighters," said Campbell, who had an introductory Zoom press conference Thursday.

"We know they're going to get knocked down. We all are. But how fast can you get up? Are you going to take a hunk out of somebody on the way up?

"That's what I want."

Yes, it's what he wants – and many times over.

"When you're up on your feet, it ought to take you two more times to get knocked down," Campbell said, continuing to paint a picture of the type of team he wants to build.

"And when you're up on your feet, it ought to take two more times to get knocked down. It's going to take twice the shots to get knocked down again. And when you get up, you need to take a hunk of something else on the way up.

"And pretty soon, it's going to take three shots to get you knocked down. And before you know it, you're the last man standing because you're the most resilient, and you're the toughest.

"That's probably the message I want to send to these players."

Campbell spoke for nearly an hour in what was one of the most unusual introductory press conferences in Lions history. What came through clearly was that the passion for football that he was known for as a player and assistant coach is authentic.

Campbell spent his last three seasons with the Lions (2006-08). He went to training camp with the Saints for an 11th season, but an injury in camp ended his playing career.

He moved directly to coaching in 2010 as an assistant with the Miami Dolphins. He spent six seasons with the Dolphins – starting as an intern in 2010 and climbing the ranks to finish as interim head coach for 12 games in 2015.

He was an assistant to Saints head coach Sean Payton and tight ends coach for six seasons in New Orleans.

Campbell was known as a tough, popular player throughout his career, and those qualities carried over to his coaching career. He played the first four seasons with the Giants and followed that with three each with the Cowboys and Lions.

The first seed of a desire to coach was planted when Campbell attended an offseason football camp for young teens with a teammate before his second season with the Giants.

In a one-on-one drill, Campbell saw a young tight end getting overpowered by a superior athlete and stepped in to teach him a technique to win their battle.

"He crushed the kid," Campbell said, describing the play as if he had just gone through the drill on the Lions' practice field at Allen Park. "That's when I caught the bug. You should have seen the kid's face. It meant more than anything I did."

Campbell has a strong belief in accountability. It was reinforced in the three seasons he spent with the Cowboys under Hall of Fame head coach Bill Parcells.

Parcells, best known for his tenure with the Giants where he won two Super Bowls, was not one to accept excuses or let bad behavior go unnoticed.

There was accountability for violating team rules.

"It's everything," Campbell said. "This is where Bill Parcells did very well, and this is what Sean Payton does very well. When you do something that is not acceptable, you're called out for it.

"You'll be singled out. You'll talk to the head coach, one way or another. When you have a problem, you have to face it head on. You have to look a man in the eye and let him know where you stand.

"You'd be shocked how many people have lost the valuable art of communication. You may not like to hear it, but you have to respect it."

Campbell said he enjoyed his stay in Detroit as a player and respected what the city represented. When GM Bob Quinn and head coach Matt Patricia were fired after the lopsided Thanksgiving Day loss to the Houston Texans, he acted quickly to make known his interest in pursuing the job.

"This is a place to me that I circled as one of those special places," he said. "This is a special place to play. This is a place where we're all dying for a winner here.

"There is a grit to this city. That, to me, is something I want to embrace – to become part of what the city is.

"Let's get this thing on its feet."

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