Skip to main content

TWENTYMAN: How Campbell's career as a player will help him as a head coach

New Lions head coach Dan Campbell remembers the moment when he first thought coaching could be a good move for him after his NFL playing career.

It was the spring before his second NFL season with the New York Giants in 2000, and he had a buddy invite him to a football camp in Pennsylvania.

There was a tight end at the camp who had to line up against a more athletic linebacker in a 7-on-7 drill. Campbell said he watched over and over as the linebacker torched the tight end, not even allowing him to get off the line of scrimmage. Campbell walked over to teach the tight end a technique to win the battle.

"He did exactly what I told him and he crushed the kid," Campbell told "That kid was spun around. That's when I caught the bug. I mean, my gosh man, you just gave this kid who doesn't have all the tools and athletic ability and you just gave him something to work with and he had success. You should have seen the kid's face, that meant more than anything."

Campbell would play another nine seasons in the NFL before getting into coaching, first in Miami, and then the last five seasons with the New Orleans Saints as their assistant head coach and tight ends coach.

Campbell said his NFL playing days offer him a unique perspective on his newest job. He's been in the locker room. He's seen good coaching and bad coaching, and how it impacts the locker room. He said he'll never ask a player to do something he wouldn't do himself.

"If you said, what is my strength? My true strength is that I relate to people well," Campbell said. "I relate to those players well because I was in that locker room. Even more than that, I can call a spade a spade as an ex-player. I'm not afraid to tell you where you stand or what it looks like. But at the same time, I get it. If I'm asking you to do it, I've done it."

Former players who have played under Campbell in New Orleans have raved about him. Saints left tackle Terron Armstead was asked by ESPN about Campbell, and he said Campbell is the kind of coach you'd run through a brick wall for.

Campbell said it's always been his philosophy that if someone wants to get others moving in the same direction, he has to get to their heart first, and prove to them that it really means something to him. As a former player, Campbell put in the time, the tears and the sweat. He knows what it takes. He wants to have great communication from the coach-to-player level.

View photos of Coach Campbell's first day at the Detroit Lions Training Facility in Allen Park, Mich.

"You'd be shocked how many people have lost the art of just communication," Campbell said. "Confrontation, not in a bad way, I think that goes a long way. Look, you may not like what you hear, but you'll respect it, right? Everybody respects the truth.

"I may tell you something that you don't want to hear and you may just run out of the room and I won't see you for a day and you can't stand me and you'd just love to let me have it, but the next day you'll think about it and be like, 'Hey, that sucker told me the truth and that's all I can ask for."

Just like he did for that young tight end in the football camp in Pennsylvania more than 20 years ago, Campbell is all about helping players become the best they can be.

"Let's put our guys in the best position to have success," he said. "That's what I'm about."

Related Content