Dan Campbell is a throwback who is making progress as Lions head coach

Dec 5, 2021; Detroit, Michigan, USA; Detroit Lions head coach Dan Campbell looks on during the second quarter against the Minnesota Vikings at Ford Field. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 5, 2021; Detroit, Michigan, USA; Detroit Lions head coach Dan Campbell looks on during the second quarter against the Minnesota Vikings at Ford Field. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports /

The Detroit Lions are making progress down the home stretch and much of that can be attributed to their throwback head coach, Dan Campbell.

The NFL lost one of the greatest names in league history this week. John Madden, the Hall of Fame coach, broadcaster, and the man behind EA Sports’ Madden Football has passed away. The majority of people who work in or contribute to the league have been inspired by him.

Madden was a throwback who aged better than fine wine, and was never surpassed by the game. Unless you’re of a certain age you cannot truly appreciate all three facets of his contributions.

Since Madden left the sidelines the game has changed. Offenses have become more and more innovative, and defenses have become increasingly more dynamic.

Here in Detroit, the Lions don’t have a legend. But they do have head coach Dan Campbell, who is a throwback in his own right.

As a player, Campbell was influenced by Bill Parcells. It formulated his philosophy of physicality and running the ball. After his playing days and a short stint in Miami where he did gain some experience as their interim head coach, Campbell landed in New Orleans.

It was there that Saints head coach Sean Payton taught Campbell about offenses taking flight. About how important the diversity of slicing up opposing secondaries is to the ground game and creating uncertainty in opposing defenses.

Campbell and the Lions have spent the better part of this season losing games and looking lost. Yet, Campbell has not swayed in his beliefs or philosophy.

The irony is that the change for the better which has occurred over the last six weeks started with Campbell taking over the play-calling duties from offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn. It was a rough transition, as Campbell has never called plays before, however, the entire team started to raise its level of play.

Dan Campbell is making progress in first season as Lions coach

The Lions are 2-4-1 with Campbell calling the plays. One of the biggest changes that has occurred has been with Jared Goff. Over his last four games, before sitting out Week 16 on the COVID list, he was among the league’s highest-rated passers.

Is Goff the long-term answer? Most fans don’t believe so.  But if he can continue to play at the level he has lately, then he should at least not be a liability until the Lions acquire their passer of the future.

The turnaround hasn’t been all about Campbell. Aaron Glenn has done wonders with a defense that has resembled a M.A.S.H unit. The special teams guided by Dave Fipp have been good all year. But how hard the Lions play reflects back to Campbell.

The one comparison we can make between Campbell and Madden is that the players love Campbell, just like the Raiders of yore loved Madden.

Even when the Lions have made costly mistakes and shot themselves in the foot repeatedly, they have never quit. Campbell is changing the sour culture Matt Patricia left behind, and quite frankly has been commonplace for this franchise for 60 years.

Madden had only three rules and one would suppose that Campbell’s rule book is similar: be on time, pay attention, and play like hell when told to.

The Detroit Lions will need to find much more talent and a new offensive coordinator to take over the reins of calling plays before this team has a chance to be legitimately good. Campbell’s greatest strength is being a leader and motivating his players. He needs to be completely free to do just that.

When the dust finally settles on the Campbell era, whether it be in two years or 10, only then will we truly know if he was able to succeed in turning the Lions into champions. But he’ll do the “old school” way in many respects, for better or worse.