Detroit Lions head coach Dan Campbell got attention during his introductory press conference, as he talked about "biting knee caps." That was just the first of what has been plenty of memorable quotes from him, now into his third season. But it was also easy for some people to see him as a cliche' after that introductory press conference, and not a capable football coach.
After a tough loss to the Minnesota Vikings in Week 5 of the 2021 season, Campbell cried at the postgame podium as he praised the effort of his players and showed how much it hurt him they fell short that day. The wins didn't come in bunches that first year, on the way to a 3-13-1 record, but it's safe to say a foundation was laid.
Before last Monday night's game against the Las Vegas Raiders, Campbell's interview with Michelle Beisner-Buck aired on "Monday Night Countdown". Beisner-Buck recounted the Lions playing on Monday night against the Green Bay Packers early in Campbell's first season, and how far the team has come since.
Dan Campbell gets emotional recalling players on 2021 Lions team
Beisner-Buck asked Campbell if he could recall the word he would have used to described his team then, and if he would still would use that word now-"Gritty."
"We’re the same, gritty team, we’re just more talented,” Campbell said. “That’s what I would say, because the core of that (previous) group, man, you talk about a bunch of dudes that were just going to battle. We didn’t quite have the horses we’ve got now, but those guys, talk about laying it on the line and going toe-to-toe with anybody and willing to fight to the end. I’ll never forget those guys.”
As he begins to well up with tears, Campbell continued.
"I just... I appreciate guys that lay it on the line,” Campbell said. “Maybe you’re outnumbered, maybe you’re not the most talented and maybe the odds are against you and nobody believes in you, and I respect the hell out of those guys that’ll fight. That’s what we’re about. That’s what we’re about, man. That’s how we roll here.”
Campbell played 10 seasons as an NFL tight end, but he was not a star. He was the guy who had to battle for his roster spot every year in training camp, and had to earn it every week after. That gives him an appreciation for players who "lay it on the line" like he described.
"That was me. I didn’t have talent,” Campbell said. “I mean, I had enough talent to play in the league. I was fortunate to get a number of years. But ultimately I just wanted to please my coaches, I wanted to please my teammates. Man, I didn’t ever want a teammate to look at me and say, ‘Man, that guy, he isn’t doing anything for us. He doesn’t finish plays, he’s not accountable.’ I took that stuff personal.”
There's plenty of evidence of the kind of man and coach Campbell is, unique among his peers. The ESPN interview before this past Monday night's game is just the freshest piece of said evidence.