The Detroit Lions long ago made the decision to bring back head coach Dan Campbell for a second season despite a 3-13-1 his first year as Lions coach.
If I were at the table and given a vote, I’d agree with bringing him back. I did not always feel that way. Even though he motivated his team beyond belief, Campbell was flirting with the first 0-17 season in NFL history. And he was making foolish late-game mistakes as his on-the job training continued.
At that point, I believed the team needed to explore whether it wanted to bring him back or not. If he had finished 0-17, it meant he could not figure out once how to bring this team across the finish line.
No matter how little talent you have in the NFL, that is inexcusable.
However, Campbell did something magical this season. As the losses mounted he kept this team together. Actually, he did more than that. Players swear by him. My guess is if the Lions fired Campbell, the organization would face a mutiny that would be hard to overcome.
He figured out a way to win three games and earn a draw in a fourth. It is nothing to celebrate, but you can at least see building blocks for the future. And that is what this season was all about. It was about building a foundation and changing a culture that had acted like an anchor to prevent this team from soaring.
Did you see the victory celebration after the Lions dispatched the top-seeded Green Bay Packers Sunday at Ford Field? Players were happy for their coach. They played hard for him. This was neither fake nor contrived.
“We’re going places,” Campbell told his team.
Let’s hope he’s right.
Campbell was a disaster when he took over offensive play calling from former Offensive Coordinator Anthony Lynn. But he got better and more imaginative. Campbell put in new wrinkles and devised new trick plays that often invigorate a dressing room.
When the Lions lose at the rate they do, you must give players more than rah-rah speeches to keep them engaged. Players are like children. They want toys. Their toys are flea flickers, ends throwing passes, fake punts and onside kicks. Once Campbell showed he was all in and believed in these players, the Lions became a better team.
That’s why he was given another shot – and deserved it.