This season has been one for the books for the Detroit Lions, winning the NFC North for the first time since 1993. It is no coincidence that this success also correlates with replacing new coaching staff, the change from the previous head coach, Matt Patricia, to the Lion’s current head coach, Dan Campbell.
After the termination of Patricia’s employment following the 2020 Thanksgiving Day, fans hoped for a new coach to come and save this broken franchise. Many believed Robert Saleh, the current New York Jets head coach, was the answer. Fans were shocked and disappointed once Saleh signed a five-year deal with the 2-14 team, and was “stuck” with the assistant head coach of the New Orleans Saints, Dan Campbell. Fans have come to love Campbell’s fiery personality and desire to win. Campbell’s drive and determination are highly reminiscent of another extremely well-known NFL coach.
Vince Lombardi is the greatest coach to grace the NFL with his presence, changing the direction of the Green Bay Packers’ future, and leading them to success. Lombardi was supportive while also challenging and encouraging players to achieve their full potential, no matter what it took. In the current day NFL, Campbell mirrors values and practices similar to Lombardi’s, showing how much like Lombardi, Campbell will leave a strong legacy on the league. Here are three reasons why Campbell is strikingly similar to Lombardi as a coach.
Why Dan Campbell is the Next Vince Lombardi
1. Dan Campbell motivates his players to constantly be better.
Lombardi was known for his motivational nature, making it virtually impossible for players to not want to become better. Zeke Bratkowski spent several seasons as the backup quarterback for the Packers franchise.
In 2007, Bratkowski commented on Lombardi, saying,
“Great coach. Great teacher. Great Christian. Great man. Motivator. I think of the ideals and all the things he talked about. I think we didn’t realize it until after we were done playing and got to what we would do. I think it’s obvious because you see what the guys did with themselves after they left football. I would say 99 percent of them were highly successful at what they were doing. I think the principles he laid down for us got us that way. Didn’t realize it at the time, but now we do.”
Lombardi was much more than a couch to players, he was a mentor and a teacher, helping form these players into greater versions of themselves. Countless players recount Lombardi’s character in a similar nature, emphasizing the impact of his coaching and leadership on their lives during their football careers and beyond.
Similar to Lombardi, Campbell is known for his determination to create the best players and humans out of everyone who puts on the Honolulu blue jersey. Campbell constantly encourages his players to get stronger, be faster, and play harder and this has allowed them to grow into the players that they probably never thought was possible.
Last year, after the NFL season had ended, Aidan Hutchinson sat down and told CBS Sports that Campbell is “very authentic and genuine. That same intensity that you guys see on TV, that’s the same kind of intensity that he shows in-person every day in every team meeting”. Campbell takes his position as head coach very seriously, he owes it to his players to show up every day with the same energy. It is his job to motivate his players to win.
2. He was able to make something out of nothing.
When Lombardi began coaching the Green Bay Packers in 1959, he picked up where Ray McLean left off: a 1-10-1 record. Although challenging, Lombardi turned the unimpressive Packers franchise around, achieving a winning record every year he was head coach. Not only did his coaching lead to winning records, but also four NFL championships and two Super Bowls. Lombardi’s coaching made an optimal environment for the players to have the most success during their careers in Green Bay.
Campbell was left with a similar situation to clean up when he was hired as head coach in 2021. He needed to rebuild this team in order to turn around a historically unsuccessful franchise with a 3-13-1 record. Although Dan Campbell’s first season in Detroit was less than impressive, Campbell transformed the team atmosphere into something that made players want to go out on the field and win.
For the first time since 1993, Campbell won the Lions the NFC North title. Many Lions fans believed Campbell to be just another coach who would come and go without accomplishing anything substantial, but he proved those people wrong and showed his commitment to the greatness of the team.
3. Dan Campbell is an expert at motivational speeches
There is no question that a good coach is able to use his words effectively. Lombardi was able to use his words to inspire and foster an encouraging environment that would make players want to do better.
Lombardi’s words and speeches stayed with players throughout their time in Green Bay, their NFL career, and beyond. Lombardi took his role as a coach much further than many in the league. He saw his power position as an opportunity and duty to teach these young men that hard work is necessary in order to win. In Lombardi’s famous speech What it Takes to be Number One, Lombardi emphasizes that “there is something in good men that really yearns for discipline and the harsh reality of head-to-head combat”. That is exactly what Lombardi did to turn these players into good men, he used discipline.
Much like Lombardi, many players admire Campbell for the words he uses to motivate his players to do better. The Lions suffered from poor seasons and coaches who did not believe in their team since the beginning of time. Football fans got a taste of what Campbell was all about during his first press conference as head coach on January 21st, 2021:
“ So this team is going to be built on, we’re going to kick you in the teeth, right? And when you punch us back, we’re going to smile at you. And when you knock us down, we’re going to get up, and on the way up, we’re going to bite a kneecap off. All right?”.
These words signified something that the Lions had never really experienced, a coach who truly believed in the Lions and what they could achieve. Amon-Ra St. Brown comments on Campbell during his podcast, Brown Bros, adding, “His speeches are actually — I’m used to his speeches. They’re good. You think they’re OD (overdone), but I can’t imagine a different coach like, they’re probably not even close to as good as his are”.
Much like Lombardi’s words, Campbell’s speeches allowed the players to see his vision of what the Lions could be if they were willing to put in the work. And that is exactly what the Lions did, leading them to an extraordinary season.
To many, it is hard to believe that Dan Campbell could be compared to a legend like Lombardi. Yet, you would be a fool to deny the many similarities between the two highly respected coaches. Like Lombardi, Campbell came into Detroit with an open mind, not defining the Lions by their past failures, and put his blood, sweat, and tears into this team, in order for the Lions to be as successful as they are today.
If Campbell is able to continue growing this new franchise even stronger, his legacy, not only on the Lions but the NFL in general, will be remembered for years to come and he will be recognized as one of the greatest coaches of all time.
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