Detroit Lions head coach Dan Campbell speaks to the media during the NFL annual league meetings at the JW Marriott.

Dan Campbell’s Road to Success

Throughout the past three seasons, the Detroit Lions fan base and the football world have greatly admired Detroit Lions head coach Dan Campbell. Not only has Campbell turned this impoverished franchise into a team that was only four points away from appearing in a Super Bowl for the first time in franchise history, but Campbell exemplifies what it means to be a coach. Campbell embodies the fiery spirit that pushes players to do better; he plays unpredictably, often choosing to attempt a conversion versus kicking the field goal. Many people know who Campbell is, but do they know how he got to where he is today? Here are four things you need to know about Campbell’s life leading up to his coaching job with the Detroit Lions.

Dan Campbell’s Road to Success


1. Campbell’s fiery attitude was evident from birth.


Born in Glen Rose, Texas, Campbell, or “Boone,” was highly accomplished in athletics. Campbell was a three-sport athlete, participating in his high school football, basketball, and track team. Campbell’s mother, Betty, stated, “whatever (Dan) played, it was intense. Passionate. You knew he was gonna be a leader… had that personality”.

Not only did Campbell’s mother comment on his passion and drive in athletics, but so did Richard Dye, Campbell’s assistant coach for all three sports he participated in. Dye recalls Campbell as “a joy to coach” and that he “never coached anybody like that in my life.” These accounts of Campbell’s early years show how genuine Campbell’s intentions as a coach have been since his adolescent years.


2. Dan Campbell took his talents to Texas A&M


After Campbell’s High School football career, he stayed close to home and accepted an athletic scholarship from Texas A&M. The 6’5 and 265-pound freshman serves as the tight end for the Aggies. Campbell did not begin his college football career until his sophomore year in 1996. Campbell secured 103 yards receiving, averaging 12.9 yards per carry. During his junior year, Campbell split time with Derrick Spiller, ending the season with 143 yards, averaging 11.9 yards per carry and two touchdowns. During Campbell’s final season as an Aggie, his stats were far less impressive than years past, totaling 68 yards receiving, averaging 9.7 yards per carry and one touchdown. After Campbell’s senior season, he declared for the 1999 NFL Draft.


3. Campbell had a less-than-stable NFL career


Campbell was selected by the New York Giants 79th overall in the 1999 NFL Draft. During Campbell’s Rookie season with the Giants in 2000, he appeared in only four games. Yet, during this season, Campbell appeared in Super Bowl XXXV, where the Giants would ultimately lose to the Baltimore Ravens 7-34. Beginning in 2001, Campbell replaced Howard Cross as the starting tight end and was utilized as a blocking tight end.

During Campbell’s career with the Giants, he totaled 369 yards and five touchdowns. Yet after Campbell’s contract with the Giants ended, he parted ways with the team, deciding to play much closer to home.

After football legend Bill Parcells announced his position as head coach with the Dallas Cowboys, Campbell quickly signed a contract with his hometown team. Although Campbell was not the team’s number one TE, he was still an important mentor, contributing to the team’s positive culture. The beginning of Campbell’s Career in Dallas started as successful, ending the season with 195 yards, averaging 9.8 yards per carry and totaling one touchdown.

However, Campbell’s development did not follow an upward curve when he tore ligaments in his foot, leading him to appear only in three games. In his final season with the Cowboys, he started rocky, recovering from an appendectomy on July 27. However, as we know Campbell’s fighting nature, he took no time to heal, only missing ten days of practice and starting in all four preseason games shortly after. Campbell’s stats were far less impressive in his final season, as Campbell still split time with James Witten. He ended his career with Dallas totaling 24 yards receiving, averaging 8 yards per carry and one touchdown.

Campbell did spend three seasons playing for the team he currently coaches, the Detroit Lions. On March 14, 2006, Campbell was signed as a free agent, filling the role of blocking tight end for the Michigan team. During his first year, he recorded one of the best seasons of his NFL career, totaling 308 yards and 14.7 yards per carry, and ended his season with four touchdowns. Although Campbell did spend two more seasons with the Lions, he only appeared in 3 games due to an elbow injury in 2007 and a hamstring injury in 2008

Campbell signed as a free agent in February of 2009 with the New Orleans Saints. Yet Campbell’s dream of having a successful final season ended not much before the season began as he was placed on injury reserve in August of 2009 due to an MCL injury. In 2010, the 13-3 Saints were in Superbowl XLIV against the 14-2 Indiana Colts. By the end of the Game, the Saints came out triumphant. Although Campbell was technically part of the team, he never received an SB ring due to his absence that season.


4. Campbell had an abundance of coaching experience before the Lions


After 11 seasons in the NFL, Campbell decided to retire and focus on coaching. In 2010, he was hired as a coaching intern with the Miami Dolphins. During that season, he learned under Joe Philbin’s tutelage. In 2011, Campbell was awarded the position of tight end coach. He coached stars like Anthony Fasano, who ended the 2011 season with five touchdowns and 32 catches for 451 yards. In 2015, Campbell was named interim head coach of the team after the previous coach, Philibin, was fired in early October due to chemistry issues between him and his players. By the end of the season, Campbell found his team at the bottom of the AFC East, only winning six games the entire season.

Although Campbell did not return to Miami the following season, another great opportunity arose in New Orleans. In January 2016, Campbell was hired as assistant head coach of the New Orleans Saints, his previous team. Campbell was allowed to work under seasoned coach Sean Payton. Together, the pair led the Saints to a 7-9 season, third in the NFC South.
Dan Campbell spent the next three seasons with the Saints, leading them to an 11-5 record in 2017, 13-3 in 2018 and 2019, and 12-4 in 2020.

Although Campbell found himself as an integral part of the success of the New Orleans Saints, he decided he wanted something more. After Campbell’s final season with the Saints, he found himself in the race for the head coaching job with the Detroit Lions. Campbell competed with coaches such as Arthur Smith, Pat Fitzgerald, Marvin Lewis, and Robert Saleh. Although many believed Campbell to be the weaker end of the Lion’s options, Campbell came out victorious, being named the new head coach of the Detroit Lions.

It is evident from Campbell’s life that although he suffered from injuries or failure during his early coaching years, that fiery spirit that was evident since Campbell was a young boy never ceased to exist. Campbell’s seasoned experience as both an NFL player and coach is the reason Campbell is the coach he is today. He can adapt to new situations and develop creative plays, even during stressful situations, and he never gives up. He doesn’t give up on his players, pushing them to achieve greatness on and off the field.

Main Image: © Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports

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