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Dan Campbell and Detroit misunderstood by national media

Unless you’re living under a rock, you probably know by now that Dan Campbell is the new head coach of the Detroit Lions.

The Lions organization introduced Campbell yesterday morning, and since then, the buzz surrounding the hire increased significantly.

Why?

Well, for starters, it has something to do with “kneecaps.”

Campbell’s intensity, passion, and realism in a nearly hour-long press conference garnered mostly positive views because he spoke with that “Detroit-vs-Everybody” bravado. The way he talked about how his players would perform in a violent nature is the type of “tough talk” that works in Detroit. 

There is proof that a coach/team taking on Detroit’s identity is a recipe for success.

The most successful Detroit’s sports teams have a history of being tough. Dan Campbell is trying to bring that culture to the Lions. There is proof that it works with several of the championship teams.

The Detroit Red Wings have the most Stanley Cups (11) of any U.S.-based hockey team in the NHL. Along with that, they are third overall in Stanley Cups in general. Outside of having one of the greatest hockey rosters ever assembled (2002 Red Wings team), they had the identity of a team that was tough as nails. How quickly some forget that the Red Wings and the Colorado Avalanche had “on-sight” beef. While the rest of the world may have a dose of amnesia, Detroiters STILL reference that beatdown Darren McCarty gave Claude Lemieux.

This epic scrap happened nearly 24 years ago, and guys are still sharing beers over McCarty turning Lemieux into a turtle. 

How about the championship Detroit Pistons’ teams?

When anyone thinks of the Pistons’ good fortune, they’ll reference the “Bad Boys” era, who won back-to-back titles (1989 and 1990), or they’ll speak on the “Goin’ To Work” phase, who won one championship (2004) and went to six straight conference finals. 

The “Bad Boys” era saw Bill Laimbeer and Rick Mahorn making their best impression of Arn Anderson & Tully Blanchard. They were slinging opposing players into crowds and probably laying them out with clotheslines. Hell, Michael Jordan himself said the Pistons made him tough. Then the “Goin To Work” Pistons were simply tough-nosed, played stingy defense, and demonstrated hard work. They embodied a blue-collar work ethic. Both renditions of those teams were just like the city of Detroit. They were resilient, didn’t take any crap, and were blue-collar all the way around.

The similarities between the Red Wings and the Pistons don’t stop there either. They had coaches like Scotty Bowman (Red Wings), Chuck Daly (Pistons), and Larry Brown (Pistons) who didn’t take any crap. These coaches were tough as nails, direct, and hard on their players. Along with that, they took on Detroit’s identity as well.

Heck, even former Detroit Tigers manager Jim Leyland did to a degree. Like what coach openly tells his last-place team how trash they are, and the comment propels them to the World Series in the same season (2006)?

That is what he was trying to do. He aims to build a culture that the Lions have lacked.

There is a method to the madness behind this concept. And Campbell was hip to it.

Dan Campbell knew what he was doing when he took on the city mantra Thursday morning at his press conference.

Detroit Lions Head Coach Dan Campbell’s First Day at Allen Park. (Detroit Lions via AP).

The only thing missing from Campbell’s presser was a fireworks display and Jim Ross welcoming you to Monday Night Raw.

When Campbell was standing at the Lions’ podium Thursday, he had that intensity of a pro wrestler cutting a promo on his opponents. 

However, the national media didn’t see it that way. 

On sports talk shows like ESPN’s First Take and FS1’s Undisputed, their criticism of the Campbell hire was unfair, unjust, and lacked context. 

First, there are Shannon Sharpe’s comments on Undisputed this morning about the lack of coaching opportunities for Black men in the NFL. Sharpe states that Black men have to walk, talk, and act a certain way to get the NFL head coach openings available. Additionally, he discussed how Black coaches usually have to be coordinators, not position coaches, before becoming head coaches.

And quite frankly, he’s right. Well, partially anyway.

The NFL has over 70% Black players, yet less than 20% of its coaches are Black. It’s an alarming discrepancy that the NFL needs to address this offseason. 

Sharpe’s criticism of the Campbell hire didn’t stop there either. 

He also said that if Campbell were a Black man who had the same type of introductory speech, the citizens would’ve run him out of town. That’s also another factual statement. If Campbell were Black and had that same speech, he would’ve gotten the ringer in any other city.

Detroit is not any other city.

For as spot-on as Sharpe was in the bigger picture, he missed the Princess Boat in the Detroit picture.

Let’s examine the press conference first.

If Dan Campbell were Black and had the same press conference in DETROIT, he would’ve garnered the same praise and adoration because Detroiters love nothing more than a guy who wants to be here and is willing to go through the trenches. If the Lions hired Eric Bieniemy, a fan-favorite for the job, he would’ve had a statue built on Woodward just like they are probably creating Campbell’s right now for the same speech.

Then there’s the comment about Black men as position coaches not getting those type of opportunities. 

The stats mentioned above are real. Black coaches are not getting the looks in general, but there are several times were Black position coaches had received the nod that Sharpe said they are not getting.

Herm Edwards was the defensive backs coach/assistant head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers before becoming the head coach of the New York Jets and then the Kansas City Chiefs. Another example is Brian Flores, head coach of the Miami Dolphins. He went from linebackers coach of the New England Patriots to the Dolphins’ coach without needing to be a coordinator first. There’s also Anthony Lynn to a lesser degree. 

Lynn held was the assistant head coach/running backs coach for the Buffalo Bills from 2015-2016. At the start of the 2016 season, he became the offensive coordinator for most of that season. He eventually assumed the interim head coach role for one game after the Bills fired then-head coach Rex Ryan. The Bills went 7-9 that season and Lynn lost his lone game as interim head coach.

He then left the Bills to become the head coach for the Los Angeles Chargers. 

Sharpe went to town on the hire based on this when Campbell himself was a position coach and an assistant head coach just like Edwards and Lynn. 

What makes Campbell’s status as an assistant head coach and position coach any different? 

Again, Sharpe is right in the bigger picture regarding the diversity hiring practices, just not the Detroit picture of things. 

His point also loses steam when the Lions just hired a Black general manager in Brad Holmes several days prior, who had an introductory speech that was just as passionate (yet different) than Campbell’s.

While Sharpe missed the boat on Campbell, First Take wasn’t even at the same loading dock.

ESPN’s First Take discussed the Campbell introductory press conference as well. While Shannon Sharpe is usually consistent in his analysis, Stephen A. Smith was very off. 

When discussing the Campbell hire, Smith took issues with Campbell’s speech but not for the same reasons as Sharpe.

Smith spoke on Dan Campbell’s record as a player with the Detroit Lions. He felt Campbell should have exercised more professionalism since he was a part of the horrible Lions roster from 2006-2008, specifically bringing up him being a member of the 0-16 team.

The fact that Smith brought up that point is interesting for several reasons. For one, Dan Campbell being a player on the 0-16 Lions’ team has absolutely nothing to do with his coaching. In addition to that, I am not so sure that Smith (nor Sharpe, for that matter) watched the entire press conference. If they did, they would’ve heard Campbell address that notion.

Campbell said he suffered an injury in Week One versus the Atlanta Falcons. The Lions placed him on injured reserve for the rest of the season. He wasn’t even around the team during all of the misery. Campbell said he was back at home with his family in Texas. So it’s not out of bounds to ask how much of the presser did Smith watch. Why would Smith say the whole press conference was bizarre then speak on Campbell’s involvement with the 0-16 team?

Smith also challenged Campbell’s qualifications to be the Lions head coach.

The irony is he challenge the Joe Judge hiring the same way. Judge became the New York Giants head coach this past season and he faced tons of criticism. That all changed by the end of the season.

By then, Smith was singing his praises and applauding the Giants for hiring the right person for the job.

And again, here comes the irony. He was singing the praises of Joe Judge during a discussion on former Lions head coach Matt Patricia.

Smith and his co-host Max Kellerman went back and forth on the Campbell. They were taking turns on why Detroiters should be worried. In the whole conversation, the lone voice of reason was moderator Molly Querim. 

Querim is the wife of former NBA-player and native Detroit Jalen Rose. She played devil’s advocate in the discussion. She stated that Campbell was trying to embody the spirit of Detroit, and then some. 

And to make it the kool-aid she was serving a little sweeter, she was wearing a Honolulu blue blouse and skirt while doing it.

Dan Campbell could be a total failure as the head coach of the Detroit Lions. He could be a trainwreck from the first week of action. 

Or he could be everything the Detroit ever asked for in a coach, ending the franchise’s ineptitude.

Regardless of what the future holds, he won over many fans’ hearts in Detroit, even if the national media (outside of Pat McAfee) don’t get it.  

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