Now that the New Orleans Saints have been eliminated from the NFL postseason, the Detroit Lions are expected to hire Saints assistant head coach/tight ends coach Dan Campbell as their next head coach, sources told ESPN’s Adam Schefter.
The two sides still need to work out a deal, but it is not considered an obstacle, and Campbell is the head coach the Lions plan to hire, sources told Schefter.
Campbell replaces Matt Patricia, who was fired in November after less than three seasons with the franchise and a 13-29-1 record, as the club tries to reset from finishing last in the NFC North the past three years.
The 44-year-old Campbell, who has never been a coordinator in the NFL, is viewed as a motivator and someone who can bring a team together instead of an X’s-and-O’s guru. The Lions had been searching for people they considered unifiers throughout their search as they identified qualities they deemed important to building a winner out of a franchise that has one playoff win in the Super Bowl era and claimed its last division title in 1993.
• Grading the hires: Why we like Smith in ATL »• Latest buzz on coach openings »• Jaguars’ Meyer must answer key questions »• Why Saleh will be a home run for Jets »
“I think leadership and somebody that can work with the general manager,” team president Rod Wood said earlier this month. “And somebody that has had experience either as a head coach or you can project that experience as a coordinator into being a head coach, and really diving into those types of questions.
“Not that we didn’t do that in the search for Matt, but I think trying to do it differently, hopefully we’ll find the right people.”
Campbell doesn’t have much experience as a head coach, but the Lions clearly saw enough to pair him with recently hired general manager Brad Holmes. Without experience calling plays on either side of the ball, who Campbell brings in as coordinators will be paramount to his success.
After staffing, among the first decisions he and Holmes are going to have to make is on the futures of star wide receiver Kenny Golladay, who is slated to be a free agent in March, and quarterback Matthew Stafford, whose contract goes through the 2022 season. Campbell also may have to make a decision on one former teammate, long-snapper Don Muhlbach, who before Campbell’s hire had been the team’s last connection to the winless 2008 club and is Detroit’s second-longest tenured player in team history, behind kicker Jason Hanson.
Campbell played 10 seasons in the NFL, including the final three years of his career for the Lions.
After his playing career ended following a season on injured reserve with the Saints, Campbell began his coaching career with the Miami Dolphins as a coaching intern in 2010 before working his way up to tight ends coach and then, after Joe Philbin was fired by Miami in 2015, interim coach for the final 12 games of that season.
Campbell went 5-7 with the Dolphins but did not earn the full-time job and instead landed with the Saints, where he spent the past five seasons under coach Sean Payton. Learning under Payton in case he got another full-time opportunity was part of the reason he went to New Orleans.
“I would tell you that was No. 2 on the list,” Campbell told ESPN’s Mike Triplett in 2018. “No. 1 was I know Sean and I have a history with Sean. So I just knew about him as a person and as a coach. So to be reunited with him meant the world.”
The Lions interviewed at least six candidates for the job: new Atlanta Falcons coach Arthur Smith, new New York Jets coach Robert Saleh, former Cincinnati Bengals coach Marvin Lewis, Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy, Lions interim head coach Darrell Bevell and Campbell. ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler and Dan Graziano reported that the Lions also inquired with Iowa State coach Matt Campbell.