Dan Campbell won the press conference. There is no doubt about that.
Whether he can have the same success on the field as head coach of the Detroit Lions, an organization that has sucked the soul out of so many, remains to be seen. But on Day 1 at least, Campbell was a star.
He was passionate, honest, emotional and he connected with an energy that too few Lions coaches have in the past.
Here are six of the most memorable moments from Campbell’s 90-minute introductory news conference:
Knee caps and stuff
Campbell, a tight end with the Lions in 2006-08, said he wanted the Lions job “bad,” and he spent a memorable minute sharing how, because he was in Detroit as a player, he knows some of the city and organization’s plight.
“This place has been kicked, it’s been battered, it’s been bruised and I can sit up here and give you coach speak all day long,” Campbell said. “I can give you, ‘Hey, we’re going to win this many games.’ None of that matters and you guys don’t want to hear it anyway, You’ve had enough of that shit, excuse my language.
“Here’s what I do know, is that this team is going to take on the identity of this city. And this city’s been down and it found a way to get up. It’s found a way to overcome adversity. So this team’s going to be built on, we’re going to kick you in the teeth, all 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 knee cap off. And we’re going to stand up and then it’s going to take two more shots to knock us down. And on the way up, we’re going to take your other knee cap. And we’re going to get up and then it’s going to take three shots to get us down. And when we do, we’re going to (get up and) take another hunk out of you. Before long, we’re going to be the last one standing. That’s going to be the mentality.”
Just in case anyone wasn’t sure, Campbell later pointed out that the fighting and kneecap biting was meant to be done between the lines — figuratively, we think — only.
“When I say that I want our team to take on the identity of this city, I mean it,” Campbell said. “And they’re going to hear that from me. This is the first time they’ve heard it, just like you have. But they’re going to hear it from me and it’s going to mean something. It’s going to mean something. It’s going to mean that when you come into Detroit, you’re going to leave beat up. And I’m talking about as a team. I’m not saying we get – the tourists come in. People want to come in.”
Feel the energy
As passionate as he was about his first full-time head coaching opportunity, Campbell, who was interim head coach of the Miami Dolphins for 12 games in 2015, showed a funny, even self-deprecating side.
When asked how to change the “same old Lions” mentality that has been prevalent since before his playing days, Campbell mentioned the power of positive thinking.
“I think we need to bring some hope back into this place, man,” he said. “Listen, I’m willing to do whatever, man. I’m not kidding you. I’m a big mind-over-matter person and a lot of you are going to think I’m a kook a little bit here, but I do believe you can will things to happen in some regard. Like if you’re a really positive thinker, I believe that positive things can happen to you. And those around begin to grow from that, they feel your energy.”
Campbell is a football guy through and through, but he reminded at least one reporter of the Jeff Bridges’ character, The Dude, from the cult movie, “The Big Lebowski.”
Asked if he was OK with being called that, Campbell said, “I’ve heard it. I’ve heard it. And the hair is not like it used to be, but it was — yeah, it looked a lot closer to The Dude than it does now. But yeah, I’m good with that.”
After his news conference, the Lions tweeted out a photo of the nameplate outside of Campbell’s office that read:
Head coach/The Dude
But which dude?
Campbell actually opened his news conference with some humor, joking that he told his agent, Rick Smith, to tell people he was really Iowa State coach Matt Campbell, one of the top coaches in college football and someone the Lions are believed to have pursued for their head coaching job.
“How I ended up here, one of things would be that I told my agent, Rick Smith, I said make sure that they think I’m Matt Campbell, so I think that’s how this has really worked out great for me,” Dan Campbell said. “So now that I’m in the seat, I am Dan Campbell. But I do know this, you can’t go wrong with a Campbell.”
It wasn’t just The Dude who came up in Campbell’s news conference Thursday, it was also The Mule.
When a reporter asked Campbell if he was surprised his former teammate, long snapper Don Muhlbach, is still here 12 years, Campbell nearly spit out a swig of water.
“I was,” Campbell said. “I was here with Big Don. Yeah. Mule!”
Campbell did get teary-eyed as he explained his journey from tough-as-nails player to assistant coach with the Dolphins and Saints, to head coach of the Lions, and thanked several people who helped him along the way, including ex-Texas A&M coach R.C. Slocum, New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton and his old coach with the Dallas Cowboys, Bill Parcells.
Campbell was honest about the Lions’ roster, saying there is more to be excited about on the offensive side of the ball than on defense. And he feted Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford as “a stud,” a “team guy” and “one of the toughest quarterbacks you will ever see.”
As for his coaching philosophy, Campbell said it is really quite simple, both on offense and defense.
“We’re going to run a system that puts our best on your worst, that’s what we’re going to do,” Campbell said. “Cause that’s what we did in New Orleans. So we’re going to find a way to put our guys in one-on-one matchups, whether it’s run or pass. If you’re telling me that our left tackle is better than your right end and we can run outside zone all day, we’re going to run outside zone as long as we can cut off the back side. Why not? If we can exploit a weakness we’re going to do it.”
This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Detroit Lions coach Dan Campbell’s epic introductory news conference