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Dan Campbell explains leadership style, flexibility as coach

Campbell said some interesting things on a podcast back in June.

Miami Dolphins v Philadelphia Eagles Photo by Rich Schultz /Getty Images

While we wait for things to become official, it certainly does seem like New Orleans Saints’ current assistant coach/tight ends coach Dan Campbell will eventually become the Detroit Lions’ next head coach.

And so begins the mad scramble for information on the guy. As Campbell has never been a coordinator, it’s not easy to know exactly what he’ll bring to Detroit schematically. But what has become abundantly clear is his inspirational ability as a leader. Anywhere you look within the Saints organization or the Dolphins organization during his three month run as interim coach in 2015, you’ll find testimonies of his skills as a motivator.

But why take their word for it? Why not hear from the man himself?

Considering the Saints, as of this publishing, are still in the playoffs, it could be weeks before we hear Campbell address the local media. But back in June, Campbell joined the Liuccicast, hosted by Texas A&M writer Billy Liucci.

Liucci asked Campbell about his coaching style, especially given that today’s athletes are much different than they were 20 years ago, when Campbell was an NFL tight end. Here’s his long response, unedited:

“You have to be able to adjust to the athlete of today. And what the athlete of today is—it’s not necessarily, ‘Oh man, it’s a negative thing.’ It’s just different. And these kids were raised different, and they have different experiences than we did 20 years ago and those before us.

“I think so much of it is, back then, you do what you’re told to do, period. And that how you get better, and that’s all you knew, and it was black and white. And it was, ‘Man, you do this and if you don’t do this, we’ve got a problem with you and your team’s got a problem with you.’

“And with that, you lump all those things in a basket and sometimes things get lost. You lose good players, because he’s got a damn rock in his shoe, and he doesn’t know how to communicate that, and so no wonder he’s limping around.”

“You have to be willing to listen to these (guys), and I feel like there needs to be more of working relationship with your athletes, certainly at the NFL level. These are grown men that we’re dealing with. Like I always approach it as we are working together. Now, rookies are a little different, but once you’ve been trained a little bit, we’re working together.

“‘Now how do I make your job easier? That’s my job. How do I pull the most out of you? That’s my job as a coach. And your job is to use me as a resource, player. So what do you need from me? How can I help you? Let me ask you this: What makes your job easier, player X? Would you rather do it this way?’

“You have to have some flexibility in the way that you coach and deal with players… You have to be willing to open yourself up to players. You have to be willing to put yourself out there.”


Another interesting part of the interview was Campbell’s description of Bill Parcells’ philosophy when he was a player on Dallas. The words may as well be coming out of Matt Patricia’s mouth.

“On offense, I need you to ball control, man. Chew up the clock. Let’s get in manageable third downs, get your first down and let’s do some more things that are high efficiency plays that are going to chew up the clock.”

However, that’s not where the story ends. He then talks about how when going up against the best offense in the league (the Chiefs), Parcells changed things completely. He knew he had to score a ton of points, so the Cowboys got aggressive that week. They changed their philosophy based on their opponent.

“I’ll tell you what, we went out there and it was totally like we hadn’t even been under Bill Parcells, like we had never learned anything under him. Everything you can imagine to be aggressive that game, we did it. We did every bit of it and we won. We won with thirty-something points and we beat them by one or two points or whatever. And I’ll never forget that from him.

“It was like, ‘Man, what are we going to do to win?’ You can’t use the same thing every game. You have a philosophy, but not every opponent is the same. You have to judge each opponent, what they have and what you have and what the matchup’s like, different every week. And sometimes what beat that team is not going to beat this team this week.”

The entire podcast is definitely worth your time. You can listen to it here. The last half is mostly about Texas A&M, but the first 30 minutes are a nice peek into the kind of person and leader he is.

(H/T to herdonknees for sharing this podcast with me)