The Detroit Lions coaching staff faced a defining moment during Tuesday’s practice. During a special teams drill, rookies Ifeatu Melifonwu and Amon-Ra St. Brown got into a significant scuffle, resulting in several punches thrown between the two. Though the scuffle didn’t last more than a couple seconds, head coach Dan Campbell faced a decision. Should he reprimand the two? Throw them out of practice? Have them sit out a drill or two to cool down?
He passed on all those options. In fact, he did the exact opposite. About a dozen reps later, he lined the two up to go after each other again. This time, the two had another intense battle, but no fight ensued. They just went back to work.
On Wednesday morning, Campbell explained his decision, noting that he actually came away encouraged from the fight between the two.
“I was fired up, because they were competing, man,” Campbell said. “It was good to see both of them—two young bucks—go after it.”
Campbell knew from St. Brown’s tape and reputation at USC that he wasn’t afraid to get scrappy at times, but he wasn’t sure if Melifonwu had it in him.
“I didn’t quite know, and just to know that he’s got a little, ‘Hey man, I’m not your punching bag,’ that encouraged me. It really did,” Campbell said.
Of course, scuffles can often lead to bigger brawls, as we saw with the New York Giants earlier this week, leading to head coach Joe Judge to force the entire team—and some coaches—to run sprints at practice.
Campbell obviously doesn’t want full-team brawls, and he knows that if the team is getting into fights every other rep, it disrupts scarce practice time.
“You start having a problem when you’re having an all-out brawl, all practice long,” Campbell said. “It’s like, ‘Oh my god, here we go.’ If we got a 10-minute period and eight of it is fighting amongst the team, well that’s counterproductive. At that point you’ve got to do something about it, because you’re not getting work done.”
That’s not what the St. Brown/Melifonwu scuffle was. It was a short session of punches thrown, and that was it. And Campbell believes it actually made both players better.
“Those little things, I think, I just think they make you practice better. They make you practice harder,” Campbell said. “You don’t want to lose to that guy. You’re pissed off.”
The Lions head coach has faith that the players know the difference in expectation for practice versus a game, and can use this moment to practice getting mad, but staying in control. He definitely wants to make sure this sort of thing doesn’t spiral out of control in practice or bleed over into a game, which could obviously result in a penalty or ejection.
“I love it because it puts you to that point where you see red so much that you want to beat this guy, yet you’ve got to be under control enough to know that you can’t just go out there and throw a haymaker, as it relates to football because that’s what this is about,” Campbell said. “It’s no different in a game. You get so mad and you go out there and you’re out of control. Well, that’s not good. You can’t win that way.”