Last week, Detroit Lions wide receiver DJ Chark consistently gushed over the vibes he was getting from the organization after signing a one-year, $10 million contract with the Lions.
“The culture is big and that’s something that I really want to be a part of, like a family. It feels like I’m entering one. I’m accepted,” Chark said.
One minute later:
“It’s a lot of unity here, and I appreciate that. A lot of open dialogue, communication, and I really appreciate that as a player.”
A few minutes later:
“I want to be around good people. These are good people. It feels good to be wanted, I want to be where I’m wanted more than anything at the end of the day.”
Another minute later:
“I truly appreciate the way this staff kept that team together (in 2021) and have faith in those guys. I know that means a lot to them and I’m ready to be a part of it. I feel like it’s definitely a different feel than what I’ve been experiencing.”
On the surface, these comments seem to confirm what we’ve been hearing for a full year now: that Lions head coach Dan Campbell is building a harmonious culture that is designed to get the best out of its players. And to some extent, that’s exactly what these comments are.
But there’s more context to these comments that deserves pointing out. Chark is coming from the Jacksonville Jaguars, who just fired head coach Urban Meyer after a 3-14 season littered with story after story of Meyer’s misconduct and mismanagement.
On Monday, The Athletic’s Mike Sando and Jayson Jenks dropped a behind-the-scenes story on Meyer’s one-year disaster. In that piece, one member of the organization called the Jaguars “the most toxic environment I’ve ever been a part of.”
Chark was the only source in the story willing to give his account of the season without the protection of anonymity, and he did not hold back on his thoughts about Meyer.
“You’ve got players in fear that they’re going to lose their jobs,” Chark said. “You’ve got coaches who he belittled in front of us, and I can only imagine what he was doing behind closed doors. I’m surprised he lasted that long, to be honest with you.”
In their piece, Sando and Jenks describe a culture built on fear and intimidation. Multiple sources recalled stories of Meyer constantly belittling players and staff and often deflecting blame when called on it. There was also a story that Meyer forced Chark to do extra reps, which resulted in the receiver breaking his finger. That injury sent Chark to surgery and caused him to miss the preseason.
“He feels like threats are what motivates,” Chark said. “I know he would come up to us and tell us if the receivers weren’t doing good, he wasn’t going to fire us, he was going to fire our coach. He would usually say that when the coach was around.”
This isn’t to take anything away from what the Lions are building. Chark is far from the only one who seems to be impressed with what Detroit is building, but his experience in Jacksonville provides important context to why culture was so important to him when he hit free agency this year. When you consider where he came from, it’s clear what’s appealing about the environment Chark sees in Detroit.
To read the full article, including more of Chark’s statements, head over to the The Athletic.