Earlier this week, Detroit Lions coach Dan Campbell spoke about how much it has meant to him to try and prove owner Sheila Hamp right. Just over three years ago, Hamp hand-selected Campbell for the Lions head coach job, despite the fact that he was not among the most popular candidates that coaching cycle.
“I always wanted to prove her right,” Campbell said. “That’s not an easy thing to do, to take a chance on somebody that nobody knows about or thinks deserves a shot or whatever it is. And so, to trust your instincts and trust people around you and to pull the trigger, it means a lot. It sure does.”
It has been a cooperative and mutually beneficial relationship since. Campbell has created a positive culture that has resulted in the team knocking down decades-old droughts. In Year 3, they’ve raised their first division title banner in 30 years, hosted the first (and second) ever home playoff games at Ford Field, and amassed more playoff wins (two) this season than the franchise had in the previous 66 years. He’s made Hamp look like a very smart, prudent woman.
Hamp, though, has had a big hand in Campbell’s success, too. Repeatedly—both to the media and to the players—Campbell has referred to Hamp as “one of one,” pointing out her unwavering support in getting the team whatever they need. She’s also given Campbell the key to his success: the freedom to be himself.
“I don’t feel like I have to be somebody I’m not, and you can’t always do that,” Campbell said. “You can’t—and so with that, I can coach. I can do what I need to do, and I appreciate that.”
When the Lions won their season finale at Green Bay last year, sending the Packers home without a playoff berth—to many, a true sign that this franchise had permanently turned a corner—Campbell made sure to give Hamp the credit she was due.
“I’m just telling you—I’m just freaking telling you because I’ve been around as a player, I’ve been around as a coaching in this league, we’ve got the best owner,” Campbell said. “The best owner! She gives us everything we could possibly need. Every resource.”
But don’t mistake Hamp as simply a checkbook who stays out of everyone’s way. One of the things Campbell appreciates about her most is her involvement—and fierceness—when it comes to battling for the team during owners' meetings.
“She’s got some stubbornness in a great way,” Campbell said. “I mean that—I think we all have a little bit of this confidence, this stubbornness, and when I mean that, there’s things that go down, we’ve got to go to these spring meetings and when it comes time to—things that Brad (Holmes) and I believe in and she’s making the vote—she’s got our back 100 percent. And the harder you push her to try to talk her out of it, the worse it’s going to get for you. And I respect the hell out of that about her, because not everybody will do that.”
As the Lions are on the precipice of their first-ever Super Bowl appearance, it’s easy to view Campbell as the face of the team and the reason they’re on the verge of altering this franchise forever. But don’t forget about the woman who made it all possible. Hamp has only been the owner for three-and-a-half years, and the team has never looked as competent as it does now.