There’s a reason the Detroit Lions were selected for “Hard Knocks.”
His name is Dan Campbell.
The sophomore head coach burst onto the scene as a rookie in 2021 as perhaps the most colorful character in the league occupying an NFL sideline. Bill Belichick, he’s not. After Campbell’s 2021 screed on the kneecap bite, HBO and NFL Films likely went ahead and penciled the Lions in for 2022. As long as Campbell survived 2021, that is.
He survived. The Lions posted one of the league’s worst records at 3-13-1. But Campbell’s energetic, player-friendly approach has endeared him to Detroit and given hope to the Lions faithful that perhaps they can finally build something around their passionate coach. The results of this season will go a long way in determining how much that confidence is placed. But through one episode, he’s delivered for “Hard Knocks.”
‘It doesn’t matter if you have one butt and three toes’
The annual series that typically features a bad-to-mediocre team’s training camp and preseason focused on Campbell from Tuesday’s opening clip. He opened the season by giving a speech like only Campbell can, featuring the most Campbell of concepts: Grit.
Campbell, while addressing his team, pointed to the word “grit” written in large block letters on the meeting room wall. He then explained what the grain means to him.
“To me, that means we’ll play anywhere,” Campbell said. “We’ll play on grass. We’ll play on turf. We’ll go to a fucking dump.
” It does not matter. It doesn’t matter if you have an ass and three toes, I’ll kick your ass.
Here is the short version:
Campbell’s enthusiasm seems contagious – at least through the eyes of “Hard Knocks” lenses. Campbell, a 10-year NFL veteran as a tight end, took part in a grueling top-down drill with the team. He tracked remarkably well for a 46-year-old alongside professional athletes in their prime. Again, imagine Belichick doing the same.
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He clearly won over running back Jamaal Williams, who gave an impassioned speech to break up a huddle after a hard practice in the pads. The speech was used to promote the show and inspired a Campbell-esque vow from Williams to “crush you crying” if you question his strength.
This speech by Williams followed one by Campbell, in which he sympathized with his players after the first padded practice of the camp.
“I swear to God I’m not crazy,” Campbell told his players. “I swear to you. If I absolutely knew we could get where we need to go without ever putting on any wards, I would. I don’t want to put anyone in danger.”
He went on to explain that physical practice at the start of training camp will help mitigate injuries on the road and better prepare his players for competition.
“I have a plan, I swear to you,” Campbell continued. “All I think about is you guys. That’s all I think about. That’s all I think about is you guys and how I feel about you. I’ve prepared for the best possible advantage I can give you. I just need you to trust me. That’s all.
He then gave the stage to Williams for his caucus break.
The Song and Dance of Aidan Hutchinson
Campbell also set the stage for some light rookie hazing during the episode. That includes Aidan Hutchinson, the vaunted No. 2 overall pick, Detroit’s presumptive savior for the University of Michigan pass. Lions recruits must perform a song and dance routine in front of their teammates. They do this while disclosing their signing bonus.
For Hutchinson, his signing bonus is significant. Her favorite song? Michael Jackson’s Billie Jean.
“My name is Aidan Hutchinson. I’m from Michigan and my signing bonus was 23 million,” Hutchinson said.
He then burst into his routine to the delight of his teammates:
Fellow rookie and sixth-round linebacker Malcolm Rodríguez also took his turn on stage. He coyly touted his considerably smaller but surely satisfying signing bonus of $188,000 before doing his version of a salsa routine.
The routines — and the whole episode — were an ode to all things Campbell.
The jury is still out on how Campbell’s tactics will translate to success on the court. But for now, his approach seems to appeal to his players and coaching staff. And it’s a good start. Whatever the ending, the ride promises to be a unique Dan Campbell experience. Just like Tuesday’s closing credits: