There’s a reason the Detroit Lions were selected for “Hard Knocks.”
His name is Dan Campbell.
The second-year head coach burst onto the scene as a rookie in 2021 as perhaps the league’s most colorful character manning an NFL sideline. Bill Belichick, he is not. After Campbell’s 2021 screed on biting off kneecaps, HBO and NFL Films probably went ahead and penciled the Lions in for 2022. As long as Campbell survived 2021, that is.
Survive he did. The Lions posted one of the league’s worst records at 3-13-1. But Campbell’s energetic, player-friendly approach endeared him in Detroit and gave hope to the Lions faithful they can just maybe, finally build something around their passion-powered coach. This season’s results will go a long way in determining how well that faith is placed. But through one episode, he’s delivered for “Hard Knocks.”
‘Doesn’t matter if you have one ass cheek and three toes’
The annual series that generally features a bad-to-mediocre team’s training camp and preseason honed in on Campbell from the opening clip on Tuesday. He opened the season by delivering a speech like only Campbell can featuring the most Campbell of concepts: Grit.
Campbell, while speaking to his team, pointed to to the word “grit” written in big block letters on the wall of the meeting room. He then explained what grit means to him.
“To me, it means we’ll play anywhere,” Campbell said. “We’ll play on grass. We’ll play on turf. We’ll go to a f***ing landfill.
“It doesn’t matter. Doesn’t matter if you have one ass cheek and three toes, I will beat your ass.”
Here’s the short version:
Campbell’s enthusiasm appears infectiious — at least through the eyes of “Hard Knocks” lenses. Campbell, a 10-year NFL veteran as a tight end — took part in a grueling up-and-down exercise drill with the team. He kept up remarkably well for a 46-year-old alongside professional athletes in their prime. Again, imagine Belichick doing the same.
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He’s clearly won over running back Jamaal Williams, who delivered an impassioned speech to break a huddle after a hard practice in pads. The speech was used to promote the show and inspired a Campbell-esque vow from Williams to “run you over while crying” if you question his strength.
That speech from Williams followed up one of Campbell’s own, in which he sympathized with his players after the first padded practice of camp.
“I swear to God I’m not a lunatic,” Cambpell told his players. “I swear to you. If I absolutely knew we could get to where we need to get without ever putting pads on, I’d do it. I don’t want to put anybody in jeopardy.”
He went on to explain that the physical practice early in training camp will contribute to mitigating injuries down the road and have his players better prepared to compete.
“I’ve got 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 f***ing think about is you guys and how I set you up for the best f***ing 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 huddle break.
Aidan Hutchinson’s song and dance
Campbell also set the stage for some light rookie hazing during the episode. That includes vaunted No. 2 overall pick Aidan Hutchinson, Detroit’s presumed pass-rushing savior out of the University of Michigan. Lions rookies are required to perform a song-and-dance routine in front of their teammates. They do so while disclosing their signing bonus.
For Hutchinson, his signing bonus is large. His song of choice? Michael Jackson’s Billie Jean.
“My name’s Aidan Hutchinson. I’m from Michigan, and my signing bonus was 23 mill,” Hutchinson said.
He then broke into his routine to the delight of his teammates:
Fellow rookie and sixth-round linebacker Malcolm Rodríguez took his turn on the stage as well. He sheepishly touted his considerably smaller though surely satisfying $188,000 signing bonus before doing his version of a salsa routine.
The routines — and the entire episode — were an ode to all things Campbell.
The jury’s still out on how Campbell’s tactics will translate to on-field success. But for now, his approach appears to be winning over his players and his coaching staff. And that’s a good start. However it ends, the ride promises to be a uniquely Dan Campbell experience. Just like Tuesday’s closing credits:
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