Lions Could Be Eying Former Player as Next Head Coach: Report

Dan Campbell

Getty Dan Campbell coaching the Dolphins.

The Detroit Lions are still pushing through their head coach interview process this week, but the team’s choices could be narrowing as they push into their second full week of meetings.

Detroit has been connected to San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh from nearly the beginning of the search, but it’s possible that they could be leaning in an entirely different direction. According to Mike Fisher of Sports Illustrated’s Cowboy Maven, there are at least some Lions front office personnel who favor hiring Dan Campbell from the New Orleans Saints as the team’s next head coach, despite having “fallen in love” with Saleh.

Campbell is an 11-year NFL veteran and has been the assistant head coach and tight ends coach for the Saints for the last five years, and his star hasn’t grown as a coaching candidate during that time. Detroit liked him enough to talk to him this week though, and it will be interesting to see if he is indeed a finalist. The 44-year-old also has a potential connection to Indianapolis Colts assistant general manager Ed Dodds, one of Detroit’s general manager candidates.

There’s been no indication when Detroit’s search may wrap up, so there could be more names to surface in the coming days. Even such, Campbell could be a strong contender for the job if this report is correct.

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Dan Campbell’s Career Stats

Campbell, a four-year letter winner at Texas A&M, started his NFL playing career with the New York Giants as a third-round pick in 1999, where the journeyman tight end stayed until 2002. From 2003-2005, he played for the division rival Dallas Cowboys before signing with the Lions in 2006. After three seasons in Detroit, Campbell finished his career in New Orleans in 2009, helping the Saints win Super Bowl XLIV.

Following that, he retired and broke into the coaching ranks the Miami Dolphins as a coaching intern in 2010. The following season, he was promoted to the team’s tight end coach, where he served from 2011-2015, later taking over as the team’s interim coach after the firing of Joe Philbin. He led Miami to a respectable 5-7 record after taking over a bad situation. In 2016, he re-joined New Orleans, where he’s worked under future Hall of Fame head coach Sean Payton ever since.

As a player, Campbell was solid, hauling in 91 passes for 934 yards and 11 touchdowns in his decade-long career, including 330 yards and four touchdowns across 19 games in Detroit. Last with the Lions in 2008, he would know all about the situation he was walking into if he became the team’s head coach.


Lions Coaching Search Update

In addition to Campbell and Saleh, Detroit’s search has featured an interesting blend of candidates early on, including Eric Bieniemy, Arthur Smith and Marvin Lewis, a solid start in terms of getting qualified candidates into the building.

Out of the bunch, Lewis and Campbell are the only candidates with previous head coaching experience from their time in Cincinnati and Miami, respectively. The Lions will talk to Todd Bowles this week as well, and he has similar background from his head coaching days in New York from 2015-18.

Saleh has been seen as a potential leader in the clubhouse for some time, but there are conflicting reports on how well he interviewed with the team, and now, he might be the favorite for a job in New York. Regardless, the team is clearly keeping an open mind in search of their next boss.

It’s possible a college coach like Northwestern’s Pat Fitzgerald could enter the mix, but Fitzgerald has not met with NFL teams or accepted interviews at this point, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter.

All things considered, Detroit’s search could finally be narrowing a bit, and Campbell could soon be a name to watch for the job.

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