There’s a reason the Detroit Lions were selected for ‘Hard Knocks’.
His name is Dan Campbell.
The sophomore head coach came on the scene as a rookie in 2021 as arguably the league’s most colorful character manning an NFL sideline. Bill Belichick, he isn’t. After Campbell’s screed in 2021 on biting off kneecaps, HBO and NFL Films likely went ahead and signed the Lions in for 2022. As long as Campbell survived 2021, at least.
Survive, he did. The Lions set one of the worst records in the league at 3-13-1. But Campbell’s energetic, player-friendly approach endeared him to Detroit and gave hope to the Lions faithful that they may finally be able to build something around their passionate coach. This season’s results will play a big part in determining how well placed that belief is. But by one episode, he’s been delivered for “Hard Knocks.”
“It doesn’t matter if you have one butt cheek and three toes”
The annual series that generally features the training camp and preseason of a poor to mediocre team, Campbell sharpened up from the opening clip on Tuesday. He opened the season by giving a speech like only Campbell can with most Campbell drafts: Grit.
Campbell, as he spoke to his team, pointed to the word “grit” written in large block letters on the conference room wall. He then explained what grit means to him.
“To me it means we can play anywhere,” Campbell said. “We play on grass. We play on grass. We go to a landfill.
“It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter if you have one butt cheek and three toes, I’ll slap your ass.”
Here’s 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 exercise with the team. He held 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 has clearly won over the running back of Jamaal Williams, who gave a passionate speech to break a huddle after a hard workout in pads. The speech was used to promote the show and inspired a Campbell-esque vow by Williams to “get run over in tears” if you question his strength.
Williams’ speech followed one of Campbell’s own, in which he sympathized with his players after the camp’s first padded practice.
“I swear to God I’m not a fool,” Cambpell told his players. ‘I swear. If I absolutely knew we could get where we need to go without ever putting on pads, I would. I don’t want to endanger anyone.’
He further explained that the physical exercise in the beginning of the training camp will help reduce injuries on the road and that his players will be better prepared to compete.
“I have a plan, I swear to you,” Campbell continued. “All I think about is you. That’s all I think about. That’s all I fucking think about, you are and how I’ve primed you for the best possible benefit I can give you. I want just that you trust me. That’s all.”
He then gave the podium to Williams for his huddle break.
Aidan Hutchinson’s Song and Dance
Campbell also set the stage for a slight rookie hazing during the episode. That includes vaunted No. 2 overall pick Aidan Hutchinson, Detroit’s supposed savior from the University of Michigan. Lions rookies must perform a song-and-dance routine for their teammates. They do this while announcing their signing bonus.
For Hutchinson, his signing bonus is large. His favorite song? Billie Jean by Michael Jackson.
“My name is Aidan Hutchinson. I’m from Michigan and my signing bonus was 23 million,” said Hutchinson.
He then broke into his routine to the delight of his teammates:
Fellow sixth-round rookie and linebacker Malcolm Rodríguez also took his turn on the podium. He sheepishly praised his considerably smaller but certainly 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 is still out on how Campbell’s tactics will translate into success on the field. But for now, his approach seems to convince his players and his coaching staff. And that’s a good start. However it ends, the ride promises to be a unique Dan Campbell experience. Just like Tuesday’s credits: