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Grading Dan Campbell's First Season in Detroit

How did Dan Campbell rate in his first season as head coach in Motown?

Fair to say, Dan Campbell experienced a variety of ups and downs in his first season in the Motor City. 

Throughout the entirety of the season, he was tasked with leading a depleted roster that was not only devoid of talent, but was also frequently ravaged by injury and illness. 

It put him and the Lions at a competitive disadvantage throughout the 2021 campaign, and it showed on the football field. 

The losses proceeded to pile up and to a staggering degree. Campbell & Co., in fact, failed to notch their first win of the season until Week 13, when they defeated the Minnesota Vikings at Ford Field, 29-27. 

Leading up to that victory, fans and pundits alike started to ponder whether Detroit would win a single game in 2021. 

Failing to win a contest in his first year on the job would have been an ugly stain on Campbell's tenure in Detroit. He would've been hard-pressed to recover from an 0-17 campaign, and it might've even cost him his job at season's end. 

Yet, while all the talk of a winless season was running rampant, the Lions continued to fight each and every single week for their first-year head man, exemplifying the relentless nature and never-say-never attitude of Campbell. 

And, it was an example of the fact that the 45-year-old commanded the respect of the players inside that Detroit locker room. 

Since the day he was hired in late January of 2021 and talked about biting "a kneecap off" during his introductory press conference, the team, as a whole, has seemingly bought into Campbell's hard-working, never-take-a-down-off mentality. 

And, even as the losses mounted this past season, the fight and spirit of the players never wavered, a clear-cut sign of the former tight end never losing control of his locker room. 

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It is well known in the NFL that it's hard to keep the command of a locker room when the losing is constant. Just ask ex-Detroit head coach Matt Patricia, who never possessed an ounce of the same control and respect of his players as Campbell presently does. 

Campbell has certainly been the polar opposite of Patricia, in terms of establishing and sustaining positive relationships with his players. 

While all of that is a breath of fresh air from the days of the aforementioned Bill Belichick disciple, the present Lions head man is going to have to consistently win more games moving forward, if he doesn't want his stay in Motown to be short-lived. 

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Going 3-13-1 is not acceptable on a year-to-year basis. It's as simple as that. 

Campbell & Co. are aware of this, though, and hope that Detroit's win over the NFC North champion Green Bay Packers in Week 18 can be a springboard for success for the franchise moving into next season.  

"I just think, there again, the fact that these guys have continued to bang away and never lost hope and gave their best effort, best foot forward and they believed in every game that we could win," Campbell told reporters Monday. "They really didn’t believe that we were going to go in and we didn’t have a chance to win a game, and it didn’t matter who we were playing. And, I think that was important. And so, because of that, we were able to finish out on a win yesterday, and I think that belief and the knowing of that and knowing that everything to this point, we bring in more competition and we’ll only be better because of it. It should give us a springboard, and now, we’ll be a year into it, us as coaches, the players that are here. We’ll be better. We’ll be better for it.” 

As great as it is to have your players love playing for you, it's not going to matter if the product on the field isn't better in 2022 and beyond. 

Sure, a lot of that has to deal with the roster building by Detroit general manager Brad Holmes. If he doesn't construct a competent roster, it's going to ultimately hurt Campbell's chances of leading the Lions to victory on a week-to-week basis. 

Yet, it's also true that Campbell wasn't the best in-game manager throughout the course of his rookie campaign as a full-time NFL head coach. 

He proved to be overaggressive at times, which led to the Lions breaking the single-season NFL record for fourth-down conversion attempts. 

Sure, it's cute and all when you're a losing team and have no realistic shot of winning many of the games that you're in. However, if and when the team becomes more relevant, it's no longer going to be so cute. It's going to cost his team some meaningful games and maybe even a chance at making the playoffs. 

And, as Detroit fans know far too well, postseason appearances are hard to come by for the Lions. 

Campbell endured some rough circumstances in his first year in the Motor City, from working with a talent-barren roster, to being a first-time offensive play-caller and having to learn the ropes of the gig as the season progressed. 

It left him with many experiences that weren't opportune for a guy leading an NFL franchise from the sideline for the first time. 

Enough of the "excuses," though. Campbell wouldn't want to hear them himself. 

He wasn't a good enough head coach in 2021, and needs to improve real fast if he wants to last in Detroit over the long term.  

For his performance this past season, I'm going to give him a "C+" grade.