How Dan Campbell Makes It 'Fun' With 'Awesome' Leadership Style

Defensive assistant shares just how competitive Dan Campbell is.
Detroit Lions head coach Dan Campbell
Detroit Lions head coach Dan Campbell / Kimberly P. Mitchell / USA TODAY NETWORK
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New Detroit Lions defensive assistant Jim O'Neil chose to visit Detroit last year to reconnect with defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn.

The experienced defensive coach indicated he walked away from meetings with Dan Campbell and the coaching staff knowing the 2023 Lions would be a winning football team and contenders in the playoffs.

“I think he, if you’re not exactly who you are in this league, people are gonna smell you out and you’re not gonna work. It happens every year," said O'Neil. "The head coaching position or at any level as a player, as any coach. I just think he’s got an awesome leadership quality. We compete in everything we do. We’re in staff meetings and all of sudden, he’ll have a board game or we’ve got a football and we’re knocking down pins in the indoor competing against the offense, defense versus offense, trivia games."

Campbell is often drawing people in to listen and follow what he is trying to instill. The 48-year-old is a significant part of the reason the Lions culture has significantly improved, on and off the field.

"He finds a way to make it fun. He’s passionate at the same time when we’re trying to get work done when it comes to special situations stuff and how we coach team ball and how we coach situational ball," said O'Neil. "Just his leadership style, it’s infectious. It’s hard to explain. It’s probably why the nation was rooting for the Lions all last year during the playoffs. People want to be a part of it.”

Meeting with Campbell

Those working closely with the former NFL tight end often express how infectious his energy is.

Oneil expressed that he has been seeking to join a coaching staff that had high energy, attention to detail and a sense of urgency.

“Just being around Dan, being around the staff. Love the energy, love the sense of urgency, the attention to detail,” O’Neil said. “So, it’s been something I’ve really been looking for my entire career. I’m fired up to be here.”

O'Neil had an opportunity to have an extended conversation with Detroit's popular head coach during the interview process.

“We just sat and talked for about four and a half, five hours, and it wasn’t necessarily football. It was more philosophy, about my family," said O'Neil. "He’s just a guy that you want to work hard for. He’s a guy–he’s what works in this league. What you see is what you get. Like I said in the opener, it’s kinda what I’ve been searching for my whole career, and I’m glad to be a part of it now.”

Additional reading

1.) Marcus Davenport Film Review: Savvy DE Brings Versatility

2.) Frank Ragnow Does Not Get 'Widespread Respect' He Deserves

3.) Predicting Lions' 2024 Stat Leaders: Defense

4.) Roundtable: Expectations for Jack Campbell

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John Maakaron


John Maakaron has covered Detroit Sports since 2013. Brings a vast array of experience covering the Detroit Tigers, Detroit Lions, Michigan Wolverines, Michigan State Spartans, Detroit Mercy Titans, and Oakland University Golden Grizzlies. John brings a wealth of sports broadcast experience. In 2013, John had the vision to establish the Detroit Sports Podcast Network. Has recorded over 3000 podcasts analyzing Detroit Sports. In 2019, Sports Illustrated Media Group, a historical sports media outlet, partnered with Detroit Sports Podcast to provide daily Lions content for their growing and expanding digital media outlet. Our Lions content can also be read in the newspaper at The Oakland  Passionate about Detroit Sports and it is reflected in his coverage of the local teams!