Dan Campbell is the 19th head coach in the Super Bowl era who is attempting to get Detroit to the "Big Game." Detroit has never won a Super Bowl, nor has it ever made an appearance in the game.
The last time the Lions won a championship was back in 1957, when gas was 30 cents/gallon and Vince Lombardi had not even gotten to Green Bay yet.
Many have tried and many have failed to win it all in Detroit. In fact, the Lions have not even managed to win their own division since 1993.
They managed to get to the NFC Championship Game in 1992, but lost to Washington -- back when Barry Sanders was dancing between defenders. That is many, many moons ago.
Campbell is now tasked with doing things nobody has been able to do in Detroit in a very long time -- win something that matters.
Without further ado, here are the four keys to Campbell being successful in Detroit.
1.) Be himself.
Do not try to be Bill Parcells, Bill Belichick, Wayne Fontes or anyone else -- he needs to be Dan Campbell.
There is so much talk about systems in the NFL. There's "this system" and "that system."
The No. 1 mistake any coach or front office person makes is trying to copy someone else's system. A system is just a fancy way of saying how things are done. It needs to be authentic. If the coach is authentic, it will resonate. If it resonates, players will believe in it. If players believe in it, they will buy in. If players buy in, they win.
Within league circles, one of the biggest criticisms of Belichick's disciples is they all try to be Bill, and that is why they have failed.
Campbell must be himself. It is the only way the players will believe in him.
2.) He must identify the critical factors that are must-haves in his players.
This is the one thing Parcells told me during my time with the Jets: "Learn the critical factors of scouting."
These are the characteristics a player must possess in order for the Detroit Lions to put them on their roster.
One of Parcells' critical factors was whether football was important to the player. He could not just be in it to make money or because he could not make any real money running track and decided to settle on football.
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If he has not already, Campbell must be able to identify what characteristics are most important to him in a player. Then, he needs to have scouts who themselves possess these characteristics, so they can identify these characteristics in others and bring them to him. The only kinds of guys the Lions can then sign are players who have these necessary characteristics that Campbell wants, and there can be no deviation from that.
3.) He needs to take a lot of chances.
If Detroit is going to throw a screen to a running back on third-and-18 and play it safe and punt on every fourth down, it might as well send refunds to its season ticket-holders right now. There is no chance of winning big without taking big-time risks -- and a lot of them.
The "bend but don't break" philosophy breaks, and the old "play not to lose" mentality loses games. The Lions have got to think outside the box.
Detroit needs to be ultra aggressive, and above all else, Campbell cannot be afraid to take shots -- the kind of ones that will light up the sports radio call-in shows on Monday mornings.
4.) Do things differently.
Historically in the NFL, different wins. Whether we are talking about Bill Walsh and the "West Coast" offense or more recently, Tony Sparano with the "Wildcat" -- different works, and different wins.
Ironically, it was Sparano's staff where Campbell got his coaching start. Also, Sparano was hired by Parcells, when Parcells was the VP of football operations in Miami.
Doing things radically different is in Campbell's football DNA, and he needs to devise something offensively or defensively the NFL has never seen before -- some new gadget or wrinkle that creates mismatches and confusion for opponents.
Doing things differently throws the rest of the league for a loop, and would give the Lions a distinct gameday advantage.
Campbell is up against it in Detroit, but that is exactly where Parcells' guys like to be.
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