Wojo: How Dan Campbell unlocked Lions’ secret sauce for success

Full article at the link below

The first obstacle was the biggest one. You can only kill a punchline if you acknowledge the joke, and offer an alternative reality.

That’s where this Lions’ historic journey began three years ago, when Sheila Hamp did something the franchise rarely had done and admitted “we can’t hide our past.” And then GM Brad Holmes did something the Lions had never done, starting over by trading the franchise player. And then Dan Campbell did something few coaches have ever done, colorfully, explicitly inviting skepticism — “We’re gonna kick you in the teeth, and when you punch us back … we’re going to get up, and on the way, we’re going to bite a kneecap off."

Head coach Dan Campbell has the Lions on top of the NFC North and potentially vying for a No. 1 seed in the conference.

Many delighted in mocking Campbell’s opening news conference on Jan. 21, 2021, but most missed the point. It wasn’t about comical cannibalism, or even antagonism. It was about delivering a message so unique, so forceful, it stirred unprecedented attention. And then, bit by bit, bite by bite, it connected, especially in Detroit.

The Lions are division winners for the first time in 30 years, and the fascinating part is, it doesn’t feel like an ending point. Or even a midway point

Wojo: How Dan Campbell unlocked Lions’ secret sauce for success


Woj killed it with this article, another section:

“I and (GM) Brad (Holmes) both felt like we should be competing for the division in Year 3,” Campbell said after the Lions (11-4) clinched the North in Year 3 with a 30-24 victory at Minnesota. “No, I’m not surprised where we’re at. … And I just go back to this — What is it? Why? How? What? It’s people, it’s people, it’s people.”

It’s people. It’s not “a person.” That’s the secret sauce to the Lions’ success, if such a sauce exists.

It takes a village

It’s not about a singular star. It’s not about Barry Sanders or Calvin Johnson. It’s not about Matthew Stafford, around whom the Lions spent 12 years futilely trying to build a championship team. One of Holmes’ first acts was to grant Stafford’s request and trade him to the Rams, and in that moment, the Lions forcibly, finally separated themselves from their past.

Think about it. The franchise’s losing eras were defined by a person or two, fair or not. There were the Matt Millen years, the Wayne Fontes years, the Quinntricia years. There were the Barry years, the Calvin Years, the Stafford years, all wrapped by the Ford years. Ownership was fixated on names and faces, not people and plans. To her immense credit, Hamp changed that when she took over in 2020 and circled the word that had been missing all that time — “Collaboration.”

The failed formula — latch onto a star, or a style, or a coach, and hope it’s good enough — generally is unsustainable in football. Everything was done to support the face of the franchise, and that often meant drafting flashy receivers in the first round, or overpaying for fading veteran stars.


It’s a distinction he tries to make and I get it:

There isn’t a singular leader but there is a singular voice, the deep-Texas drawl of Campbell.

In the St Brown podcast I believe Amon made the point that when you see sports shows or pictures of teams it’s usually a player that is shown, ie Mahomes or Kelce with KC, but in Detroit it is usually Campbell. Woj is saying it’s due to the singular voice and I get it and in many ways agree with it. Amon also said he couldn’t imagine playing for anyone else.

article finishes with this:

Campbell then turned and spoke to his team.

“Men, we are in a unique position that we’re able to do something that not many teams are able to do — that’s to build a legacy,” Campbell said. “That’s what this is about … the division, and our legacy starts now. We’re gonna do something special, gentlemen, and we will never forget this season, ever.”

Thoughts from others on this distinction/point Woj is making??


Detroit Lions coaches couldn’t enjoy the division title. And they absolutely love it.


I think this is an excellent article, and I agree with pretty much everything he said. This is going to sound cliche, but the BN Lions adopted the Michigan mantra of “the team, the team, the team”. When the Lions had success in the 2010’s, they had some serious star power, but the team overall was incredibly then. Stafford, Calvin, Suh, everyone always talked about those names but the back end of the roster was always where we got beat. We had no depth. This is why we could get leads on teams, and never hold them. Or melt late in the season. The Lions were incredibly unbalanced. A lot of teams couldn’t handle our star power, and that’s why we could win 9-11 games. However, the good teams always straight handled us. One common factor during the 90’s, and 2010’s with the Lions, was our up/down seasons. Up one year, down the next. There was never any sustained success.

Now, look at the current build of the roster. Every time the media has tried to annoit a guy, like when they latched onto Goff and started calling him an MVP, that player would have some bad games, and everyone would start with SOL. However, something different was happening to these Lions. One guy stumbles? Another rises. Shut down Goff and our pass game? Here comes Montgomery and Gibbs. Shut down the run? Here comes Amon Ra, Laporta. Focus on stopping the stars? Here comes Jamo, Josh Reynolds, Raymond, etc.

You want to know where the truly impressive stat with the Lions lies? The Detroit Lions have not lost 2 games in a row since their 5 game losing streak ended in October, 2022. Cue Dan Cambell “We’re a resilient team men!”

Let’s take a quick peek at the annointed elite teams in the NFL, and when they’ve lost 2 in a row.
SF? Went 0-3 in October.
Chiefs? Don’t have to go far here. They lost 2 in a row this month, and 3 out of 4 now.
Philly? Lost 3 in a row this month.
Dallas? Just lost 2 in a row.
Ravens? This one I did have to go back a bit, but they lost 2 in a row to close the 2022 season. 3 in a row counting their playoff game.

Campbell never declared the Lions unbeatable. Campbell called them resilient. Meaning, we will lose, and we will bounce back. Remember the intro press conference. If you knock us down, we are going to get back up, and bite a kneecap. We’ve done that every time we’ve had a loss for over a calendar year. Our “worst” stretch since the 1-6 start, we lost 2 out of 3, and came right back and won 2 in a row. That’s the “worst”. Some of the other media embraced “elite” teams would kill for that right now.

I 100% agree with Wojo about the Lions finally not putting all of their eggs in one basket. It wasn’t a superstar who came in and saved the franchise. It wasn’t the West Coast offense, Tampa 2 defense, passing 90% of the time, etc. It was a change in philosophy to build an actual team, top to bottom, and accept that this team will have weaknesses. The one thing we won’t accept, is people who do not want to put in the time and work. If you want to know why it seems like every week it’s a new name popping up making the big plays to win a game, that’s the very definition of depth. Even the elites can’t cover every player, every play. Someone is going to win a matchup. How often that happens in a game determines who wins and who loses.

I know Justin Jefferson just roasted us. He made some incredible plays. I wasn’t even mad seeing those plays work. I told my son during the game, I’m not worried, because that’s their only play. With that being their only play, sure, Jefferson will win some of the matchups, the guy is an elite player for a reason. All that’s going to do is encourage Mullens to keep going his way, and then our defense is going to get theirs. That’s exactly what happened. The Vikings played us tough, but ultimately, they couldn’t hold on because their team isn’t as deep as ours. You know who the Vikings reminded me of? The Matthew Stafford/Calvin Johnson Lions. Mullens threw for 400 yards!! And… 4 picks. Jefferson caught amazing passes! Did you see him Moss 2 defenders for that ball?!! Yep, and we stole the ball from him at the end of the game to seal it. You know what else I saw? Justin Jefferson, doing the Calvin Johnson pose at the end of the game. Down on one knee, gasping for breath, looking around at the other team celebrating and wondering what else he possibly could have done, and he still lost.

The Vikings lost that game the same reason the Lions lost so many games. They couldn’t run the ball, at all. Here is one thing I find interesting. Gibbs, Laporta, and Branch have all taken their turns starring for the Detroit Lions this year as our top picks. I hear a lot of people commenting that Jack Campbell has been a disappointment. I disagree. He hasn’t flashed, but he has not disappointed. You want to know who has flashed this year? Alex Anzalone. Want to know why? He was finally allowed to play his best position. That happened because of… Jack Campbell. If Campbell couldn’t hold down his end, Anzalone would still be playing out of position and the Lions linebackers would be worse. The Lions last year gave up what, 5 yards per carry? This season, their run defense has been miles better. We had Anzalone last year, so it wasn’t just him. Campbell coming in helped the run defense, it just doesn’t look as good on paper.

I am fully onboard with our defensive line needs help, because we are not generating enough of a pass rush outside of Hutch. We could really use Vildor to hold down the #2 corner position right now. I’d love to see CJGJ, McNeil and Houston all come back and contribute. We for sure have flaws that can be exploited. So does every team, especially this time of year. The good news is unlike last year where we needed help to get to the playoffs, due to our hard work we’ve earned the right to determine our own destiny. I can’t wait to see where that takes us.


I agree with you regarding the JJ plays against the Lions on Sunday. I thought Rogers had good film breakdown in the other thread and a couple of those plays had coverage on JJ.

Then the play where Sutton slips and JJ makes a great diving catch for a TD.

Good post.

Hey Lions, if you could please stop making me cry. I’m almost dehydrated.
F it. I’ll pass out for this team!


I think this quote right here:

“Brad and I have had a plan from Day One and we’ve stuck to that, and we didn’t listen to what anybody else said,” Campbell said. “We believed in what we believed in. It doesn’t mean you’re getting the most talented players because if they don’t mesh with everybody else, it’ll blow the whole thing up. It doesn’t mean you’re getting a bunch of choir boys, but the production and type of person we bring in, they’ve got to be equals.”

…explains exactly why we didn’t go after Chase Young (@TNutZz @rw979802). Some guys just aren’t the right fit, and they’re gonna stick to their guns whether we agree with them or not.


well then they better hope Irvin can play more than a few snaps every other game. I’m not convinced Houston will be healthy. Look at the snap counts for Hutch and the rest of them. He needs a bookend DE badly

The way things are shaking out we have a legit shot at the number one seed and a chance for a title. Chemistry is great but so is being able to generate sacks without bringing in a blitz

According to the above quote, I think our staff disagrees. Chemistry matters more to them.


That’s fine and dandy but it doesn’t help win up front. The risk of having to bring a DB to blitz on third and long is why we let Mullins throw for 900 yards

It’s fun to think this team will be hosting a playoff game every year but we don’t know if we will. IMO we should have secured DE help for this playoff run.

And I think had Holmes knew it would have only cost a late third he would have done it. It’s speculation from both us - but platitudes to the press about chemistry doesn’t really tell us much

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I personally don’t think Young was worth it but you’re right, what we think doesn’t matter. But my point has always been that this FO wouldn’t be operating that way, and while you think it’s to their detriment, they disagree. You could give them the opportunity to trade for Young every week for a late 3rd and I don’t think they’d do it, based on that quote.

But it’s fine if you don’t agree with the FO that brought us our first division title in 30 years ( :wink:)

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I love that we took the North this year and have agreed with most of the moves they have made. But nobody is perfect and they have do and will make mistakes

I think it was a mistake to rely on Houston and Irvin to bookend Hutch for a deep playoff run

Maybe Houston will prove me wrong. Maybe Irvin will be able to play more than 10 snaps every other games. I’m hoping to be proven wrong

But when we are playing for the NFC title and have to bring a DB to get pressure on the QB then let’s hope the offense is up for a shootout. Because chances are they aren’t going to gift wrap us four picks

Sometimes, though, there are no solutions. You posit Young as a solution, I say he would have been a waste of time. Again, what we think doesn’t matter, but it’s clear the FO agrees with me.

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This was a great article. Thanks for the read. I do disagree with this though:

“The failed formula — latch onto a star, or a style, or a coach, and hope it’s good enough — generally is unsustainable in football. Everything was done to support the face of the franchise, and that often meant drafting flashy receivers in the first round, or overpaying for fading veteran stars.”

Most of the best legacies in football have been around prioritizing the star or the coach. Brady and Belichek, Rodgers, Brees, Manning, Mahomes and Kelce, Donald.

It has generally always been about the individual player or coach that gets you fans, calls, free agents, etc. I hope to god our star becomes the people. That would be amazing and a long term legacy builder as Wojo wrote.

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You’re making a bit of an assumption and using a general platitude to declare your opinion is right. Lynch said Washington called him to offer Young for a third at the deadline. And Lynch was elated. Presumably because WA couldn’t get an extension done

Had they called Holmes you don’t know if he wouldn’t have also been delighted. We don’t know…I hope he would have because it would have made us a better team with a better chance at a deep playoff run - despite the rather meaningless quote about chemistry

Sometimes there is a solution. The solution to not having a bookend DE is to trade for one. IMO we should have. IMO it was a mistake not to

IMO it’s going to bite in in the ass during the playoffs as we watch Hutch double teamed with Irvin gumming applesauce and Houston icing his twig on the sidelines.

Solution blitz Iffy the sack machine.

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My opinion is neither right or wrong, it’s merely the same as our FO’s. Whether theirs is right or wrong is what we’re currently debating.


I think you should prepare to be disappointed going forward then. This FO is not going to “go for it” at the risk of chemistry, no matter how much you want them to. It goes against their belief system.

Now that doesn’t mean we won’t go for it if we believe a player is a fit. There’s plenty of smoke about us being in for both Deebo and Ramsey.

But if they don’t fit what we want out of a Detroit Lion, it’s not gonna happen. And I think it’s pretty clear they thought Young didn’t fit.