Dan Campbell cedes control as Lions conduct player-led practice


If you’ve tuned in to Hard Knocks at all this season, you’ll know Dan Campbell is an unusual coach. But for a long-suffering franchise in desperate need of a spark, Campbell’s unorthodox approach may be just what the doctor ordered. Depending on your vantage point, Campbell’s latest gambit was either his best yet or a disaster waiting to happen.

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Monday, the Lions coach did the unthinkable by … not doing anything. To the amazement of assembled media, Campbell spent his afternoon as a silent observer, trusting players to run their own practice, devoid of any interruptions or feedback from coaches. The craziest part was, it actually worked with most players enjoying the experience, appreciative of the freedom granted by Campbell and the entire Lions coaching staff.

For too long, NFL coaches have been slaves to tradition, unwilling to experiment with radical ideas and concepts for fear of being labeled a certain way or worse, failing. Weary of his bizarre metaphors and a larger-than-life persona born of endless caffeine (his morning coffee intake would land most people in a hospital bed), fans were probably skeptical of Campbell at first, and maybe they still are. Attention to detail is an important part of coaching but so is knowing when to get out of the way, a trait that Campbell is clearly conscious of. Purists may dismiss it as a gimmick, though you have to admire Campbell’s creativity, respecting his players enough to conduct their own practice without being micromanaged.

Though no one else has gone quite to this extreme, the Cardinals under coach Kliff Kingsbury have employed similar techniques, taking a collaborative approach by allowing quarterback Kyler Murray to call plays during recent preseason games against Baltimore and Cincinnati.

The challenge for Campbell will be striking the right balance between empowering players and still leading them. Coaches can overdo it with discipline (see Urban Meyer), but the opposite is also true, with potential to devolve into an unholy free-for-all with voices and personalities pulling in all directions. Campbell’s outside-the-box thinking may elicit the occasional eyeroll or wry remark, but as long as he’s keeping his players motivated, that’s all Lions fans can ask for.

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Featured Image Photo Credit: Nic Antaya, Getty Images