I remember a moment during Season 7 of The Office where Jo Bennett, when talking about moving on from one member of the search committee to another, uttered the following about why she was making the change:
“Cause Gabe’s tall and weak. She’s short and strong. I’m doing an opposites thing.”– Jo Bennett, The Office
Stephen Ross moving from Joe Philbin to Dan Campbell was exactly that – he was “doing an opposites thing.”
Now don’t get me wrong – I’m not saying one is tall and weak and the other is short and strong. What I am saying though is that they are complete opposites in how they approached the head job and in Campbells case, how he still approaches the head job now in Detroit.
Before I dig into the changing of the guard too much, let’s take a step back to better understand how we got there.
The downfall of the Joe Philbin Era
Joe Philbin’s time as the head football coach of the Miami Dolphins was, in many ways, pretty average. After going 7-9 in 2012, his first as head coach, Philbin would lead the team to back to back 8-8 finishes in 2013 and 2014. The 2015 season, however, started off pretty bad and Joe was let go after a 1-3 start.
By all appearances, Joe Philbin is a truly kind, mild mannered, and intelligent football coach and human being who players seemed to get along with pretty well. In fact, he was a more hands-off head coach who handled his business by delegating to others and trusting in that process – and his people – to achieve results.
- Joe was never a play caller in Green Bay and wouldn’t be during his time in Miami – that was the OC’s job (Mike Sherman 2012 & 2013, Bill Lazor 2014 and part of 2015, Zac Taylor part of 2015).
- Joe also wasn’t handling player personnel – that was the GM’s job with his voice being heard on how to best fill out the 53 man roster. (Jeff Ireland 2008-2013, Dennis Hickey 2014-2015)
- Joe was also not the disciplinarian, as his structure reportedly empowered his coaches and leadership councils, made up of team leaders, to handle locker room issues and player issues.
This macro-view approach is not uncommon. In fact, some of the best head coaches (like John Harbaugh and Bill Belichick) lead in this way – setting the bar for what they expect real high and holding their delegates to that. That’s not to say they don’t get hands on – but the way they have built their teams is by leading through others. Of course, strong and consistent accountability is needed to ensure that the end result is that of a winner.
Ultimately, this approach didn’t work out in Miami for Joe Philbin.
The bullying investigation, Chad Johnson being cut on Hard Knocks, tension between coach and QB, and late season collapses, and a below .500 record – amongst other areas of concern – were just too much. It just wasn’t working.
Philbin would finish with a 24-28 record as the Dolphins Head Coach.
So what do you do if you are Stephen Ross and desire the complete opposite of what you’ve seen over the course of 3+ seasons? You quite literally hire the opposite.
Insert Interim Head Coach Dan Campbell
Yes, that Dan Campbell. Former NFL Tight End Dan Campbell. Then Tight Ends Coach Dan Campbell. The same Dan Campbell who said the following during his introductory press conference as the Head Coach of the Detroit Lions in 2021.
“So, this team is going to be built on, we’re going to kick you in the teeth. And when you punch us back, we’re going to smile at you. And when you knock us down, we’re going to get up. And on the way up, we’re going to bite a kneecap off. And we’re going to stand up and then it’s going to take two more shots to knock us down. And on the way up, we’re going to take your other kneecap. And we’re going to get up and then it’s going to take three shots to get us down. And when we do, we’re gonna take another hunk out of you. Before long, we’re going to be the last one standing. That’s going to be the mentality.”– Dan Campbell, 2021
I’m not even sure I need to keep writing at this point as that quote alone exemplifies how extreme a difference Dan Campbell was from the mild-mannered Philbin.
In his first days as interim head coach, Dan Campbell would begin making changes to right the ship and instill a fighting spirit and accountability in his squad.
One of his first orders of business? Firing Defensive Coordinator Kevin Coyle and naming Lou Anarumo as their interim DC to help create a needed spark for the then 19th ranked (points) and 30th ranked (yards) defense. Lou, by the way, is currently the DC in Cincinnati.
Most importantly, he infused fire, grit and energy to a team that had been stagnant for years. He was easily the most fired-up coach, player, staffer, etc. on the field at any given time – and the team ate it up.
Hot Start for Campbell
One day after the Miami Dolphins fell to the New York Jets, on October 5th 2015, Joe Philbin was fired and Dan Campbell was named interim head coach. 14 days later he was making his head coaching debut against the Tennessee Titans.
That game would not only be a blowout road victory for the Miami Dolphins (38-10) but it would also feature the highest offensive point total for the squad since, checks notes, October 4th, 2009 – six whole years.
It was an unbelievable showing – one that no interim head coach could top, right? Wrong.
Just seven days later, the Miami Dolphins would head home and defeat the Houston Texans by a score of 44 to 26. For those keeping score at home, this was now their new highest offensive point total since, checks notes, September 8th, 2002 – seven years and one month.
That’s a whopping +46 point differential in his first two games. Joe Philbins 1-3 start featured a -26 point differential. That whole opposites thing? It was working. But would it last?
A New Direction
While Dan Campbell’s tenure as Miami Dolphins interim head coach is often remembered fondly, including by me, it ended in a bit of a fizzle. After a hot start, the team would achieve a -89 point differential across their final 10 games finishing with a 6-10 record for the season. Campbell would go 5-7 as the interim head man.
Ultimately, Dan Campbell was not retained by the team, leaving after the season to join the New Orleans Saints leaving the Dolphins looking for a new head coach all over again. (I’m sure I’ll have some more Adam Gase content soon)
Dan Campbell, however, is now the Head Coach of the Detroit Lions where is overseeing a massive rebuild for a team scratching and clawing their way to becoming a winner – and maybe biting a kneecap or two along the way.
Thank you for those twelve games Dan – and especially those first two. You’ll always be a Dolphin.