Who is Dan Campbell? Coaching, playing career, salary, and more

Despite just one full season as the head coach of the Detroit Lions, Dan Campbell is one of the most recognizable leading men in the NFL.

Detriot Lions head coach Dan Campbell is one of the most recognizable leading men in the NFL, even though he’s only coached the team for one full season. He’s built like your average linebacker, he’s rarely afraid to say exactly what’s on his mind, and when he speaks, his quotes often produce fantastically entertaining social media clips.

Who can forget when the newly minted head coach, in one of his first public appearances sporting Lions Honolulu Blue, confidently stated that his team would bite off the kneecaps of its opponents? Find me another coach in the NFL, nay, in professional sports, who talks like that.

Progression of Dan Campbell’s career

Beyond his magnetic personality, something that will be on full display for fans to see when the upcoming season of HBO’s Hard Knocks series releases this month, Campbell helms a Lions team that was sneaky competitive last season despite what its underwhelming 3-13-1 record might say on its face. But how did Campbell get here? How did he become the leader of a franchise that, after decades of struggling, might finally be seeing a turnaround under his stewardship?

Campbell’s burly build isn’t a coincidence, as the coach is a former NFL player himself. After three years at Texas A&M, the then-highly regarded tight end prospect was selected in the third round of the 1999 NFL Draft by the New York Giants. Though he eventually became the team’s starting tight end, it was his physicality and tenacity that were valued over his receiving prowess, as he was mostly used as a blocker on offense.

After four seasons with New York, Campbell signed with the Dallas Cowboys in free agency, quickly emerging as a team leader and a mentor to future superstar Jason Witten.

“Dan was great. I think Dan was a tough guy. He was a leader. He loved football. He was passionate about it,” Witten said in a 2015 interview with ESPN’s Todd Archer. His three seasons in Dallas were followed by three with the Lions and one with the New Orleans Saints, with the latter being the final stop of his playing career. Campbell won Super Bowl XLIV with the Saints, though he spent the entire season on injured reserve after injuring his knee in training camp.

Following the conclusion of his playing career, Campbell immediately made the jump to coaching in 2010.

Where did Campbell coach before the Lions?

Campbell got his start in the coaching world as an intern with the Miami Dolphins under Tony Sparano. The two men spent all three of Campbell’s seasons in Dallas together, where Sparano was Campbell’s tight ends coach for two seasons before being promoted to run game coordinator and offensive line coach.

Sparano promoted Campbell to tight ends coach in 2011 after one year with the staff, a position Campbell retained for the next five seasons even though Sparano was replaced with Joe Philbin after the end of the 2011 season. Following Philbin’s dismissal four games into the 2015 season, Campbell was made interim head coach for the remainder of the year, a job that put his name squarely on the map as a potential future full-timer at the position.

Under Campbell’s direction, the complexion of Miami’s team completely shifted. The Dolphins had limped out to a 1-3 start that season. The team lost its third and fourth games by a combined score of 58-28, and its embarrassing Week 4 loss at the hands of the division rival New York Jets in Wembley Stadium was broadcast on national television. The offense was flat, the defense lacked energy, and the team, as a whole, was a mess. Then, all of a sudden, things changed.

Coming out of the team’s Week 5 bye, the Dolphins were different. Miami smacked the Tennessee Titans by a score of 38-10 before putting up 44 points against the Houston Texans the following week. As a South Florida native who followed that season closely, I can say with complete confidence that the change in demeanor around the squad was palpable, and many contributed that change to the new culture that Campbell was able to inject into the locker room.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t all sunshine in the Sunshine State over the remainder of the season. This was a new role for Campbell, and he and the team ran into stumbling blocks along the way.

Miami ended the year with a 6-10 record (a 5-7 record under Campbell) and embarked on a new head coaching search. Campbell was ultimately passed over for then-Chicago Bears offensive coordinator Adam Gase, but he had made his mark. He was now known as an up-and-comer in the coaching ranks, someone who galvanized his players and earned their respect.

Campbell went on to join Sean Payton and the New Orleans Saints as the team’s assistant head coach and tight ends coach in 2016. Payton had been the assistant head coach and quarterbacks coach for all three years of Campbell’s career with the Cowboys. Over the next five years, Campbell’s name would pop up as a potential candidate for head coaching positions, but he really gained steam as a serious contender for a top job after Matt Patricia was fired from Detroit.

In January 2021, the Lions hired Campbell to a six-year contract to become the franchise’s 30th head coach. Though Campbell’s first year on the job in Detroit may not have gone exactly as he would have drawn it up, his team fought hard, and there’s optimism that better days are on the not-so-distant horizon.

How much does Campbell make?

Salaries of NFL head coaches are not always made public, as is the case with Campbell. That said, salaries of those on their first head coaching contracts often land somewhere in the $3 million to $5 million dollar range.


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