Did Fiery Detroit Lions Head Coach Dan Campbell Ever Play in the NFL?

Every time you see a video of Dan Campbell on the practice field doing up-downs with his team and flexing his bulging muscles, you’d think he could suit up and play on Sundays instead of patrolling the sidelines with a clipboard in his hand. The Detroit Lions head coach just looks like a football player.

But was he one back in the day? Of course he was, and he even played for the Lions for three years.

Dan Campbell played in the NFL for 10 years, including three with the Lions

Campbell fell in love with football at an early age, and he ended up going to Texas A&M to play tight end in college.

In his four years in College Station, Campbell racked up 27 catches for 314 yards and three touchdowns. Those aren’t spectacular numbers by any stretch, but they were still enough to make Campbell a third-round draft pick.

In 1999, the New York Giants selected Campbell with the 79th overall pick in the NFL draft. He started off as primarily a blocking tight end in the NFL, but in 2002, he started all 16 games for the first time in his career and finished the season with a career-high 22 catches, 175 yards, and a touchdown.

Campbell moved to the Dallas Cowboys in 2003 and spent three years there before joining the Lions in 2006. In his first year in Detroit, Campbell had his best season as a pro with 21 catches, 308 yards, and four touchdowns. An elbow injury knocked him out for most of the 2007 season, and a knee injury ended his 2008 season after just one game.

Campbell retired in 2009 after spending 10 years in the NFL. He finished his career with 91 receptions, 934 yards, and 11 touchdowns.

How Dan Campbell made his way back to the Lions as a head coach

Dan Campbell smiles during a press conference.
Head coach Dan Campbell of the Detroit Lions smiles while answering questions during training camp | Nic Antaya/Getty Images

Shortly after Campbell retired in 2009, he joined the Miami Dolphins as a coaching intern. He was promoted to tight ends coach in 2011 and spent four years in that role.

In 2015, Campbell was named the interim head coach of the Dolphins after Joe Philbin was fired in October. He led Miami to a 5-7 record in his 12 games as the head coach. The former tight end then spent five years as the assistant head coach and tight ends coach with the New Orleans Saints, and he eventually made his way back to Detroit when the Lions hired him as their head coach in 2021.

Campbell is about to enter his second full season as the HC, and he’s hoping he can improve upon his 3-13-1 record in Year 1.

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