Dan Campbell was a hard-nosed, hard-hitting tight end during his NFL playing days, and his first priority as the Miami Dolphins new head coach is to remake the floundering team in his image.
If the Dolphins are to reverse a season seemingly stuck in a death spiral, they will have to change their personality, from one reflective of placid coach Joe Philbin to one with more grit and fire.
“We have to change the culture, I have to change the culture,” Campbell said Monday when he was introduced as the man who will replace Philbin, who was fired hours earlier upon the Dolphins’ return from London, where they lost 27-14 to the New York Jets to fall to 1-3 in Philbin’s fourth season.
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Campbell, 39, who becomes the youngest head coach in the NFL, was promoted to interim head coach from tight ends coach. Just six years ago he began his coaching career as an intern for the Dolphins.
A quick fix of a team that has been broken on both sides of the ball will require more aggression along the offensive and defensive lines and more competitive practices, Campbell said.
“The best teams I’ve been a part of – during the week they go after each other,” he said. “It’s heated, it’s intense. You can’t just turn it on on Sunday.
“I don’t care if it’s Ndamukong Suh, Koa Misi, Jarvis Landry — they have to be pushed, they have to be worked, they have to be challenged. That’s the first thing I’m going to change. I want them all to compete.”
Campbell praised the talent on the roster, the intelligence of the staff and the willingness of owner Stephen Ross to provide “whatever it takes to turn it around,” he said, but emphasized that the team needs an attitude adjustment.
“This team plays hard, they have not quit,” he said. “But the fact is they’re not competing. We have to go back to basics and learn how to fight for a win. You’re going to fight and scratch and claw to win your one-on-one.”
Campbell is from Clifton, Texas, a small town near the center of the state nicknamed the “Norwegian Capital of Texas,” and he graduated from high school in Glen Rose, nicknamed the “Dinosaur Capital of Texas.”
Coby Beckner, Campbell’s high school basketball coach, said on a Facebook post earlier this year: “He got the most out of his ability as a player and I believe he will get the most out of the young men he is working with.”
Campbell played tight end at Texas A&M, where the highlight was upsetting Kansas State in double overtime to win the Big 12 title in 1998.
“I was definitely a grunt,” Campbell told Dolphins.com in a 2014 interview. “I think you can say that I was a ditch digger. I wanted to be an extension of the offensive line. I didn’t ever want a defensive end to think that just because he was going against a tight end that he was going to have the better of me.”
Campbell, who used to keep his blond hair long, was picked by the New York Giants in the third round of the 1999 NFL Draft. He played three years there — including the 2000 NFC championship season — as a blocking tight end. He then played three seasons in Dallas under coach Bill Parcells. He had his best receiving season in Detroit in 2006, but spent the 2007 and 2008 seasons on Injured Reserve. In 2009 he signed with New Orleans, reuniting with coach Sean Payton, his offensive coordinator in Dallas.
“He’s a pretty special player in my mind and a guy that has really brought some toughness,” Payton said when Campbell was placed on IR with a knee injury. He didn’t play that year but got a Super Bowl ring with the Saints, then retired with career totals of 91 catches for 934 yards and 11 touchdowns in 114 games.
Campbell’s ability to relate to players was a prime reason for his promotion and a perceived weakness of Philbin and defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle.
“I’ve been at the top and the bottom. I understand what it takes to bring people back,” Campbell said. “There’s different ways to motivate players. I understand people very well. I understand players.”
Campbell said he learned a lot from Philbin and intends to apply it to a team playing below its potential.
“I’m not here just to finish the season out,” he said. “It’s still early. We have time to turn it around. But we can’t wait.”