Signs starting to point to Saints' Dan Campbell as next Lions coach

Justin Rogers
The Detroit News

The Detroit Lions' coaching search got some clarity Friday, including the possible emergence of a front-runner for the vacancy.

Multiple reports, including the NFL Network and Sports Illustrated, stated that New Orleans tight-ends coach Dan Campbell is the front-runner for the Detroit job. 

Dan Campbell has emerged as a front-runner for the Lions head-coaching job.

The day started with the news that two interviews scheduled for Friday were canceled. Arthur Smith, the Tennessee Titans offensive coordinator, was expected to come to town for a second, in-person interview, but pulled out after the Atlanta Falcons offered him their head-coaching position. That deal was finalized in the afternoon. 

Also, the NFL Network reported Tampa Bay defensive coordinator Todd Bowles canceled his virtual interview with the Lions after determining he didn't have a realistic shot at the job. 

That potential hire of Campbell excited ESPN analyst and former Lions quarterback Dan Orlovksy, who was teammates with Campbell during his three-year stint with the Lions (2006-08). 

Orlovsky raved about how well-respected Campbell is across the NFL and believes that will help him in an important way if he's hired by the Lions.

"I just think he’s gonna be able to put together a great staff," Orlovsky said on Pat McAfee's podcast. "(That’s) something that I’ve really leaned into over the past couple months, because we get really enamored with head coaching hires, as we should. They’re important, but the staff that the guy brings with him is as important, if not more, and I think that his connections and the people he knows within the league is gonna give him a really good opportunity to put together a big-time staff." 

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Campbell had a 10-year career as a 265-pound, block-first tight end. He moved into coaching a year after retiring, working as an intern for the Miami Dolpins in 2010 before he was promoted to coach the team's tight ends.  When the Dolphins fired coach Joe Philbin four games into the 2015 season, Campbell was named interim head coach. He led the team to a 5-7 record during that stretch.

Since 2016, Campbell has worked for the Saints, both coaching the team's tight ends and serving as an assistant head coach to Sean Payton. 

Campbell, who has interviewed for several vacancies in recent years, and was a finalist for the Indianapolis Colts job that went to Frank Reich in 2019, can't interview in-person or be hired by the Lions until after the Saints have been eliminated for the postseason. They play the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday evening in the NFC divisional round. 

With Smith landing in Atlanta, four of the six candidates the Lions have interviewed remain available — Campbell, former Cincinnati Bengals coach Marvin Lewis, Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy and Lions interim coach Darrell Bevell. 

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From that list, only Lewis and Bieniemy have interviewed for other positions with Lewis talking to the New York Jets and Houston Texans and Bieniemy getting looks from five teams and a sixth interview (Texans) possible.

The other candidate for the Lions job, San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator and Dearborn native Robert Saleh, was hired by the New York Jets on Thursday

New Lions general manager Brad Holmes, hired Thursday, is expected to have a hand in the hiring of the head coach. He's not expected back in town until early next week, logically suggesting the Lions won't progress with a coaching decision until then.

Twitter: @Justin_Rogers