January 19th, 2021 — Deep inside the bowels of Ford Field, a meeting was taking place to officially swear in Dan Campbell as the next Detroit Lions Head Coach. Sheila Ford (daughter of former longtime owner Martha Ford) was joined by the newest member of the front office, GM Brad Holmes, & a few other higher-ups in the Lions organization.
The mood was joyful, exciting, and hopeful as they all shook hands with Campbell, congratulating him on his new position and making it known how excited they were to be starting this new journey with him as their captain.
Campbell was excited too, but more thankful than anything. How did this kid from the little old town of Clifton, Texas make it this far? He wondered to himself. The conference room had begun to clear out as he started to pack his things in his suitcase: A copy of his playbook, his resume, and a few practice plans among other things. Too excited to care at the moment, Campbell crammed it all in at once, and quickly sat up and pushed in his chair, he couldn’t wait to get out and call his wife with the good news. Just as he was about to leave the room a voice called out to him, it was Holmes.
“You ready to get to work?” He asked Campbell with a smile on his face as he reached out his hand for a shake.
“Yes, sir.” He answered with a smile on his face as he aggressively took Holmes’ hand, “very.”
“Awesome, you deserve it man. I’m really looking forward to our working relationship and the bright future ahead for this franchise. But don’t worry about that tonight… tonight, just appreciate how far you have come and celebrate with your family. Monday we get to work.” Holmes said as he patted Campbell on his back on his way out the door.
“Thank you, Brad. I’m looking forward to it too, have a good night and I’ll talk to you Monday.” Campbell answered.
Holmes left the room and shut the door behind him. Leaving Campbell alone in the room with his thoughts.
Campbell decided to stay a beat longer, wanting to soak up this moment for as long as he could in that conference room. After a couple minutes or so, he decided to stand up and make his way out of the room. He went to pull the door open but it wouldn’t budge, must be a damn push door he thought to himself as he finally pried open the door and continued toward the exit. But before he could leave the dark hallway, he heard some snickering…
“I remember when I got hired,” a voice said behind him. “Yeah, I was so young, motivated, and full of life then… Now look at me. I’m a fat blob and NFL teams wouldn’t even trust me to be their scout team defensive coordinator anymore, due to this place. From winning Superbowls, to this… What a fall from grace.”
Campbell recognized the voice, but he didn’t believe his ears – He needed to see him with his own two eyes. He turned around and he wasn’t mistaken, at the end of the hallway stood a rather rotund man with a pencil dangling from his ear. It was former Detroit Lions Head Coach Matt Patricia.
“Hey, M—-att, I’ve been meaning to reach out to you,” Campbell stuttered before he was cut off.
“Oh, I’m sure you were,” Patricia answered sarcastically. “They probably warned you to stay far away from me, didn’t they? Like I’m a monster or something that will eat your brains”
“I don’t know what you are talking about,” Campbell answered sternly.
“Oh, yes you do. They told me the same thing about Jim Caldwell when I got here… Then I learned the truth,” Patricia said in a matter-of-fact tone.
Campbell questioned, “And what’s that? That you tried to turn this franchise into a mini-Patriots and you destroyed everything that Caldwell had built, that truth?”
“You know, you remind me a lot of myself,” the ex-coach said as he plopped down on a spinning chair that was left in the hallway from a meeting earlier. “Yeah, I was the bees knees when I came here. I was the former Super Bowl winning defensive coordinator, who made the greatest play in football happen (Malcolm Butler interception), and I was a member of the Bill Belichick coaching tree. You see, that’s what I was… Now I’m just a has-been with a burner account on twitter. That’s what they don’t tell you on your first day.”
“What don’t they tell you?” Campbell asked more as a way to humor Patricia than to actually listen to what he’s saying.
“This is the island of misfit toys, that’s what this franchise is. They take in coaches on the upswing, like yourself, and they ruin their career. It’s a shame, you know, I’ve always been a big fan of yours. You deserved better than this place. Trust me, there is no saving this place: You have fans with unrealistic expectations and a shitty attitude, terrible ownership, a terrible free-agent location, and worse than all… They are reluctant to change.” Patricia continued despite Campbell’s attempt to interrupt. “When I came in here, I tried to recreate the “Patriot Way”, but they wouldn’t let me. Which is the root of the problem, yanno? They brought me in here to do things my way, but as soon as I tried they bashed me for it.”
Campbell, starting to get frustrated with Patricia’s less than kind words directed toward his franchise shot back “You aren’t Belichick, you’re a fraud and from what I heard, you weren’t the defensive guru you claimed to be!”
“Wow, they really have brainwashed you, huh?” Patricia said as he twiddled a pencil between his fingers. “So let me get this straight, I’m good enough for Bill, the greatest football coach of all-time, but according to Martha Ford and some dumb fans, I didn’t know football?”
“Listen, I’m not trying to start anything. I’m just saying your defensive stats and losing record say otherwise.” Campbell snickered. “Guess that was all on the ownership too, huh?”
“Okay Dan, lemme ask you this then; What was wrong with Jim Schwartz? Caldwell? Steve Mariucci? Rod Marinelli? Were all those guys idiots as well? What about all the coaches before them? Huh? You do realize this franchise hasn’t even sniffed a Super Bowl since 1957? Are you saying that each and every coach since then has been a bad football coach? Come on, you know better than that. You know from experience how hard it is to get a head coaching job in the NFL, all those guys were good coaches.” Patricia was just starting, “Now they’re all out of the leagu-“
“But what about Schwartz, huh? He won a Super Bowl with the Eagles as a defensive coordinator not too long ago, seems like he’s doing just fine,” Campbell argued.
“Is that so? Last I check he’s stepped away from coaching after being apart of the tanking scandal in Philly,” Patricia continued as he took a minute and a few grunts to sit up from his chair. “You can’t outrun this place, it will always catch-up to you, no matter how hard you try to run. Caldwell accepted that, I’ve accepted it, and so have others. You see, these civilized fans love you now, but as soon as the chips are down, they’ll turn on you, like a Lepper (Joker reference). You might think I’m crazy, but I’m just trying to keep you from making the same mistake I did.”
“You don’t know what you are talking about,” Campbell said as he spun away from Patricia and started toward the door. He took a few more steps down the hall and almost reached the door before Patricia called to him again.
“This place can’t be saved. You know that, you’re smart enough to know that. They want you to change the culture here, but when I so much as held a practice outside the dome, they called me crazy. As soon as I wanted to get rid of some of the bad apples in the locker room (Darius Slay), they called me Hitler. Oh, and when I wanted to bring in my own offensive coordinator, they made me retain Jim Bob-Cooter! Are you kidding me?! His last name is Cooter! I could have told you that guy was an idiot before I even met him. And don’t even get me started on Stafford, this franchise is so used to losing that as soon as they get a competent QB, they won’t let him go in favor of a Trevor Lawrence or Justin Fields. Just tell me this Dan, how am I supposed to change their losing ways if they don’t want to do it themselves?!”
Campbell wouldn’t admit it out loud, but he couldn’t ignore how oddly similar situation the two coaches situations were. Brad Holmes had already made it clear to Campbell that they were keeping OC Darrell Bevell on board, as well as Stafford… Despite his wishes to bring in own of his own guys to call the plays and a fresh face as QB.
“So, what should I do?” Campbell asked.
“Get out,” Patricia answered sternly but with a hint of desperation in his voice. It was almost as if he was in the middle of a Jordan Peele movie, issuing a warning to the main character to leave the house immediately. “Call Sean Payton immediately and ask for your job back, it’s the only way you won’t commit career suicide.”
Campbell thought for a moment before answering “I can’t, I already conducted my exit interviews there and signed the contract here, I can’t bail now that’d look terr-!”
“YOU DID WHAT?! Oh no, oh no-no-no-no! Is the ink dry? Quick check and see if the ink has dried already!” Patricia urged as he rushed toward Campbell. He grabbed the suitcase from under his arm and began rifling through it before he found the contract.
The ink had dried.
A look of pure horror spread across Matt’s face… “6…6–6 years!?” He finally muttered out. “Why did you sign a contract for six years? You are doomed.”
Campbell didn’t know what to say, something about the way Patricia said “6 years”, made it sounds more like a death sentence than a million-dollar coaching contract. “Yeah, the ink is dry. I want this job and you can’t stop me. I’m going to be different, I’m going to turn this around, alright!?” Campbell was yelling now. “You are an idiot, you aren’t a defensive guru, you’re just an old hack who never takes the blame! And thanks to you, I have one hell of a mess to clean up around here!”
Patricia just stared back at Campbell as the contract fell out of his hands and hit the ground. He still looked terrified. “You have no idea what you have just done,” he said as the lights in the corridor started to flicker. “I’m so sorry.”
Patricia turned around and started to walk toward the other end of the hallway as Campbell watched.
Campbell was angry now, “So that’s it, huh? That’s all I get for an exit interview?! Thanks for the help, bud!”
Just as he finished the D in “bud”, the lights went out and everything fell silent. The only thing that kept Campbell from being completely blind, was a bright red light at the end of hall behind a door with a nameplate reading “boiler room”. Patricia pulled the door open and started to walk down the stairs without saying another word. Something about that room gave Dan the creeps, it almost seemed like something otherworldly or something from a scene in a horror movie.
“Matt! Wait, where are you going?!” Campbell yelled as he ran toward the door.
Patricia continued halfway down the smoke-laden stairs before he stopped and turned around to address Campbell… “I’m home,” he said as a few figures emerged from the smoke to help the obese Patrica scale the stairs.
Campbell recognized them immediately; It was Schwartz, Caldwell, Marinelli, and Mariucci… All former Lions head coaches. All of them looked disheveled and starved, almost as if they had been locked in a dungeon for the past 10-15 years.
Before Campbell could even muster out a word, Caldwell jumped in, “I’m sure you have a lot of questions about what this place is…”
You could say that again, Campbell thought.
“But you still have 6 years before you have to worry about that. Best of luck out there, kid.” Caldwell looked around and comforted Patrica, who had started to cry. “Take it from us, there is no hope in this franchise, only pain and suffering. God speed, son… Godspeed.”
With those final words the door slammed shut and the lights turned back on. To Campbell’s amazement, the door had disappeared…
What the hell just happened? He wondered to himself as he searched for the nearest exit. After a few manic seconds, he found the door and made his way out.
On his way out to the parking lot he wondered why none of his calls to Caldwell or Patricia were picked up prior to his hiring. What was that place? Is it a prison? How come none of the previous Lions coaches went on to succeed elsewhere?
Campbell began to sense an uneasy feeling start to wash over him as he finally exited the stadium and the sunlight hit his sweaty face. He kept pondering the words that Patricia had said to him, “get out”…
Was this really the right job for him? He had it pretty good as Sean Payton’s eventual replacement in New Orleans, why did he leave?
His head began to spin before he finally fainted and fell to the pavement.
He woke up in the conference room, I must have fallen asleep in here, he concluded as he gathered his belongings and began to pack up his suitcase once again. But when he opened his suitcase, he was shocked by what was inside.
A pencil and a laminated play sheet titled “see you soon, #Since57.” Campbell knew what that saying meant, it was a negative phrase Lions fans used to voice their frustration. And he knew who the pencil and play sheet had belonged to as well.
Was he still dreaming?
He pinched himself a few times to check, but nothing happened. This was no dream. It was a real-life nightmare.
He was officially the head coach of the Detroit Lions and he had just signed a lifetime contract of misery and a wardrobe filled with ugly Honulu Blue gear… Oh! and his exit interview with Matt Patricia, was now officially over.