The Road Never Travelled: Who Is Miami Dolphins’ Interim Head Coach Dan Campbell?

Today, the Miami Dolphins fired head coach Joe Philbin, and made a surprising decision as to who will replace him. Dan Campbell, an ex-NFL tight end, was handed the reigns to the team, after being an intern just five years ago. This meteoric rise is a story in and of itself, but who is the new head coach of the Dolphins? Here’s a brief history of Miami’s new leader. 

“With the 79th overall pick in the 1999 NFL Draft, the New York Football Giants select…Dan Campbell, tight end, Texas A&M.”

In just sixteen years Dan Campbell has gone from on the clock to wearing a headset on the sidelines. To put that into perspective, he was drafted in the same year as Peyton Manning and Champ Bailey. That being said, Campbell has gone from NFL rookie to head coach in the same amount of time that Manning has been playing. While this might be surprising for most players, Campbell was thrust into a special set of circumstances. At each of his stops in the NFL he was surrounded by excellent coaches, and the presence of those individuals clearly influenced Campbell greatly.18904434-standard

Jim Fassel, longtime coach of the New York Giants, drafted Dan Campbell to be the team’s answer at tight end. In just Campbell’s second season, the team was in the Super Bowl. Campbell failed to catch a pass in Super Bowl XXXV, and only caught eight in his entire second season. While he did only notch eight receptions, three of them were for touchdowns.

Campbell lasted with the Giants until 2003, when he signed with the Dallas Cowboys. Anyone who knows of Campbell’s personality can see how he was a fit with then Cowboys head coach Bill Parcells. While Campbell’s production was not noteworthy with the Cowboys (25 receptions and 2 touchdowns over three seasons), he started for the team playing a more traditional blocking role for a tight end. But what Dan Campbell was unable to do for the Cowboys, the Cowboys were able to do for Dan Campbell.


The 2003 season not only marked Campbell’s first as a Cowboy, but it also marked the first season for Sean Payton as the team’s offensive coordinator. Between Parcells and Payton, Dan Campbell was shown what it takes to be successful in the NFL. When a player sticks around with a franchise for three seasons with little impact on the field at a position that doesn’t usually warrant great depth, it is usually due to a relationship with coaches or presence in the locker room. Based on all accounts, Payton and Parcells kept Campbell for both reasons.

Another crazy Campbell age reference: his backup during the 2003 season was Jason Witten. Campbell was 27.

Dan Campbell’s third stop in the NFL was with the Detroit Lions. In 2006 he signed with the team and served as their starting tight end for three seasons. Campbell’s last year on the team was the infamous 0-16 season in which the Lions became the only team in NFL history to not win a single game. Rod Marinelli was Campbell’s coach with the Lions; another example of how he was surrounded by a litany of well-regarded coaches throughout his playing career.


While the Detroit Lions were the last team for which Campbell would play in the regular season, they were not the last team he was a member of. In 2009 Dan Campbell signed with the New Orleans Saints, coached by his former offensive coordinator Sean Payton. Campbell tore his MCL in training camp and was placed on injured reserve. He was still however a member of the team, and received a Super Bowl ring following the team’s 31-17 win over the Colts. Dan Campbell went from worst to first, going from a 0-16 team to the Super Bowl champions.

So where did Dan Campbell’s last NFL game, and only Super Bowl victory take place? Sun Life Stadium.

Dan Campbell’s playing career ended in 2009, and in 2010 his coaching career began. Campbell was signed on as an intern with the Miami Dolphins. Most believe that this was through Bill Parcells’ connection with Jeff Ireland. He eventually became the Dolphins’ tight ends coach, and is now the youngest head coach in the National Football League.

What Happens Next?


Now, Dan Campbell is here. He is the Miami Dolphins’ head coach. Don’t let his age (or appearance of a current player) fool you. He means business. Campbell has seen it all. He has been a part of the best team in the NFL, and a part of the worst team. He has lost Super Bowls, he has won Super Bowls, and he has seen teams struggle to get there. He has been with quiet coaches, and he has been with the loudest of them all. He played for two future Hall of Famers, Sean Payton and Bill Parcells. Yes, he is only 39 years old. But Dan Campbell has experienced more in the last 16 years than most would in a lifetime.

While he was not the obvious choice for the job as interim head coach, he was the best choice. Campbell is wise beyond his years, and brings the perfect philosophy to the Dolphins. In his introductory press conference, fans awed at his passion and honesty. He spoke of the need to change the team’s culture, and spoke as frankly as you will hear in an NFL press conference. He wants to establish toughness, competition, and hard work within a team that he clearly feels is too soft. He will be able to relate to the players, and is the type of motivator that a group this lethargic truly needs. Most coaches say that they relate to their players, but Campbell actually does, and the players will surely respect him. The toughness he will bring is exactly what Miami needs, if only for the 2015 season. We can already see based on his press conference that he is going to make serious changes to this team. Dolphins’ fans also had to love the one word Campbell used repeatedly to describe his philosophy as a coach: Dominate.

It will take a miracle for Dan Campbell to keep Front06 Dolphins Dep Hmgthis job for the 2016 season. He would surely have to take this 1-3 team with a grueling back half of the schedule and get them to the playoffs. While we could be skeptical and call this a temporary promotion, let’s just take a step back and enjoy the story. This guy was drafted 16 years ago, played for 10 seasons in the NFL, and then went from intern to head coach in five seasons. Some will spend their entire lives on an NFL staff without being given a shot at this job. There is clearly something special about Dan Campbell, and I’m excited to find out if he can channel that something into some success as the coach of the Miami Dolphins.

It is Day One. A new era has begun in Miami. Whether or not that era extends beyond the end of 2015 remains to be seen, but it will certainly make for an interesting time in South Florida. Campbell brings energy and passion that the team has lacked since Philbin took over in 2012, and it is exciting. Many have accepted that the Dolphins’ season is a wash, and some are simply going through the motions until the next chance Miami will have to rebuild. But there is one person who has not given up. There is one person who will put everything they have into getting this team to the playoffs. There is one person who will not let this group of 53 men quit, whether they end up 13-3 or 1-15.

That man is Dan Campbell. And at least for now, he is the head coach of your Miami Dolphins.

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