Competitors Only: The Method to Dan Campbell’s Madness

Monday, October 5th began like any other Monday would at the Miami Dolphins’ facility in Davie.

The team was not present, a day off following a game, as various employees shuffled around the building. However, this Monday was going to be a very active day for the franchise. In the late-morning, news broke that ownership had decided to part ways with head coach Joe Philbin. Ordinarily, an interim coach will enter and keep things aligned with the status-quo, opting for continuity over sweeping changes.

Dan Campbell is not your ordinary interim head coach.

Now, signs of Philbin have been erased entirely from the Dolphins’ organization. Campbell has not gone just as far as to make schematic changes to the team (which we will get to), he has physically made his mark on the facility.


Where the signs bearing slogans “Champions Play Here” and “Smart, Sound, Physical” used to exist, now sit TVs that play highlights and tape from practice. There has been a shield placed around the facility that reads “Brotherhood: Competitors Only.” The locker rooms contain signs above each exit: “A Storm Is Coming.”

Most notably is a change made to Sun Life stadium. As the players exit the locker room and stand in the tunnel used to enter the field, a slogan appears on the walls beside them.

“Lead. Compete. Dominate. Finish. Win.”

Dan Campbell has not opted for the norm. He has not done anything close to being satisfied with the interim job. I would bet serious money that he is the only interim head coach in NFL history who has ever drawn chants of his name from the stadium crowd.

He did not do this simply through placing fancy slogans on the wall and by showing up with his imposing 6’5 265 pound frame. He did so by making it clear that he was committed to improving this football team.

dolphins preview

An incredibly important line to draw is the line between having a dominant philosophy and having a dominant scheme. I do not mean dominant in the sense that it beats other teams (while it should contribute to that). The belief that a scheme can beat teams is actually the crux of what hurt this football team under Joe Philbin.

Talented players came through the Dolphins facility during Philbin’s years that he felt did not fit his “scheme.” This vague, ambiguous scheme, which could not fit the likes of Brandon Marshall and Vontae Davis, resulted in the removal of several top tier players for chump change. This “scheme” that Coach Philbin followed meant that he dictated how his players would perform, as well as which players he wanted on his team.

Dan Campbell does not have a coaching scheme. He has a philosophy. That philosophy is made clear with the slogans placed around this facility that he has taken over.

If you are willing to work hard, improve yourself, and go to war with this team, then you will be able to dominate.

This has been epitomized in the work you have seen on the field from Miami. Let’s start with the offense.

(Christopher Hanewinckel/USA TODAY Sports)

(Christopher Hanewinckel/USA TODAY Sports)

Dan Campbell is not content to give up. He actually worked extensively with Michael Egnew to try to turn that man into an NFL-caliber tight end. I could say with confidence that Campbell has never given up on anything in his life.

The Dolphins cannot give up on the run. They can’t give up on the play action. They can’t give up on Kenny Stills, Jonas Gray, or Billy Turner. Now that Campbell is in charge, they haven’t.

The team has showed determination, and at the same time flexibility. They know that they need to make sure the attack is balanced, but also are willing to adjust in game if need be. The combination of adjustments and determination in the perfect mixture allows for Campbell’s team to perform offensively as they have in recent games.

An offensive coordinator should mirror the philosophy of their head coach. Give credit to Bill Lazor for adjusting to Dan Campbell’s mentality and being able to find success with this offensive group.

While Dan Campbell is an offensive minded coach, the defense appears to have taken on his identity. The Miami Dolphins’ defensive unit has been intent upon imposing their will on the opposition, and it has made a huge impact in recent performances. Whether it is the run or the pass game, Lou Anarumo’s unit is a force to be reckoned with.


No longer is this group dependent upon the over-complicated (or over simplified) scheme of Kevin Coyle. Now, they can go out and utilize the incredible talent they have to play physical football. And nobody wants to face the Dolphins’ defense right now.

Dan Campbell is also the change in demeanor the Dolphins needed to see. He is not the stiff, cardboard figure we saw in Joe Philbin. He does not (infuriatingly) go up after losses and say that they got outplayed, or that the other team was better. Campbell is a competitive monster. He developed this attribute as a player under the likes of Sean Payton and Bill Parcells, and he takes on the intensity of those coaches.

When you see Dan Campbell on the sideline, he is one with this team. He does not appear to be a separate entity. He has his finger on the pulse of these players, and he knows what they need to play their best. He knows this because not so long ago he was in their position. He knows what a player needs to hear. He knows what to look for in a locker room. He knows how to motivate those surrounding him.

Everything that Dan Campbell does is calculated. While it is easy to dismiss him as a meathead, or a player’s coach, he knows what he is doing. The motivation tactics he uses have been developed by those he played under, and he is doing what he wishes coaches would have while he was playing. This perspective is exactly what the Miami Dolphins needed. They did not need someone who existed separately from the players, and they did not need someone who was so close with the players that it caused clouded judgment. They needed Dan Campbell.

The old NFL cliché is that players take on the persona of their head coach. I never felt the effects of this given the Dolphins’ head coaches for the last decade. Now, I understand what it means for a player to play through their coach. The Miami Dolphins needed someone like Dan Campbell, who does not only give orders to his team, but also inspires his players to give maximum effort. The men on this team know that Dan Campbell will go to war for them, and they will do the same for him.

We’ve all heard it in Campbell’s voice. We have seen it in his eyes. He has a fire that is unmatched by anyone we have seen at the helm of the Miami Dolphins in a very long time. He is not disconnected, and knows what players want and need to be successful in this league. He can connect with them and be a part of the team, but does not degrade himself to pacifying them as a “player’s coach”.


If Dan Campbell had come in and acted like a typical interim, merely shuffling along until someone took his place, then I would rightfully refer to him an interim head coach. But he is not. Regardless of what his title reads, Dan Campbell has put his heart and soul into transforming this football team into a winning unit.

I am not advocating that Dan Campbell should be the head coach of the Miami Dolphins going forward. If the organization had to choose today between Campbell and an outside guy, they would probably choose Campbell. But they do not have to choose today. They do not have to choose this month. They do not even have to choose in this calendar year. The Dolphins’ ownership and front-office has until early-January, when the 2015 season concludes, to assess Dan Campbell. There is still plenty we need to learn about the NFL’s youngest head coach. Can his team play up to competition? How does he manage the clock? How does he react in close games? Everything is still very much uncertain. While it is too early to proclaim him the coach of the future, it is not necessary to think of him as a temporary entity.

The only thing I am arguing is that Dan Campbell is not an interim head coach. He is not a replacement who is brought in to foster any sense of continuity. He is his own coach, and has his own system. While he may be listed on the Miami Dolphins’ website as the interim head coach, you will not hear many Dolphins fans refer to him as such.

I cannot guarantee how long Campbell will be here, or what will occur for the rest of the season. But I can guarantee one thing. As long as Dan Campbell is this team’s coach, and as long as he is at the helm, this team will live by the five key words that he has ensured the players will see every time they take the field at Sun Life Stadium.

“Lead. Compete. Dominate. Finish…”

And most importantly…


(Photo- Miami Dolphins)

(Photo- Miami Dolphins)

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