Did Detroit Lions Coach Dan Campbell Play Football in the NFL?

Melissa Willets - Author

Jan. 15 2024, Published 10:12 a.m. ET

Dan Campbell of the Detroit Lions on the sideline before the game against the Denver Broncos on Dec. 16, 2023
Source: Getty Images

With Detroit Lions head coach Dan Campbell leading his team to the first playoff victory for the franchise in over 30 years, fans are dying to know more about the boisterous leader's past.

For example, they are wondering: Did Dan play football in the NFL at any point?

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Read on for details about the celebrated coach's career, including how he got his start in the NFL. Here's a hint: Leading the Lions wasn't his first stint with the beloved team.

Head coach Dan Campbell of the Detroit Lions reacts to a penalty during the game against the Dallas Cowboys on Dec. 30, 2023
Source: Getty Images
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So, did Dan Campbell play football in the NFL before coaching the Lions?

Dan is well known to fans for his fiery personality on the sidelines of the football field. That spirited — and sometimes angry — style of leadership may have taken root when he played football in the NFL.

Indeed, the winning coach wasn't always wearing headphones and calling plays.

The Texas native formerly played in college at Texas A&M. From there, Dan was drafted to the New York Giants, where he played tight end from 1999–2002. He moved on to play with the Dallas Cowboys, until 2005.

Then, Dan joined the team he now coaches. He stayed on the Lions' starting roster until 2008. He finished his NFL playing career in 2009 with the New Orleans Saints.

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Interestingly, the super high-energy leader spent time coaching other teams he used to play for, including the Saints. In 2021, Dan became head coach for the Lions — and the rest has been history in the making.

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Dan Campbell has decades of experience in the NFL, but the team's win in the playoffs was a new high.

Talking about the Lions' huge win over the Los Angeles Rams, led by quarterback Matthew Stafford, on Jan. 14, 2024, Dan said, "That is arguably the best environment I’ve ever been in."

"That was absolutely electric, and I think what’s crazy is I was coming down for pre-game warmup and you could just feel it," the coach went on to share. "It was humming. The building was humming, and I swear you could feel the electricity down the tunnel from where I was coming down, and it only just grew from there."

Following the landmark playoff victory — the team's first such win in 32 long years — Dan was clearly very fired up, as was the Lions' quarterback Jared Goff, who told his equally pumped-up teammates, "This is just the beginning boys."

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Fans were equally exuberant, with some who have never seen a playoff win in their lifetime basically losing it in the stands.

Meanwhile, Dan credits those fans for helping to propel the Lions to the landmark victory.

"Our fans showed up in a big way," Dan said after the game.

"I thought for two years now that building’s been rocking," he added. "It was different today. That was a whole 'nother level. It’s what the playoffs are all about. So, our fans showed up in a big way. They helped us win this game.”

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