LAKE BUENA VISTA—It’s an unusual path in the NFL to go from coaching tight ends to being the head coach, then returning to tight ends and starting the climb all over again. For former Dolphins coach Dan Campbell, that route has provided tremendous opportunities.
Miami put Campbell in charge after firing Joe Philbin four games into the 2015 season and he opened with back-to-back wins before ending up at 5-7 as interim coach. His three months in the head chair served him well, though, and he’s now an emerging offensive coordinator candidate in the league.
“I’ve been blessed,” said Campbell, who coaches tight ends for New Orleans and is part of the staff selected to coach the NFL in Sunday’s Pro Bowl. “Steve Ross and Mike Tannenbaum gave me the opportunity, and I’m forever grateful for that because it really opens your eyes to everything that goes on at that position.
“As a position coach, you don’t know all the ins and out and whats and whys, but when you’re the head coach, you get exposed to every bit of that. It only helps you. So to come back and be a position coach for the Saints, it allows you to look at the game a different way and you want to coach to help the head coach. In your head, you can put yourself in his seat and go, ‘Ah, I understand why he’s doing that.’”
The job as interim coach with the Dolphins was initially more difficult and extensive than Campbell realized, though he got a better handle on it as the season progressed. The biggest benefit, other than getting his name out there, was getting a better grasp of what his former and future bosses deal with on a daily basis. That’s enabled him to be a better assistant to New Orleans head coach Sean Payton.
“I don’t care who you are, if you talk to any first-time head coach, they can say all they want but they don’t know what they’re getting into,” Campbell said. “’There’s little things always popping up. I bet half of them didn’t realize you have to worry about the seating chart on the plane. You know what I mean?
“There’s all kinds of little things that happen, but I got more comfortable with it and by the end of the year I felt pretty good about what I was trying to do.”
Campbell, 41, said he is interviewing for the Vikings’ offensive coordinator vacancy Tuesday. He said being in a role that allows him to call plays has been a dream of his since the day he decided to become a coach.
He went to the Saints shortly after the Dolphins turned him down for the permanent job and went with Adam Gase instead. Sean Payton gave him the title of Associate Head Coach in addition to overseeing tight ends.
After six seasons with the Dolphins, who gave him his start as an intern in 2010 under Tony Sparano, Campbell landed with one of the best-run organizations in the league. Payton and general manager Mickey Loomis have been with New Orleans for a decade-plus, and the Saints were one of the best teams in the NFC this year at 11-5.
What he’s observed in New Orleans is a strong blueprint for him if he ultimately lands a head-coaching job.
“What Sean and Mickey have done out there is pretty phenomenal,” Campbell said. “You feel like everybody in that building is going the same direction and everybody is there to help the head coach have success, from the personnel department to Mickey to myself to the other coaches. It’s been good.”
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