Former NFL receiver turned NFL Network personality Steve Smith has never been afraid to speak his mind. So when the Detroit Lions and Dan Campbell made plenty of headlines last year—often for the wrong reasons—he wasn’t one to shy away from criticism.
He was most vocal after the Lions’ Week 1 loss to the San Francisco 49ers. Specifically, Smith believed the infamous sideline interaction between cornerback Jeff Okudah and then secondary coach Aubrey Pleasant was a clear indication that this new Lions regime was “a train wreck waiting to happen,” and he didn’t need any other evidence.
“Again, I question the culture,” Smith told the Detroit Free Press after the Pleasant sideline blowup. “Has it changed? Nah, it hasn’t changed. And probably after this article, Coach is going to say, ‘I’d love to have Steve come and observe.’ Bro, I don’t need to observe.”
Of course, most of us knew at the time that judging the entire culture of a franchise based on one emotional in-game interaction between two people he had never met was ridiculous. Smith’s comments drew further criticism when he openly admitted that he hadn’t seen Pleasant and Okudah embrace moments later.
And, sure enough, it turns out Smith did need to see a little more about what the Lions and Campbell had to offer. Because earlier this week on NFL Network, Smith was singing a completely different tune.
“I’ve been very critical of coach Campbell, based off when he was picked up as a coach. He went through his whole—his first interview was very passionate. It was a little aggressive. It was a little extra,” Smith said on NFL Network this week. “But just also seeing what he’s done, I have to go back and say I’m really impressed to what he has done and how he is doing things. You’re talking about a team that, yes, they were 3 and 13, but seven losses by single digits last year—second most in the NFL. That’s also telling me that they’re close. They’re on the verge of doing some really special things.”
On one hand, it’s refreshing to hear a pundit admit they were a bit hasty in their judgment. On the other hand, Smith should never have jumped to such conclusions in the first place. It was especially reckless for Smith to assert that he doesn’t even need a closer look. He had made up his mind based on a five-second interaction.
But let’s let bygones be bygones.
Smith knows that some will continue to be skeptical of Detroit based on their history. But he truly believes Campbell is creating the kind of Lions team we haven’t seen in a long, long time.
“Somebody will be listening to this and say, ‘You’re talking about the Detroit Lions.’ That’s my point,” Smith continued. “We know what the Detroit Lions have been for a very long time, and I believe Coach Campbell has them on the verge of changing that culture. The type of players that he’s bringing in, the type of coaches that he’s bringing in, and he’s saying that he’s all in, he’s invested. And he’s giving these young men and some of these old guys an opportunity to say, ‘Hey, can you change this culture?’ And Coach Campbell is doing that.”