ALLEN PARK, Mich. — The X’s and O’s of football come easy to first-year Detroit Lions coach Dan Campbell, but as a former player, he can wear his heart on his sleeve at times.
One of those moments came Tuesday when he had to deliver the difficult news that the Lions were releasing veteran long-snapper Don Muhlbach on his 40th birthday.
Campbell has heard the criticism following the transaction but also learned that it comes along with the job, despite trying to keep a lighthearted approach — especially when dealing with the media.
“No doubt. There’s no way to sugarcoat that,” Campbell said. “I’m an a–hole. So that’s about the best way to put it, and I hate it. There was no way around it, really. Yeah, you can say there is, but ultimately that falls on me. It’s my fault. Don’s a helluva dude. It sucks, but it is what it is.”
Muhlbach was a former teammate of Campbell’s during his tenure as a player with the Lions from 2006 to 2008. Muhlbach, a two-time Pro Bowler, spent 17 seasons with the franchise and was a three-time team captain.
His 17 years with the team is second in Lions history behind Jason Hanson’s 21.
“It stinks,” Campbell said.
In making these types of decisions involving the emotion of roster cuts, Campbell says he has leaned on his experience from Miami, where he was interim head coach in 2015. The Dolphins were 1-3 before Campbell took over, but he helped them go 5-7 to finish the year, including a victory against the New England Patriots in the season finale.
“Look, I was fortunate to get — I did get 12 weeks out in Miami. So I had already had a bit of a taste of it and really during the hardest time of the year, which was the season,” Campbell said, describing the emotions of coaching. “So I kind of knew a little bit of what I was walking into. Now, what I didn’t ever have to worry about necessarily was what’s coming down the wire and what had to transpire a couple of days ago when you have to start letting players go that have just given their heart and soul to everything.
“That’s hard. For me, I can take things personal at times, if I’m being honest with you. … It digs on me a little bit, and I hate it because I was in that locker room and I played and I know when you see these guys who literally do give everything they have and you have to let them go or you got to make these decisions, it’s tough. It’s real tough because I appreciate them, but it is what it is.”