How the Lions are grooming Duce Staley to be a head coach


With the Lions, Duce Staley’s “assistant head coach” tag is much more than a courtesy.

Dan Campbell means it.

Campbell, the Lions’ rookie head coach, said he’s already involving Staley in all aspects of the club’s operations and plans to include him more and more as the year goes on.

“I told Duce when I was on the phone with him, when I thought that he was about to get out of Philly, or he was thinking about it – I told him, ‘Look, you’re not going to be a token assistant head coach,’” Campbell said.

The Eagles added “assistant head coach” to Staley’s running backs coach title in 2018, after he was passed over for the offensive coordinator position in favor of Mike Groh.

And Doug Pederson did lean heavily on Staley. When Pederson missed a week and a half with COVID in August, Staley ran practices.

But in Detroit, even though he has the exact same title, his role sounds much broader and far more important.

"I’m going to use him, and I plan on using him for some media obligations,” Campbell said on a Zoom call with Lions writers Tuesday morning. “We had him in during our player evaluations on the whole offense and defense, though he wasn’t able to be in there very long because he had to go back with (offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn) and work offensively, but I’m going to keep him abreast of the cap and things of that nature, what we’re trying to do with free agency, guys that I know, even if they’re on defense I want him to have a hand in.”

Staley coached under Andy Reid, Chip Kelly and Pederson during his 11 years on the Eagles’ coaching staff, and he had the option to remain under Nick Sirianni.

But he understandably felt like he was at a dead end here. He was bypassed for the head coach job in 2016 and again this past year, when several of the team’s most prominent veterans vocally supported his candidacy.

Campbell compared Staley’s role with the Lions as similar to his own role with the Saints from 2016 through 2020, when he was Sean Payton’s tight ends coach but also held that assistant head coach title.

“I’m going to use this guy,” Campbell said. “I mean, he’s going to be primed and ready to be a head coach when it’s all said and done. Like, all his bases are going to be covered. He’s going to be able to check off every box and say, ‘All right, I’ve been there. I’ve done that. I know I’ve been trained for this,’ just like Sean (Payton) did for me.”

Staley, who played for the Eagles from 1997 through 2003 and is the 5th-leading rusher in franchise history, has spent 18 of his 21 NFL seasons with the Eagles. He played for the Steelers from 2004 through 2006, winning the first of his two Super Bowl rings.

“He’s going to be a true assistant head coach and if something goes down and he needs to step into my seat, he’s ready to roll,” Campbell said. ‘So that’s how I view it.”

Staley, 44, has only been with the Lions for a month, but he’s already made quite an impression.

And it’s got to be nice to be part of an organization where you feel truly valued.

“I’ve got a lot of respect for Duce and I think he’s a hell of a man,” Campbell said. “I think he’s a hell of a coach, and I really do, I believe he’s going to be a head coach in this league sooner than later. Now, hopefully later than sooner, but I know it’s going to happen.”

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