Lions Coach Is as Gritty as His Old Chevy Truck

Nick French

Dan Campbell is a gritty, laser-focused, no-nonsense everyman who’s also been described as an affable, goofy meathead. All are true. If there’s a job to do, you want him on your team. And when that work is done, he’s a guy you want to party with. In football terms, he’s a “player’s coach”—he loves his guys, and they love him.

When it comes to Campbell, it’s all about authenticity and loyalty, two things the playoff-bound Detroit Lions head coach has exemplified his entire life. He doesn’t pretend to be something he’s not, a philosophy that was reflected early on in his choice of vehicles. During Campbell’s playing days at Texas A&M and early in his NFL career with the New York Giants, he continued to drive a tired 1990s Chevrolet pickup truck that he affectionately called Betsy. The exact details are a bit sketchy, and after an extensive internet search we could find no direct quotes from Campbell about the single-cab pickup, but everyone who knew Betsy remembers her fondly. Sort of.

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Dan Campbell jumps to catch the ball as Sam Shade watches during a game at the Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey, on September 19, 1999: The Redskins defeated the Giants 50-21. Getty Images/Ezra O. Shaw/Allsport

“It was a white pickup, beat-up—it was ugly, too,” former A&M teammate and NFL All-Pro Dat Nguyen tells ESPN. “I don’t know if it had rust, and I don’t know how he got it, but I know we didn’t grow up with much, so I’m assuming it might’ve been passed down from his dad to him … 

“[When] you see Betsy, you know that’s Dan. If he parked in front of the weight room … your ass better get in there quick because he’s going to be on you, because he’s already started.”

Speaking of starting (or not starting), Shane Lechler, another former A&M teammate and roommate, says Campbell and the truck needed to be rescued every now and then.

“I had to go get him a couple times,” Lechler says. “He was trying to drive to Glen Rose [Texas] one day, and I think something happened and I had to tow him back or some shit, I don’t know.”

The truck, and Campbell’s loyalty to Texas A&M, converged when head coach R.C. Slocum brought in a top recruit to visit the Aggies’ College Station campus. Campbell and Lechler took the player under their wing—until the guy expressed his appreciation for one of their rivals.

“We were hosting a recruiting trip for somebody that came in, and me and Dan were taking the guy out,” Lechler tells ESPN. “And the guy is like, ‘I really like it here, but I think I’m going to go to the University of Texas.’ Dan just pulled the truck over, kicked him out of the truck, and we left. He’s like, ‘You got to go, you’ve got to get out.’ 

“I thought Dan was going to drive like a mile down the road, then turn around and go get him, but we never went back. We were at a party out of town too, not a fraternity party, but someone was hosting a party out of town, like away from town. Man, next morning R.C. Slocum was so mad at us.”

A tight end, Campbell was selected by the New York Giants in the third round of the 1999 NFL draft, the 79th player taken overall. Betsy came along—Nguyen jokes that he can’t confirm whether Campbell drove the truck there or it was towed—even though Campbell suddenly had enough money to buy whatever vehicle he wanted.

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Runningback Lousaka Polite #39 of the Dallas Cowboys falls over the goalline as teammate Dan Campbell #86 signals touchdown against the Seattle Seahawks on August 22, 2005 at Qwest Field in Seattle, Washington. Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

Campbell, now 47, spent four NFL seasons with the Giants (1999–2002), three with the Dallas Cowboys (2003–05), three with the Lions (2006–08), and one with the New Orleans Saints (2009) before retiring as a player. He later served as an assistant coach for the Miami Dolphins (2010–15) and went 5-7 as the team’s interim head coach in 2015. He was an assistant for the New Orleans Saints for five seasons (2016–20) before the Lions named him as their head coach in 2021. 

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Head football coach Dan Campbell of the Detroit Lions talks with Taylor Decker #68 during Training Camp on July 31, 2021 in Allen Park, Michigan. Leon Halip/Getty Images

After a legendary press conference to introduce Campbell, in which he promised that his team would make the city proud and never go down without a fight (he even suggested there would be some knee biting involved), some in Detroit suggested that the coach’s rah-rah persona might wear thin if he didn’t win in the Motor City. That proved to be untrue. After the Lions stumbled to a 3-13-1 record in his first year and got off to a 1-6 start in 2022, Campbell and his team rose from the ashes. Detroit has gone 20-7 since, including a 12-5 record this season and the team’s first division title in three decades. On Sunday night, the Lions will host the Los Angeles Rams in the first round of the playoffs, where they’ll attempt to score their first postseason victory since January 5, 1992.

Alas, it appears Betsy did not come along for the ride. Regardless, she lives on, as legends do, through the memories of those who knew her as Campbell’s beloved truck.

“He was proud of it,” says Steve McKinney, Campbell’s close friend and former Texas A&M teammate. “He loved that truck … ol’ Betsy.”

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Head coach Dan Campbell of the Detroit Lions while playing the Green Bay Packers at Ford Field on November 19, 2023 in Detroit, Michigan. Gregory Shamus/Getty Images




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