Detroit Lions defensive backs coach Aubrey Pleasant went viral for all of the wrong reasons during the team’s season opener. After cornerback Jeff Okudah missed an assignment on a running play, FOX cameras caught him and Okudah having a very heated argument. Pleasant was seen getting in Okudah’s face, sticking his finger at him, and repeatedly yelling “Do your job” to the 22-year-old player.
While some brushed this off as an intense conversation but with mutual respect behind it, others saw more unacceptable behavior. Former NFL wide receiver Steve Smith told the Detroit Free Press that Pleasant’s outburst was the early signs of a “train wreck waiting to happen.” Former Lions safety Glover Quin went to Instagram and condemned the coach’s actions.
“I didn’t see what made the coach go off like this, but how do you expect your player to go out and play for you after this!! These coaches be on some BS,” Quin captioned an Instagram story.
These players certainly bring a unique perspective, having been in NFL locker room and likely been on the wrong end of a shouting match before. But they’re also missing a piece of the equation: Okudah’s relationship with Pleasant.
Okudah’s teammate Amani Oruwariye tried to provide some clarity on Wednesday afternoon.
“I’m going to make it real clear. Everyone has particular relationships with coach Pleasant,” Oruwariye said. “He’s come here and really challenged everyone, because he sees the potential in everyone, and he really just wants to light that (fire) under every single guy. And he has different relationships, different ways of going about that, with everyone. But at the end of the day, it’s just two guys wanting to be great, you know what I mean? We have great relationships with coach Pleasant.”
Lions rookie cornerback Ifeatu Melifonwu backed up Pleasant, as well.
“Yeah, coach Pleasant is a really good coach, probably one of the best coaches I’ve ever had,” Melifonwu said. “It’s tough love sometimes, but you know it’s coming from a good place. It’s not ego or anything, he just wants us to be great.”
From the outside, it’s hard to parse through it all. It shouldn’t be overlooked that Pleasant came back to Okudah shortly after the incident and embraced him following another poor play from the young cornerback.
Pleasant has certainly showed a fiery demeanor at practices, so it’s not something that is completely new. But while these NFL players outside of Detroit may not know the intricacies of these interpersonal relationships, their outlook matters, because that’s how other current players are going to see it, too. And that sort of thing could potentially impact free agency.
The incident was big enough for Pleasant to address the team afterwards, but Melifonwu said he wanted to keep that conversation in house. Head coach Dan Campbell also commented on the moment, telling 97.1 The Ticket that he was and wasn’t okay with it.
“It’s what goes on, on the sideline,” he said. ”It’s high emotions, man, it’s high stress. And sometimes it’s the only way to communicate, at times. You have to get through, you got to break through that barrier and sometimes there’s players and there’s coaches, when you get one blowup, now you can finally get some work done if that makes sense. And it just happens that way, naturally. I don’t want disruption, but at the same time I know this, that things got cleaned up after that and so, it’s just, that’s the way it goes sometimes.”
One can still debate whether the ends justify the means, but this is certainly a nuanced discussion that is hard to have without full knowledge of Okudah’s relationship with Pleasant, what exactly was said on the sidelines, what Pleasant said to the team afterwards, and how the coach will approach his conduct going forward.