We’re officially in offseason mode. With that comes a brand new series called Burning Questions. We’re going to go through the biggest questions that Detroit Lions fans are going to have on their minds all offseason long and see how many of these questions we can answer. Let’s jump right into our first question. What are the Lions going to do at offensive coordinator?
When the Lions hired Anthony Lynn to be the team’s offensive coordinator in January of 2021, it seemed like a great match for this team. Lynn had been coaching in the league for 20 years and had a history as an offensive coordinator and head coach. His philosophy seemed to mesh with head coach Dan Campbell, so, of course, it seemed like this would work. Unfortunately, it did not. Lynn lost play calling duties at the bye week and now Lynn and the Lions have agreed to mutually part ways.
So what do the Lions do now? let’s take a look at a few options:
Promote from within
This seems like a likely option. The Lions have some guys on staff who could be ready to take the next step. Chief among them is tight ends coach Ben Johnson. You may have heard his name in Lions postgame press conferences a lot this this season, especially when you’re wondering who designed that cool play you saw in the game. Dan Campbell and Jared Goff, among others, have had rave reviews of Johnson this season.
Johnson, despite being relatively young at just 35 years old, has been in the coaching ranks for some time now. He was with Dan Campbell in Miami as an offensive assistant. He’s also been an assistant quarterbacks coach, assistant receivers coach and a tight ends coach. He’s been with the Lions since 2019 and he’s worked his way up the ranks. With a history at every part of the offense, it’s clear he is considered a bright, rising mind in the league and a natural fit to take over for Lynn.
Don’t count out assistant head coach Duce Staley, either.
Hire an outside candidate
There are a lot of candidates out there already. Guys like Jay Gruden and Bill O’Brien are already garnering interest for head coaching jobs via the Jaguars and Panthers. There are some other popular names out there like Bills quarterback coach Ken Dorsey and even Michigan’s OC Josh Gattis is expected to get some interest from NFL teams this offseason.
Some popular names to really keep an eye on are Joe Brady and Saints quarterback coach Ronald Curry. Both Brady and Curry spent time in New Orleans when Campbell was there.
Curry joined the Saints in the same year as Campbell, starting as an offensive assistant. Since then, he has been promoted to wide receiver coach, then moved to quarterbacks coach this season. Again, that versatility lends to the next logical step in his career: offensive coordinator.
As for Brady, he was the Saints offensive assistant from 2017 to 2018 before helping LSU win the national championship in 2019 as the university’s passing game coordinator. Most recently, he was the Carolina Panthers offensive coordinator. Unfortunately, he was let go by the Panthers in December before even finishing his second season with the team.
If the Lions interview for the job, I would expect both Brady and Curry to be brought in. But there are plenty of other options out there.
Do the Lions need an OC?
Here’s a question: what’s the point? Dan Campbell has shown that he’s a pretty good play caller this season and only got better as the season went on. So why do the Lions need an offensive coordinator if Campbell has shown that he is perfectly capable of calling the plays?
In his final press conference of the season on Monday, Campbell weighed the benefits and drawbacks of holding onto the position.
“I think the pros are that I’ll only continue to get better as an offensive play caller and I’ll get better at both, being both as far as game management and a play caller. I think those are the pros,” Campbell said. “I think the cons can be that you’re not as invested defensively and special teams with the totality of your players that you might—that you would be able to be if you weren’t so invested in the offense. So, I think that’s the pros and cons and I’ve got to decide that.”
So where would that leave the Lions? Do they have to hire someone just to assume the title?
Not necessarily. Perhaps the Lions’ best move if they’re fine with Campbell calling the plays is to have a guy like Ben Johnson take the OC role to be the Robin to Campbell’s Batman. They can team up together along with the rest of their guys to make up a creative playbook. Campbell can then be the play caller. That’s essentially how Sean Payton operates in New Orleans, and we know Campbell is heavily influenced by his mentors.
Detroit could also just officially give the job title of “passing game coordinator” to Johnson and operate without an official coordinator. It’s rare, but there are a handful of teams who occasionally function without an official coordinator.
Campbell admitted that him taking over play calling this year could impact the team’s ability to find an offensive coordinator this offseason. And if Campbell decides to keep play calling for 2022, it’s going to be even tougher to find an outside coach who agrees to that arrangement.
So maybe the most simple solution is the most likely: keep the structure that was working at the end of the year. If it’s not broke, then don’t fix it. The Lions can fine-tune the operation by defining roles more clearly, but don’t be surprised if Detroit decides to keep things going as they are.