Detroit Lions coach Dan Campbell was clearly emotional on Monday afternoon, talking to the media just hours after he made the tough decision to fire defensive backs head coach Aubrey Pleasant.
“I think Aubrey’s a hell of a coach,” Campbell said in an opening statement. “I’ve got a ton of respect for him. It was a tough decision, but we’re a production-based business. After seven weeks, it just felt like this change needed to be made. I wish him the best of luck. I appreciate everything he’s put into this. He put his heart and soul into everything he did.”
The Lions secondary has struggled to stop a single passing offense this season. Four straight quarterbacks have finished with a passer rating above 100, and Detroit’s pass defense ranks dead last in most statistical categories including passer rating, completion percentage, DVOA, and yards per attempt allowed.
Sunday’s loss to the Miami Dolphins was the tipping point. Miami quarterback Tua Tagovailoa completed over 80 percent of his passes for a whopping 10.6 yards per pass attempt and three touchdowns.
After the game, Campbell bemoaned that the Lions secondary didn’t follow the game plan of pressing Dolphins receivers and being physical at the line. When asked on Monday if Pleasant altered the game plan in any way, Campbell rebuffed that idea, instead insisting this was the result of the defense’s body of work all season.
“No. Listen, I think that it’s all encompassing after seven weeks,” Campbell said. It’s just... with where we’re at. There again, I just think something needed to be—something needed to change.”
Really for the past 1.5 seasons, the Lions secondary has been plagued by blown assignments, missed communications, and players simply not doing the right thing. Campbell is hoping a different leader of that position group will cut down on those mistakes in a hurry.
“I just want to see us all on the same page,” Campbell said. “If we’re going to get beat, it’s because we’re—maybe we’re getting outrun or we’re not quite in-phase, but at least we’re kinda there. We gotta cut our mentals (errors) in half.”
For now, safeties coach Brian Duker and defensive quality control coach Addison Lynch will take over the defensive backs room.
“In general, it’s all about, ‘How do we relay the message a little better?’ That’s all,” Campbell said.
Some have wondered if Pleasant was ever given a fighting chance. He’s dealt with a position group that has suffered a ton of injuries—including missing both starting safeties against Miami—and a myriad of ailments to his cornerback room over the past two years. Regardless, Campbell believes the team still has enough defensive back talent to win games right now.
“I still believe in the guys that we have,” Campbell said. “I know what we have on the back end and I think they’re good enough to help us compete and win. We just have to see if we can get them going even a little bit better.”
Ultimately, Campbell insisted that Pleasant’s future is still bright. It just didn’t work out here in Detroit.
“I still believe he’s a hell of a coach, it’s just sometimes things don’t work out,” Campbell said. “And absolutely I do (see him continuing to coach in the NFL). I see him getting another opportunity and I see him continuing to grow and climb again at some point, somewhere. I do.”