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2021 Detroit Lions awards: Coach of the Year

The Detroit Lions coaching staff may have been the stars of 2021. But who was the best among the group?

Buffalo Bills vs Detroit Lions Photo by Amy Lemus/NurPhoto via Getty Images

If there’s one reason to be optimistic about the future of the Detroit Lions, it’s via their coaching staff. If that wasn’t abundantly clear from the development of the team’s young players throughout the 2021 season, it should be obvious by the amount of attention the staff is getting this offseason, despite the team finishing 3-13-1.

Defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn got two head coaching interviews: a Denver Broncos meeting that reportedly went over six hours and a shot at replacing Saints legend Sean Payton. Defensive backs coach Aubrey Pleasant has earned two interviews this week: defensive coordinator jobs for the Vikings and Saints.

On top of that, tight ends coach Ben Johnson got an unofficial mid-season promotion to passing game coordinator and was paramount to the offense’s success in the second half of the season. As a result, he was promoted to offensive coordinator this week, and he got showering praise from Cincinnati Bengals head coach Zac Taylor at the Super Bowl.

And, of course, a ton of credit goes to head coach Dan Campbell for not only amassing this intriguing set of coaches, but for setting a clear culture in Detroit after the previous regime poisoned the well.

But who among the group deserves 2021 Detroit Lions Coach of the Year? Let’s hear what our staff has to say.

Previous awards:

2021 Detroit Lions Coach of the Year

Kellie Rowe: Aaron Glenn

There’s a reason several teams have been after him this offseason (no touchie!!!) The past few years, Detroit has been known for its bottom-of-the-rankings defense, despite the introduction of defensive-minded coach Matt Patricia. *Fart noise, professionally* While the defense certainly did not jump to the top of the stats sheet, Glenn helped this young unit in need of some talent and often severely banged up to perform better than expected—even holding seven teams to 20 or fewer points.

John Whiticar: Aaron Glenn

Without Romeo Okwara and Jeff Okudah, the Lions defense should have been 33rd in defensive DVOA, just behind the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. The fact that the Lions were able to muster a non-horrific defense with castoffs and rookies is a testament to Aaron Glenn as a coach. Like Tony Stark making power armor from a box of scraps, the Lions turned nothing into something on defense. They still had their fair share of bad outings, but turning the likes of Charles Harris, AJ Parker, and Jerry Jacobs into viable starters illustrates how important Glenn was to the defense.

Erik Schlitt: Dan Campbell

The Lions had a lot of very deserving candidates for this honor, and that is a credit for what the man at the top accomplished. On top of assembling this eclectic staff that seems to be dripping with potential, Campbell never let the early losing get him down, and he never stopped thinking of outside the box for ways to improve. Campbell trusted his coaches and players to do what they needed to do, and when things weren’t working, he wasn’t afraid to make bold decisions to shake things up. Look no further than his decision to take over play-calling duties in order to help facilitate improvement on offense. Though, the most impressive thing he accomplished this season was establishing a new culture within the building. One where players and coaches are respected, trusted, and rewarded for their hard work.

Mike Payton: Dan Campbell

Campbell was dealt a pretty bad hand all around after the previous regime tore down the franchise to its studs. He had everyone believing in a bright future at the end of the season. The young Lions found a culture and an identity under Campbell and they look to be on their way because of it.

Ryan Mathews: Dan Campbell

For all the kneecap jokes we’ve been subjected to over the past calendar year, it’s pretty clear it’s worth it: the Lions are in good hands with head coach Dan Campbell. Campbell assembled a coaching staff that has helped him implement a culture out of the ashes of what Matt Patricia left behind. A culture predicated on toughness and competitiveness, Campbell has complete buy-in from those within the organization, and it’s going to pay dividends as the team continues to improve by adding talent.

Morgan Cannon: Aaron Glenn

You know about all of the injuries. You know about all of the youth. All of that, and his defense still outperformed its talent on a weekly basis. Despite it only being his first year in a coordinator position, you can tell players revere Glenn. He also had several really strong performances against some potent offenses, like when the Lions dismantled the Arizona Cardinals at home, 30-12. Statistically, the defense had a rough year, but there is a reason Glenn is being interviewed for some of these head coaching vacancies around the league.

Chris Perfett: Dan Campbell

We started the year with kneecaps, and you either fell in love with Campbell then or roundly mocked him. But what Campbell proved in his first year was how well he could manage a locker room, how well he could get his players to fight for him, and how well he could assemble a staff. He wasn’t going to win in his first year—as I laid out in my season preview, he was always bound to lose a lot of football games. He’s weathered that storm. He’s impressed in spite of the record. Let’s see what’s next.

Hamza Baccouche: Aubrey Pleasant

He really made magic out of nothing, turning many guys who would’ve been cut from camp rosters into formidable starters over long stretches of the season. The secondary was hit with one of the worst injury bugs I’ve seen in all my years as a football fan and yet continued to churn out results, led by the emergence of players like Amani Oruwariye and Jerry Jacobs. Hats off the Aubrey Pleasant, who’s setting himself up well for a run at a coordinator position sooner or later.

Jeremy Reisman: Ben Johnson

One of the perks of putting these together is that I can answer last and give someone credit if they were skipped over. While I think the true answer is probably Campbell for amassing this impressive staff, making bold decisions on and off the field, and creating one hell of a culture, Ben Johnson was this group’s breakout star. If Johnson’s influence on the offensive turnaround wasn’t obvious enough for you, than Zac Taylor’s words need to be pounded into your head.

“He’s just one of the really, truthfully one of the sharpest football coaches in this league, and he’s only going to continue to learn from his experiences. I think Dan knows that, and that’s probably why he promoted him, because he knows he’s got one of the best young coaches in the league right there on his staff.”

This league is always on the search for bright, young minds—especially on the offensive side of the football—and the Lions may have found him. Don’t be surprised if the 35-year-old Johnson joins the ranks of Lions coaches in high demand next year.

Poll

Who was the Lions’ Coach of the Year in 2021?

This poll is closed

  • 67%
    Dan Campbell
    (1200 votes)
  • 17%
    Aaron Glenn
    (310 votes)
  • 6%
    Aubrey Pleasant
    (109 votes)
  • 5%
    Ben Johnson
    (96 votes)
  • 3%
    Hank Fraley
    (54 votes)
  • 0%
    Other
    (14 votes)
1783 votes total Vote Now