The Detroit Lions have their next offensive coordinator.
According to a report from NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero, the Lions are promoting tight ends coach Ben Johnson to be their next offensive coordinator.
Johnson, a former college quarterback at North Carolina, began his coaching career at Boston College in 2009. Johnson became an offensive assistant for the Miami Dolphins in 2012 and spent the next seven seasons coaching quarterbacks, wide receivers, and tight ends. In 2020, Johnson came to Detroit to be their tight ends coach under then-coach Matt Patricia, but when Dan Campbell was hired in 2021, Johnson was retained.
Campbell and Johnson actually have a long history together. Campbell was with the Dolphins from 2011 to 2015, and when Campbell was promoted to interim coach, it was Johnson who took over as tight end coach on his staff. Fast forward to 2021, and it made a lot of sense for the two to reunite, even if it was by unusual circumstances.
Johnson and Campbell’s history came into play this past season, when the Lions' offense was struggling and looking for answers. Coming out of the bye week, Campbell took over play-calling duties from Anthony Lynn (who parted ways with the Lions this offseason and has since joined the 49ers staff) and Johnson was called upon to expand his duties. After the bye week, Johnson got more involved in the offense, and while Campbell was still calling the plays on game days, players and coaches noted on multiple occasions the impact Johnson was having on the offensive scheme.
“Ben’s been awesome,” quarterback Jared Goff said. “Ever since I got here, he’s been one the guys that you can kind of rely on as a good voice and understands kind of everything that we’re trying to do. Since he’s been in that role, being able to lean on him and asking these questions and having him take some ownership over some stuff has been really cool. He’s guy who’s got a lot of experience in the quarterback room and applying himself back in his time. But, it’s been a lot of fun working with him.”
This past week, at the Senior Bowl, Johnson was promoted to offensive coordinator of the American roster. He was given an opportunity to run practices and call the offensive plays during the game.
“Ben’s been coaching a long time,” Lions’ quarterbacks coach Mark Brunell said of Johnson at the Senior Bowl. “He’s been in the NFL I believe 10 years. Smart guy with a lot of experience, very creative, and had some good ideas that we added to what we were doing in the second half of the season. He’s a great guy, hard worker, it’s important to him. He’s great to work with. I can’t say enough about him, but he’s a good football coach. It’s been fun getting to know him this last year and learning a lot from him. I’ve been learning a lot from Ben Johnson.”
While down at the Senior Bowl, Campbell told the media that he had begun interviewing candidates for the offensive coordinator position, a pool of coaches that obviously included Johnson.
“Coach Campbell and I have sat down and we’ve talked at length on a couple different of occasions,” Johnson said of his interview with Campbell. “So, yeah. We’ve had good conversations.”
Those conversations must have been highly productive because less than two days after the conclusion of the Senior Bowl events, Johnson got the job.
“I’ll be honest with you, it’s really (Campbell’s) vision for (the offense), and having his back with that vision,” Johnson said about the future of the Lions offense. “What he wants to see, where he wants it to go. I think it really kind of centers there. This is a head-coach-driven team, and that’s offense, defense and special teams. Where he wants it to go, we will go, and that of course depends on our personnel and goes on from there. This time of year is huge for personnel acquisition, and so don’t know exactly what the offense will look like next year until we get those guys on our team.”
Campbell has said multiple times this offseason that he isn’t sure if he plans on relinquishing play-calling duties, regardless of who the offensive coordinator hire, and with Johnson back in the fold, things could really go either way at this point.
“I’ll be honest with you, at this point, I don’t think (Campbell’s) made a decision,” Johnson said about who would call plays next season. “I’ll let him speak for himself. As far as I know, he’s still deciding whether he wants to call plays or not... and hopefully — hopefully — we’ll have some clarity on the direction of the offense in the near future.”
The future is now for the Lions' offense.