The Detroit Lions defensive backs coach Aubrey Pleasant isn’t much of a secret anymore. This offseason, Pleasant scored two defensive coordinator interviews for the Minnesota Vikings and New Orleans Saints vacancies. Though he didn’t land either job, it’s clear he’s on a lot of people’s radar inside the NFL.
Aubrey also got some recognition this week from The Athletic’s Lindsay Jones, who complied her list of “40 under 40” on Tuesday. This list features the latest up-and-coming NFLers among coaching staffs, front offices, and even NFL agents all under the age of 40.
Pleasant was one of 11 people listed under the assistant coaches section.
“Dan Campbell had never coached with Pleasant before hiring him for his Lions staff in 2021, but he respected from afar the work Pleasant had done with the Rams’ defensive backs,” Jones wrote. “What Campbell saw was a coach who could connect with veteran stars like Aqib Talib and Jalen Ramsey but also develop young unheralded players like Darious Williams.”
Although Detroit’s pass defense ranked among some of the worst in 2021—Pleasant’s first year with the Lions—the defensive backs coach was credited with developing several young players. Not only did he help cornerback Amani Oruwariye and safety Tracy Walker put up career seasons, but he got productive play out of undrafted rookies AJ Parker and Jerry Jacobs when they were forced into significant roles.
Throughout the entire season, players raved about Pleasant’s ability to communicate and connect with them. In Week 1 of the season, Pleasant came under fire for a fiery exchange with cornerback Jeff Okudah, but players quickly came to his defense, pointing out that the sideline interaction ended with a hug and that players have varying relationships with their coaches.
“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,” Oruwariye said at the time. “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.”
Pleasant’s relationship with his players is a big reason the team was able to re-sign Walker, who faced free agency this offseason.
“I love playing for (defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn), and I love playing for AP, know what I mean?” Walker said this spring. “Those guys have taken care of me, and I’ve gotten better because of those guys. Since they’ve gotten here, I’ve seen massive improvements in my game, you know? Mentally, physically and as a man. So at the end of the day, that’s why I still want to play for them.”
Pleasant seems destined to find a defensive coordinator job in the near future, especially if Detroit’s secondary takes a big step in 2022. Of course, he could get promoted in Detroit if current defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn finds a head coaching job somewhere else. However, Vikings head coach Kevin O'Connell, who interviewed Pleasant back in February, thinks Pleasant is headed for things bigger than a coordinator job.
“I think he’s going to be a future head coach in this league,” O’Connell said