On three different occasions this offseason, Detroit Lions defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn professed to the media that his goal—now that he did not land a head coaching job elsewhere—is to be the best coordinator the Detroit Lions have ever had.
“My main deal right now, I want to be the best coordinator Detroit has ever had,” Glenn said last week. “I’m going to stand by that and continue to say it because I really believe that in my heart.”
On Thursday, offensive coordinator Ben Johnson took the podium for the first time since the NFL Draft, and before any reporters had a chance to ask him a question, he took it upon himself to respond to Glenn’s comments.
“I’ve got to address the elephant in the room before we get going here,” Johnson said.
“It came to my attention that one of my colleagues made a statement about becoming the best coordinator in Detroit Lions history. Two things come to mind—one is, he’s going to have some competition for that. The other one is, I hope for his sake, dancing skills are not included because I saw him trying to breakdance last week and it was not pretty. It was not pretty.”
Of course, Johnson’s comments were light-hearted, but it also speaks to how the competition this staff is always preaching doesn’t stop with the players. All you have to do is watch one practice and see the coaches get in each other’s faces, especially during highly-competitive drills. Sometimes Duce Staley is giving it to the defensive staff. Sometimes Glenn is breakdancing after a defensive win—hence Johnson’s snarky comments.
While Glenn has an established reputation as a good coach and excellent teacher, certainly capable of making a noticeable imprint on Detroit’s record books, Johnson has a long way to go before he’s in the conversation of best ever.
Players and coaches did give him a lot of credit for the offense’s turnaround in the last two months of the season. Under Anthony Lynn, the Lions’ offense produced just an average of 16.75 points per game. When head coach Dan Campbell took over play-calling duties and Johnson essentially served as pass-game coordinator, the Lions jumped to 21.2 points per game.
“I think Ben stepping in halfway through the season really helped us as an offense with the pass game. I love him,” Lions receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown said last month. “I think he’s one of the better coaches I’ve ever been around, and I’m super excited for him to be the offensive coordinator.”
Johnson has certainly earned some goodwill in his one season with the Lions, but becoming a first-time offensive coordinator is an entirely new venture for the 36-year-old coach. Still, he’s setting the bar high for himself.
“One of my top priorities, personally, is to help (Jared Goff) have the best season of his career,” Johnson said.
Another mountain to potentially climb is taking over play-calling duties. Campbell said on Thursday that no decision has been made on who will be calling plays this year.
“I think it will be hard to make that decision until the season’s almost here,” Campbell said. “I’m just going to let it go as it goes and I want to be able to coach the team right now and let him handle the offense.”
While Johnson has no direct experience calling plays, he’s confident he can do it simply by how involved he is in game-planning throughout the week.
“I’m confident I’m ready, I am,” Johnson said. “Once again, you got to be put in those situations to truly know, but our game planning process is so detailed that I think on game day, it takes care of itself because you know exactly what you want and where you want.”
Johnson did admit that things get trickier in critical situations when play-calling is especially pivotal. But draws confidence from doing that sort of thing when he was on the Miami Dolphins coaching staff.
“The five percent that gets hard is the end of the game, end of the half situations where clock is running, you got to think quickly,” Johnson said. “And those are the situations I actually have experience with from my time in Miami, doing that in practice with some of our guys. So I know what pitfalls there potentially are. It’s a learning experience, no doubt about it, but it’s one I certainly feel confident about.”
Say what you will about this coaching staff, but they don’t lack anything in confidence.