There was one obvious candidate for the Detroit Lions’ new offensive coordinator, but teams don’t always make the obvious choice. The Lions didn’t get too cute and promoted their tight ends coach, Ben Johnson, to be their new OC after the departure of Anthony Lynn. So, did the Lions get this right by hiring from within?
There isn’t a player on Detroit who hasn’t spoken highly of Johnson, so if Step 1 is getting the players to buy in, you can check that box. Amon-Ra St. Brown, who will be a massive part of the Lions’ future on the offensive side of the ball, had nothing but great things to say about Johnson before the Lions promoted him.
“His attention to detail when he was installing these plays in the red zone,” St. Brown recalled in an interview with the Free Press last month. “He presents really well. He’s super confident up there. He knows what he’s talking about. You can just hear it in his voice. So I just remember him going up there, I think it was early in the year, installing red zone plays, and right from then on I knew he was a smart, special dude.”
That confidence that St. Brown notes in Johnson seems to have rubbed off on the players, especially in the latter stages of the 2021 season when Detroit started to find a groove on offense. St. Brown is convinced he wouldn’t have had the year he did as a rookie if it weren’t for Johnson.
“He’s open to all new ideas,” said St. Brown, who caught 63 of his Lions rookie record 90 passes in the final nine games of the season. “So, as a player, we love that. The quarterbacks love him. I think all the receivers, we all love him. So if he does get the job, I’m going to be super excited because without him I don’t think I would have had the numbers that I had toward the end of the year. I love Coach Ben.”
Quarterbacks coach Mark Brunell chimed in with his two cents as well.
“I‘ve learned a lot from Ben, and not just since the last couple weeks or whatever, but since the day I stepped foot on this facility. I’ve learned a lot from him as far as offensive football, passing game, coaching, and he’s been around some good coaches and I’m fortunate that I get to be around him.”
All the praise is well deserved, but one bullet point on the resumé stands out for the new offensive coordinator. He’s never called plays.
Head coach Dan Campbell took over play-calling duties from Lynn midseason. While it was certainly an adjustment for the players and Campbell, there was a nice rapport as the season came to a close. Hiring Johnson and knowing he’s never called plays could indicate even more about the coach’s plans.
While Campbell hasn’t announced who will call plays in 2022, hiring Johnson makes it more likely that Campbell will retain the play-calling duties. Had he gone with an outside hire, a familiar name who is used to calling plays, it would’ve been hard to imagine Campbell not handing over the play-calling responsibilities.
Promoting from within was a wise move by the Lions as they strive for consistency. An outside hire could’ve worked out. But it would’ve pried away the play-calling duties from Campbell just as he was finding his groove. While Johnson could still take over that responsibility, it’ll be easier for Campbell to keep chugging ahead. In return, Johnson will be able to balance things out and focus on other areas of the offense to keep getting guys like Amon-Ra St. Brown, D’Andre Swift, and T.J. Hockenson in advantageous situations.
Time will tell whether or not Johnson taking over as the OC was the right move, but it seems like a wise choice at the moment.