The Detroit Lions garnered a lot of national attention for their unique approach to building a coaching staff, hiring several ex-NFL players to lead the organization’s rebuild. But, if and how quickly this unique approach would see results was an unknown.
Today, we wrap up our bye week series of 2021 Lions midseason superlatives with our staff’s picks for the organization’s best coach, and unsurprisingly, there were quite a few legitimate candidates.
Note: In order to get these articles submitted on time, some of these responses were given before Week 8’s game against the Philadelphia Eagles.
Who is the Detroit Lions’ best coach at the midway point?
Ryan Mathews: Dan Campbell
Say what you want about some of his coaching decisions—and he has absolutely made at least a couple of choices that would make Leroy Jenkins blush—but this guy errs on the side of aggressive, and I’d much rather have that in a head coach than what we’ve been subjected to in the past.
Andrew Kato: Aaron Glenn
Considering the losses in the secondary and pass rush to injuries, it is amazing the Lions are not getting torched every week. Then, throw in the fact that Jamie Collins ended up contributing very little in spite of being perceived as very important before the season. How Glenn and his staff are still managing to field a competitive unit is a mystery to me. What an amazing coaching job.
Erik Schlitt: Aubrey Pleasant
No coach has accomplished more with less than Pleasant, as the Lions’ secondary has been asked to overcome some significant deficits. The Lions began their rebuild by overhauling several positions, but safety was, for the most part, put on hold for the time being. Then the Lions lost Jeff Okudah for the season, then his replacement Ifeatu Melifonwu landed on injured reserve almost immediately, leaving Pleasant with the daunting task of starting two undrafted rookies—AJ Parker and Jerry Jacobs—at corner.
Both Parker and Jacobs are seriously outperforming expectations, Okudah and Melifonwu showed rapid development before being injured, Tracy Walker is my defensive MVP and is a model of consistency. And Pleasant is desperately trying to turn Will Harris into a player by using him in a variety of situations looking for a spark. By all accounts, this secondary should be a disaster, but they’re managing to hold their own for as long as they can most weeks. Yes, I know the statistics say otherwise, but there are several factors at play for those bottom-of-the-barrel stats, and most of them don’t involve how Pleasant coaches.
Kyle Yost: Duce Staley
The Lions lack talent basically everywhere, but the running back room is one of the few areas that Detroit can compete with the rest of the league. Today’s league has a bunch of shared backfields, but finding the right balance is not as simple as it seems. Staley has balanced D’Andre Swift and Jamaal Williams fairly well, getting productive output from both backs. He inherited a talented group, but he still deserves credit for keeping the offense afloat.
Mike Payton: Campbell.
Yeah, the Lions are 0-8 and are coming off a very embarrassing blowout loss to the Eagles, but the team for the most part has rallied around him all season long and has fought tooth and nail all along. That’s because he’s a good coach and more than that, he’s just a good guy. I really would like to see Campbell succeed here and I think he definitely will once some of the pieces start falling into place.
Morgan Cannon: Pleasant
For the majority of the season, the Lions have started two UDFA rookies in the secondary in AJ Parker and Jerry Jacobs. Third overall pick Jeff Okudah was lost for the season to a ruptured Achilles. Ifeatu Melifonwu is still on the mend from a thigh injury.
Despite all of this youth and inexperience, defensive backs coach/passing game coordinator Aubrey Pleasant consistently has his guys ready to play. It also helps that all of his players seem to genuinely like him both as a person and as a coach.
Hamza Baccouche: Glenn
This one isn’t particularly close for me. While many units have outperformed their talent levels thus far, the defense continues to somehow look like a cohesive unit (even if often subpar) in spite of the constantly rotating and injured pieces. Props to Aaron Glenn for working magic with what little talent this defense has, and for having the confidence to try addition by subtraction by getting rid of your star linebacker in the middle of the season when you’re already starved for talent.
Kellie Rowe: Campbell
This one is a little tough, as I write this after that horrendous 44-6 whooping from the Eagles, but I still have to go with Dan Campbell. There have been questionable time management decisions, but I’m basing this solely on what I feel is Campbell’s ability to inspire and persevere. Campbell seems like he can reach his players and get them to keep grinding, all while facing the very real possibility of 0-17. Back in January, he sold much of the Lions fanbase on that biting kneecaps speech and it seems like — at least prior to the Eagles massacre — he’s managed to keep morale up through all of the losing. This is a team born out of an obliterated roster with a very obvious lack of talent, and the players know that. It must take some kind of leadership to keep them going. The true test will be after this bye — this guy really, really needs a win.
John Whiticar: Pleasant
It’s a close call between Aubrey Pleasant and Aaron Glenn because both coaches have the defense playing at a level far beyond what was expected. However, I have to give a slight nod to Pleasant because the secondary is really shining given the circumstances. Entering training camp, the cornerback group seemed set: Jeff Okudah, Amani Oruwariye, and Quinton Dunbar as the starters, Corn Elder as the nickel, and Ifeatu Melifonwu as the top backup. That group has been completely shaken up, and yet the secondary is still playing well. Nobody expected AJ Parker and Jerry Jacobs to play as well as they have, and Pleasant is a big part of that. Coupled with Tracy Walker returning to form, you have to credit the defensive backs coach. I would’ve liked to see more from Will Harris, but there’s only so much coaching can do.
Jeremy Reisman: Glenn
Glenn was the team’s most-hyped coach this offseason, and despite the team’s poor defensive rankings, I feel he has still managed to live up to the billing. Dealt an impossible hand, Glenn has managed to make subpar players like Alex Anzalone look good at times, plus you know his hands are all over the rapid development of players in the secondary.
Outside of last week—in which it looked like the Lions’ defense was not at all prepared from some Eagles offensive adjustments—I think Detroit’s gameplan on that side of the ball has actually worked as expected. Dealing with one of the worst offenses in the league, the Lions’ defense has kept them in the majority of games.
Plus when you hear Glenn speak, you can see immediately how he can command and motivate a room. I look forward to his press conferences every week because he’s open, honest, and extremely intelligent.
Who is the Detroit Lions’ best coach at the midway point?
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