On the surface, it seemed like the perfect fit. In reality, it was anything but.
“It just wasn’t a fit,” Lions coach Dan Campbell said in his end-of-season news conference. “We just, you want it to be, but I think it just, we never found our groove or our rhythm, if you will and it’s hard to really, truly pinpoint (why). It just, sometimes it just doesn’t work out the way you want and that’s really the best answer I can give you.”
Campbell made Lynn one of his first and most important hires last January, weeks after Lynn was fired as Los Angeles Chargers head coach.
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The two spent one season together with the Dallas Cowboys in 2005, when Campbell was a player and Lynn was the team’s running backs coach, and share similar philosophies when it comes to the offensive side of football.
But the Lions struggled in their first eight games with Lynn calling plays, and Campbell assumed those duties during the team’s Week 9 bye, after it became apparent something there was a disconnect between Lynn and quarterback Jared Goff.
The Lions went 0-8 with Lynn as play caller averaging 16.8 points and 321.1 yards per game.
In nine games with Campbell calling plays, the Lions went 3-5-1 and averaged 21.2 points and 323.9 yards per game.
Lynn’s demotion — he still oversaw the Lions running game the final nine weeks of the season, while tight ends coach Ben Johnson became a pseudo pass game coordinator — coincided with the return of left tackle Taylor Decker from injury and the addition of wide receiver Josh Reynolds off waivers from the Tennessee Titans. But Goff’s play also picked up over the final two months.
Goff threw eight touchdowns with six interceptions and had an 85.4 pass rating with Lynn as play caller, and had 11 touchdowns and two interceptions with a 101.8 passer rating with Campbell calling plays.
“Felt like this is just best for both of us,” Campbell said. “And look, he came here, took a leap of faith with us and under the impression that he would be calling plays so it was not going to go that direction. That wasn’t fair to him, either. So I wish him the best and he’s been a true pro. He works his tail off and he gave us everything he had so I appreciate him for that. He is, he’s a pro.”
Lynn, who still oversaw the Lions running game the final nine weeks of the season, expressed his disappointment at the arrangement on multiple occasions late in the season but declined to address his future last week.
Campbell said it’s too early to know what other changes could be coming to his staff — the Lions are expected to return most if not all of their top defensive assistants — and to pinpoint a role for Johnson in the future.
A former walk-on quarterback at North Carolina who has never called plays at any level, Johnson earned praise from Goff and several other Lions late in the season.
“Ben really stepped in there about halfway through the year and became very involved in having a lot of ideas and installing things and having his hand in a lot of the stuff the quarterback was doing and really every position, wide receivers, and really tightening everybody,” Goff said Monday. “His ceiling is, the sky’s the limit for him. I’m excited to hopefully have him back, and we’ll see where that goes”
Campbell said Johnson “did a hell of a job for us,” but acknowledged for the second time in a week that he is considering keeping play calling duties in 2022.
“I think everything’s go to start with I think somewhat me deciding what I want to do and do I want to continue to call — want to is not the right word, it’s what I think is best for us and as a team, and I need to time to think about that,” Campbell said.
“I think the pros are that I’ll only continue to get better as an offensive play caller, and I’ll get better at both, being both, as far as game management and a play caller. I think those are the pros. I think the cons can be that, man, you’re not as invested defensively and special teams or the totality of your players that you might — than you would be able to be if you weren’t so invested in the offense. So I think that’s the pros and cons. And I’ve got to decide that. I got to weigh it. Look, I got time. I’m not in a hurry, that’s for sure. I’m not in some hurry to do something here. I feel pretty good one way or another about what we’re going to do, cause I do know we’re going the right direction offensively, I do believe that.”