Allen Park — One of the biggest questions the Detroit Lions will face this offseason is what the team will do at offensive coordinator. Particularly of interest is whether the next person in that role will handle play-calling or if it will remain in the hands of head coach Dan Campbell.
General manager Brad Holmes doesn’t have a preference. He just wants Campbell to do what he thinks is best for the team.
“It’s his football team,” Holmes said. “I told him you need to do what you want. You’re gonna get a lot of, ‘You should look at this guy, you should look at that guy.’ If he wants to call plays, he should call plays. If he doesn’t, he doesn’t. And I know that he’s gonna make the best decision for the Detroit Lions, at the end of the day. He always has and I know that he will.”
Holmes continued on saying, “I hope…” before stopping and changing direction, simply stating he thought Campbell did a good job in the role.
The coach made the play-calling change during the team’s bye, taking the duties away from coordinator Anthony Lynn after an 0-8 start to the campaign. At the time, the Lions were averaging just 16.8 points per game while quarterback Jared Goff was floundering, with an 85.3 passer rating.
Following Campbell taking over the play-calling duties, the Lions averaged 21.2 points the final nine contests, despite Goff missing three games, Pro Bowl tight end T.J. Hockenson sitting the final five and running back D’Andre Swift — the team’s leader in yards from scrimmage and scoring — missing four games and being limited in three others.
Most importantly, the Lions went 3-5-1, while Goff’s passer rating jumped to 101.8 with a touchdown-to-interception ratio of 11-2 the six games he played the second half of the season.
Reflecting the collaborative nature of the relationship between Campbell and Holmes, the coach talked through taking over play-calling with the GM before executing the change.
“I know that was a big decision that Dan had to make,” Holmes said. “I’ll never forget when he made it, he came to my office and said, ‘Look, Brad, I really think this is where we’ve got to go.’ I fully supported it 1,000%.
“I knew that was hard for him to do, but as a leader you have to make some tough decisions,” Holmes said. “What the cool thing was, it was cool to see Dan grow as a play-caller as the season went on. He kind of made a big move, a tough decision, but he did what was best for the team at that time. After he did what was best for the team, now he’s good at it. Now he keeps growing and I thought that was really, really, really cool to see.”
Following the season, the Lions and Lynn predictably parted ways. Campbell and Goff both praised Lynn’s contributions in 2021, as well as his professionalism following the demotion. Campbell simply acknowledged the pairing didn’t end up being the fit either anticipated after Lynn was added to the staff last January.
Campbell has made it clear there’s no rush for him to make a decision on his future as a play-caller. He’s still weighing the pros and cons, particularly how much the responsibilities could distract him from giving the attention he wants to Detroit’s defense and special teams.
The most obvious alternative remains another promotion for Ben Johnson, who unofficially went from tight ends coach to pass-game coordinator simultaneous to Campbell taking over play-calling. Throughout the year, members of the coaching staff and multiple players praised Johnson’s contributions to the weekly game planning, as well as his role in play designs.
“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. “The sky’s the limit for him. I’m excited to hopefully have him back, and we’ll see where that goes.”
Campbell should have a prime opportunity to evaluate Johnson when the Lions coach at the Senior Bowl next month. As part of some fresh changes to the annual all-star game, Campbell will serve in more on an advisory role while some members of his staff are to be put in bigger roles. That opens the door for Johnson to serve as coordinator and play-caller during the week.
In terms of external options, there are no limits on who the Lions could consider. One name who figures to be brought up is Joe Brady, the former Panthers and LSU offensive coordinator.
Brady was fired midseason by the Panthers, but the 32-year-old has history with Campbell, working together in New Orleans in 2017 and 2018. Brady was a low-level offensive assistant and Campbell coached the tight ends and was an assistant to head coach Sean Payton.