‘Hard Knocks’ may help Lions’ Aaron Glenn become head coach, despite NFL’s bad record

Detroit Free Press

Detroit Lions coach Dan Campbell paced in front of his team while introducing the man he calls “AG” — defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn.

“I wanted to have AG talk to you guys,” Campbell said in a scene from the second episode of “Hard Knocks.”

“You guys know AG,” Campbell said. “Defense, certainly, you are dealing with him on a daily basis. Offense? Half of you talk (expletive) to him the whole time and he fires right back. But, man, I would go to war with him any day.”

Campbell pointed at Glenn, who was in the back of the room.

“I (expletive) trust him with everything I got in my soul,” Campbell said. “I (expletive) trust this man.”

Those words should not be glossed over. Campbell’s respect and admiration for Glenn is genuine.

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“He’s a helluva coach,” Campbell said. “AG, come up here.”

The team clapped, as Glenn walked to the front of the room.

“I have the utmost respect for what you men do because I know it’s not easy,” Glenn told the team. “I know the grind. I know how it is to get on that grass, man, for 2½ hours, and you gotta fight. I know how it is. So man, I respect you.”

Glenn has strong credibility with the players because he was once one of them. A former cornerback, he played 15 years in the NFL, mostly with the New York Jets, and he was selected to three Pro Bowls.

“But men, it’s time for a change,” Glenn said. “It’s time for change, for you as players, for this organization, for us as coaches. Man, I’m trying to get something that’s gonna stir you up from the inside, that is going to change exactly who you are as a player. Right? Who this organization is, so we can get ready to move forward in this journey.”

It seems to be a constant theme with these Lions coaches, not hiding from the failures of the past but acknowledging them and trying to break free.

Then, he asked offensive lineman Jonah Jackson a question.

“How many games did you lose at Ohio State?” Glenn asked. “One game? Every game you played, every time you woke up to play that game, you felt like you’re gonna win that game.”

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And that’s what the Lions need, he suggested.

“It’s time to get that feeling back,” Glenn said. “You all dig what I’m saying? Time to get that feeling back. At some point, man, we got to draw a line in the sand and say enough is enough.”

Not long for the Lions

Glenn is in a strange situation.

He is considered an NFL head coach in waiting, even though he’s in charge of a defense that has been awful. That’s not his fault. It’s more of a reflection of how the roster was constructed. The Lions have gaping holes on defense — don’t even get me started about the linebackers — and don’t have many premium defenders. The results have been predictable. Last year, the Lions ranked 31st in points, 28th against the run, 29th in total yards and 30th in turnovers.

Any hopeful prognostication of the 2022 Lions starts: If that defense can just not suck so bad, or, if that offense can just outscore everybody. But that is uncertain territory because that defense still has holes and “Rodrigo” – aka sixth-round pick Malcolm Rodriguez — can’t fill all of them.

Another poor defensive season might be the only thing that keeps Glenn in Detroit.

But here’s the problem.

The Lions nearly lost Glenn during the last hiring cycle. He interviewed for head coaching jobs with the Denver Broncos and New Orleans Saints. That prompted NBC Sports’ Peter King to write: “When I asked around about Black coach candidates to a few NFL GMs, I heard only one name out of three mouths: Detroit defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn. … He’s a steely, bright guy who players (I’m told) love playing for.

“Glenn interviewed for the Saints’ head-coaching job, and GM Mickey Loomis told me he had a great one. …”

“‘Aaron will be a head coach in our league,’ Loomis told me,” King wrote.

He’s everything you want a coach to be

To become an NFL head coach, Glenn has a major hurdle to overcome.

He’s Black. And there are only three Black head coaches in the NFL — a ridiculous, abysmal, embarrassing hiring practice.

And it’s something I never understood.

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But a few days ago, I had to go through a training program about hiring people.  But one message stuck with me: We unconsciously tend to hire people like ourselves.

Which made me think of Glenn and the abysmal hiring practices in the NFL.

Old rich white dudes — which sums up most NFL owners — tend to hire white dudes.

It’s not fair and needs to stop.

But that’s where “Hard Knocks” comes in.

In just two episodes, we have already seen a different side of Glenn.

During the next hiring process, NFL owners will be able to revisit clips of Glenn and come to only one conclusion: This guy is smart, passionate and a heck of a coach. He can hold a room with his presence and inspire with his words, bringing together an entire team. It’s clear he is highly respected by other coaches and the players. He is engaging and has a playful side, talking trash with anybody who will talk, able to connect with players.

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In my view, the Lions will have a difficult time keeping him after this season, especially after this series, no matter how that defense performs.

That’s the good news and the bad news.

Listen, there obviously should be more Black head coaches in the NFL. That  would be great for the NFL. Great for Glenn.

But bad for the Lions.

And it’s one of the few negatives of “Hard Knocks.”

The rest of the NFL is getting a chance to look behind the curtain and see what the Lions already knew about Glenn.

To borrow Campbell’s own words: “He is a helluva coach.”

Contact Jeff Seidel: jseidel@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @seideljeff.

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