Is it time to fire Detroit Lions defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn? Well, it’s complicated

Detroit Free Press

Some people think I like to call for coaches’ firings. I don’t.

Frankly, it’s a silly notion. For the life of me, I can’t imagine how anyone could take the slightest pleasure in calling for someone to lose their job and their means of providing for themselves and their family, even if they happen to be a millionaire coach or a sports executive.

Yet sometimes it must be done. When it becomes clear that a change must be made, I don’t shirk from my duty of calling for a change, even though I don’t like doing it and even though it might lead to acrimony with the coach or players.

That’s why I’ve had to think long and hard about this question: Should Detroit Lions defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn be fired?

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Is it time to either dismiss him outright or relieve him of his play-calling duties after the Lions gave up 48 points to Seattle — the most this season by any NFL team after Sunday — and plunged even further to the bottom of the league’s defensive rankings, where they’re surrendering a whopping average of 35.1 points and 444.8 yards?

And it’s not like this came out of nowhere. Last year, the Lions’ defense allowed the second-most points (27.5) and the fourth-most yards (379.8).

Of course, last year was the first of the rebuild and just about everyone got a pass. Well, everyone except offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn, who was relieved of his play-calling duties midway through the season and was let go after the season.

This year, we’re about a quarter of the way through the season and the defense is worse. And it looks even worse when you compare it to the offense, which has skyrocketed to the top of the NFL’s rankings under first-time coordinator Ben Johnson.

That raises the logical question: If Johnson could achieve this kind of wild success so quickly, why hasn’t Glenn done better with even more time under his belt?

It was hard for coach Dan Campbell is strip Lynn of his main duties and essentially fire him after the season. Campbell espoused his admiration for Lynn several times before the made the change. His respect was obvious, as is his respect for Glenn.

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I asked Campbell on Monday how hard it is to separate his admiration for a person while remaining objective enough to fire them if he needs to. Campbell knew I was a talking about Glenn and I give him full credit for not dancing around the subject.

“Yeah, I don’t believe that,” he said. “… I know it was at the end of the year, I had a ton of respect for Anthony Lynn and I made a tough decision. I’ve had to do this before and I’m not afraid to make a hard decision if I really believed that’s where it was the cause of it, and I don’t believe it is.

“I believe that Aaron Glenn is the right man for the job and he gives us our best — he gives us our best hope, our best option to run this defense. I just do.”

Campbell is in a pickle right now. He doesn’t want anyone to panic and doesn’t want anyone to point fingers because he knows when a team struggles like this that’s exactly what players and coaches tend to do. I’m sure he also knows what it looks like if you fire a coordinator for a second straight year.

So Campbell made sure he stayed away from the finger pointing Monday and said he believes he has enough talent on the roster. Of course, if he didn’t say that, it would be pointing the finger at general manager Brad Holmes.

Campbell promised to take a deep dive Sunday night to identify the problems with the defense. But I don’t think Jacques Cousteau, Captain Nemo or Aquaman could dive deep enough to figure out this defense right now.

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With less than a day’s time of research, Campbell at least offered a partial plan Monday and said, after a meeting with Glenn, that he planned to move around some players in the formation; maybe even No. 2 overall pick Aidan Hutchinson.

Another potential area of concern is play-calling. I haven’t had a big problem with Glenn’s calls. But he clearly struggles to find a solution for stopping mobile quarterbacks — and Geno Smith barely qualifies in that category.

But on Sunday, Seattle running back Rashaad Penny said the defense was predictable when he ran for a 36-yard touchdown on third-and-16. The Seahawks also beat the Lions’ defense on a similar alignment on Penny’s 41-yard touchdown run on third-and-5.

Campbell said he wasn’t concerned about the defense being too predictable because those were the only two incidents so far this season.

“And so it’s on tape and it’s certainly something to be aware of,” he said, “but that’s the first time we’ve been exposed on the run in those fronts that we’ve given.”

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When it comes to a coach’s firing, I always look at the preponderance of evidence. Is there enough here to not only justify a firing but also is there so much evidence of failure that it’s hard to justify keeping the coach?

With Glenn, I don’t think we’re there yet. As bad as the defense has been, it feels like ultimately like most of the problems are the product of a talent gap. You can go back and forth all day measuring the defensive roster’s successes and failures. But there’s at least been some sign of development among players like Hutchinson, Jeff Okudah and Malcolm Rodriguez.

Glenn should get a little more time — at least a few games following the bye that comes after this week — to join Campbell on his diving expedition and try to save this drowning defense before it drags the entire team with it into the deep, dark abyss.

Contact Carlos Monarrez: cmonarrez@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @cmonarrez.

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