Detroit Lions’ Dan Campbell: Firing DBs coach Aubrey Pleasant a ‘decision we had to make’

Detroit Free Press

Dan Campbell is hoping a new voice will have better luck getting through to his struggling secondary.

The Detroit Lions on Monday fired defensive backs coach/defensive pass game coordinator Aubrey Pleasant, one day after they allowed two Miami Dolphins to top 100 yards receiving in a 31-27 loss at Ford Field.

Pleasant declined comment when reached by cell phone Monday. A somber Campbell explained the move in a hushed tone at his weekly news conference.

“I think Aubrey’s a hell of a coach,” Campbell said. “I’ve got a ton of respect for him. It was a tough decision. But we’re in a production-based business, and after seven weeks it’s just, I felt like this change needed to be made. So I wish him the best of luck and I appreciate everything he’s put into it. He put his heart and soul into everything he did.”

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The Lions rank last in the NFL in points and yards allowed and have given up at least 24 points in every game during their NFL-worst 1-6 start.

On Sunday, Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa threw for three touchdowns and completed 81% of his passes (29 of 36) as the Dolphins rallied from a 10-point halftime deficit to hand the Lions their fifth straight loss. Tyreek Hill led Miami with 12 catches for 188 yards, and Jaylen Waddle had eight catches for 106 yards and two touchdowns.

After the game, Campbell said the Lions “did not do well in this game plan that was designed for these guys.”

“You have to try to disrupt these guys,” Campbell said Sunday. “If you’re a flat player, you’ve got to try to hit them a little bit because if you allow them into the defense, we’ve got problems. And they’re too fast. So we just didn’t handle it well top to bottom.”

Campbell said nothing that happened in Sunday’s game caused him to fire Pleasant and that the decision was “all-encompassing after seven weeks with where we’re at.”

Asked why the secondary’s lack of physicality was not fixed during Sunday’s game, Campbell said, “That’s why I’m standing here talking to you right now. Just in general, it’s all about how do we relay the message a little better, that’s all.”

The Lions have started four cornerbacks and five safeties in various configurations this season as they’ve battled injuries and inconsistency in their defensive backfield.

Jeff Okudah has played well after missing most of last season with a torn Achilles tendon, but Amani Oruwariye briefly lost his job as the Lions’ No. 2 cornerback, safety Tracy Walker is out for the season with a torn Achilles and safety DeShon Elliott missed Sunday’s game with a finger injury.

Rookie Kerby Joseph has started four straight games in Walker’s place, and Juju Hughes filled in as the Lions’ second safety Sunday.

Campbell praised the job Pleasant did with Okudah and the rest of the secondary last week, saying, “He’s done a heck of a job with those guys.”

On Monday, he said he did not think Okudah’s progress would be stunted by Pleasant’s dismissal.

“I would see Jeff continuing to excel,” Campbell said. “He has improved. There again, he just hasn’t played football so every game he gets more reps, so I don’t see this being a negative impact on him.”

Pleasant, a Flint native who was well-liked by players, is the second coach Campbell has demoted or fired midseason in the past 12 months.

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Last year, Campbell, who is 4-19-1 with the Lions, stripped offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn of play-calling duties after eight games and fired him after the season. The Lions started last season 0-8 and topped 20 points in just one of their first 11 games. Campbell handled play-calling the second half of the season, and the Lions won three of their final six games and averaged 25.2 points in those contests.

This year, the Lions rank 27th against the pass (266.4 ypg) and are allowing the most yards per pass play (8.1) in the NFL.

Campbell said he came to the decision to fire Pleasant on Monday morning and called days like Monday “the worst part of this job.” Safeties coach Brian Duker will fill Pleasant’s role for the season’s final 10 games, and defensive quality control coach Addison Lynch will take on additional responsibilities coaching the secondary.

“I feel like it definitely sets the tone that what’s been going on has been unacceptable,” Lions linebacker and defensive captain Alex Anzalone said. “Yeah, I definitely think it sets a tone and for me personally it’s like, A.P. wasn’t my coach but it’s like, ‘What did I do to get him fired?’ And if everyone takes that perspective on it, that’s really when we’ll get growth out of a tough situation like this.”

Contact Dave Birkett at dbirkett@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett.

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