Allen Park — A day after the Detroit Lions surrendered more than 30 points for the third time this season, the team has fired defensive backs coach and defensive passing-game coordinator Aubrey Pleasant.
“I think Aubrey is a hell of a coach, I have a ton of respect for him,” Lions coach Dan Campbell said. “It was a tough decision, but we’re in a production-based business and after seven weeks, I felt like this change needed to be made. I wish him the best of luck and I appreciate everything he put into it. He put his heart and soul into everything he did.”
A Flint native who played safety at the University of Wisconsin, Pleasant joined the Lions staff in 2021 after four years with the Los Angeles Rams. He also had previous coaching stops with Washington, Cleveland and the University of Michigan.
Charged with developing one of the team’s youngest position groups, Pleasant had immediate success with undrafted rookies Jerry Jacobs and AJ Parker, while also getting the best performance of Amani Oruwariye’s career in 2021, when the veteran cornerback finished third in the NFL with six interceptions.
Pleasant’s coaching success in 2021 was enough to earn him defensive coordinator interviews in both New Orleans and Minnesota. Additionally, he was provided the opportunity to serve as coordinator when the Lions’ staff coached the Senior Bowl in February.
“I’ve always said that AP is one of if not the best DB coaches that I’ve been around,” general manager Brad Holmes said last year. “It’s extremely impressive in the way that he teaches it in a very digestible manner that allows players to learn quickly and play fast. The energy that he brings to that group, it correlates and it resonates with the players. He just relates to players on the field and in the classroom.”
The team’s youth movement in the back end continued in 2022 with the addition of safety Kerby Joseph in the draft. Despite promising early returns from the third-round pick — as well as the bounce-back performance of former first-round pick Jeff Okudah, coming off last year’s Achilles tear — the team clearly felt Pleasant wasn’t effective enough in his role. A season-ending injury to safety and captain Tracy Walker, as well as the unexpected regression of Oruwariye certainly didn’t help the case.
Following Sunday’s loss to the Miami Dolphins, Campbell was critical of the secondary’s failure to execute the game plan, which required playing more physically at the line of scrimmage against receivers Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle. Instead, the tandem was able to catch 20 passes for 294 yards and two touchdowns in the victory.
And while Campbell said the decision to fire Pleasant was all-encompassing, the secondary’s performance against Miami, including the lack of adjustments, was the final straw.
“That’s why I’m here standing here talking to you right now,” Campbell said. “In general, it’s all about how we relay the message a little better.”
With Pleasant out, safeties coach Brian Duker will play a larger role working with the entire secondary. As will quality control coach Addison Lynch, who already had been working with the group since joining the staff in August.
Campbell said, more than anything, he’d like to see improved cohesion in the back end of the defense.
“I want to see all us on the same page, and if we’re going to get beat, it’s because we’re maybe getting outrun or we’re not quite in phase, but at least we’re kinda there,” Campbell said. “We’ve gotta cut our mental (errors) in half.
“…I still believe in the guys that we have,” Campbell said. “I know what we have on the back end and I think they’re good enough to help us compete and win. We’ll just see if we can get them going even a little bit better.”
Pleasant is the third assistant coach the Lions have parted with during Campbell’s tenure. In the offseason, the team moved on from offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn after one season, following a midseason demotion from play-calling duties. Linebackers coach Mark DeLeone was let go a few months later.
“They’re brutal,” Campbell said about making decisions to fire a member of his staff. “It’s the worst part of this job. (Pleasant’s) got a family and he put everything he had into this. I still believe he’s a hell of a coach, but sometimes things don’t work out. ”
Interestingly, all three were part of a small number of assistants who didn’t have a background with Campbell prior to joining the Lions.
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