“Next man up” is the biggest cliche in football, and an idea the Detroit Lions have latched onto this week.
But there is a personal side to the sport, too, one offensive coordinator Ben Johnson and defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn experienced in recent days as the Lions made significant changes to their 1-6 team.
Glenn said he was saddened to see the Lions fire his good friend Aubrey Pleasant as defensive backs coach on Monday, and Johnson said Tuesday’s trade of tight end T.J. Hockenson hit “close to home” because of their unique relationship.
Glenn hand-selected Pleasant to run the Lions secondary last January, while Johnson worked closely with Hockenson as the Lions tight ends coach before being promoted to offensive coordinator this season.
“Every year you end up moving away from some guys that you’ve developed strong relationships with,” Johnson said. “That’s the nature of the business, whether they retire or sign with another team. This one hurts a little bit more than most just because it’s so sudden. It’s like ripping off that band-aid so the initial shock factor is part of it. But yeah, the good news is T.J. and I will always be friends, I’ll still watch his tape and love to watch him and see what he does as a player, except for one more game this year, obviously.”
Johnson said he was aware Hockenson could be traded entering Tuesday’s NFL trade deadline, but still felt a gut punch when it happened.
The Lions, deep in rebuild mode, sent Hockenson to their division rival Minnesota Vikings for an exchange of draft picks. They host Hockenson and the Vikings at Ford Field next month.
“I’ve been here 3 ½ years now and he’s probably the one guy, the one player I’ve gotten closest with, just being able to coach him, hands on with him, spend the most time with him over the course of the last few years,” Johnson said. “So yeah, it hits home a little bit because you get close with these guys. But I do wish him the best, he’s going to a great situation. We’ll miss him, there’s no question.”
Glenn said Lions head coach Dan Campbell made the decision to fire Pleasant, who he called “a damn good coach” and “good friend.”
The Lions have allowed the most points and yards in the NFL, and their secondary has struggled with mental errors and missed assignments all season. Still, the move came as a suprise to many, and Glenn said it was part of “a tough week for me personally,”
Glenn also is close with former Vikings coach Mike Zimmer, his one-time defensive coordinator with the Dallas Cowboys, whose 38-year-old son, Adam, died unexpectedly this week.
“Dan made a decision and I’m going to support that decision,” Glenn said. “That’s my job. He’s the boss. And whatever decision that he makes, it’s our responsibility to support and continue to move on, and that’s what we’ll do as a staff. That’s what I’ll do as a coordinator.”
Glenn said Campbell talked to him about firing Pleasant before the move happened, and that he said his piece about the decision and moved on.
Asked what he said to Campbell, Glenn said, “That piece will stay between me and Dan.”
A former NFL cornerback who made three Pro Bowls in his 15-year career, Glenn will spend more time working with the secondary in the second half of the season, helping safeties coach Brian Duker and defensive quality control coach Addison Lynch divvy up Pleasant’s coaching responsibilities.
Glenn said he expects better results going forward, mostly because that’s the Lions’ only option.
“It’s unfortunate,” Glenn said. “But you move on in this league and you continue to strive for greatness, you continue to strive for winning and that’s what we’ll do.”