Dan Campbell: Ben Johnson ‘worthy’ of head coaching opportunity after big year as Lions OC

Detroit Free Press

The architect of the Detroit Lions’ high-powered offense, Ben Johnson already is drawing interest on the NFL’s head coaching cycle.

The Houston Texans became the first team to request an interview with Johnson on Monday, NFL Network reported, and Lions coach Dan Campbell said he “would certainly not be shocked” if other teams followed suit.

“He would be worthy of that,” Campbell said at his end-of-season news conference. “I think a ton of him. I think he’s – I’ve said it before, I just think he’s extremely bright, he’s creative. He’s organized. He’s a great communicator. I mean, he just, he’s got it.”

Promoted last February to replace the fired Anthony Lynn as offensive coordinator, Johnson oversaw a Lions offense this season that ranked fifth in the NFL in points scored (26.6 ppg) and in the top 10 in most other offensive categories.

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Johnson, 36, dismissed questions about his candidacy for potential openings in recent weeks, saying he was focused only on helping the Lions win games.

As of Monday evening, five teams — the Texans, Carolina Panthers, Denver Broncos, Indianapolis Colts and Arizona Cardinals — had head coaching vacancies. According to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, the Colts have requested permission to interview both Johnson and Lions defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn, who received some interest last offseason from the New Orleans Saints.

Johnson could interest teams looking for a young, innovative offensive mind. He was a walk-on quarterback at North Carolina who was raised in the state, and the Panthers, Colts and Texans could be in the market to draft rookie quarterbacks this offseason.

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Johnson started his NFL career as an offensive assistant with the Miami Dolphins, where he was on the same staff as Campbell, and joined the Lions as an offensive quality control coach in 2019. Campbell kept Johnson on staff as tight ends coach when he took over as head coach in 2021.

“I would do anything I can to help him, that’s the bottom line,” Campbell said. “And of course I don’t want to lose him. But I’m not going to hold him back, either. I would help him anyway I can help him.”

Johnson has been widely praised this season for his work with Lions quarterback Jared Goff.

Goff struggled through most of his first season in Detroit, after the Lions acquired him in a 2021 trade with the Los Angeles Rams, but played what he described Monday as “my best football” of his career this season.

Goff threw 29 touchdown passes and tied a career-low with seven interceptions this season, and the Lions impressed NFL observers with their creative play designs, gutsy play calls and calculated use of personnel.

“He’s been as instrumental as any coach I’ve ever had,” Goff said. “Our communication is as good as I’ve ever been a part of and he does a great job with not just me but everybody, getting everyone ready to play. I joked in the middle of the year that I’m going to stop saying nice things about him because I know where that heads and if he does end up doing that, I’ll be thrilled for him. He’s a hell of a coach and that’s why you get into this profession is to do that but selfishly I’d love to continue to play for him.”

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Asked about Johnson’s future Monday, Lions offensive tackle Penei Sewell said to tell NFL teams, “Y’all don’t want Ben Johnson, so just keep it pushing.”

“On a serious, he’s meant a lot just because of the type of plays that he implemented and the type of philosophies that (we have),” Sewell said. “It just matched up to the type of dudes that we had in this building. Everybody I felt like was really comfortable with the gameplan and it always worked to the best of their abilities.”

If Johnson lands a head coaching job, he will become the first Lions assistant to go directly into the head coaching ranks with another team since Chuck Knox went from Lions offensive line coach to Rams head coach in 1973.


The Lions signed 10 practice squad players to futures contracts Monday: Receivers Maurice Alexander, Stanley Berryhill and Tom Kennedy; running back Jermar Jefferson; offensive linemen Darrin Paulo and Obinna Eze; defensive lineman Demetrius Taylor; and defensive backs Khalil Dorsey, Jarren Williams and Brady Breeze.

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

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