The Detroit Lions have successfully retained offensive coordinator Ben Johnson after the young coach was a hot commodity in this year’s coaching carousel. It’s unclear, however, if the Lions will be able to retain their defensive coordinator.
For the second straight year, Aaron Glenn has scored a couple of head coaching interviews, first with the Indianapolis Colts and most recently with the Arizona Cardinals. At this point, it is far too early in the process to get a feel for how serious a candidate Glenn is for either job, but it’s certainly possible he lands with one of those teams.
Even if he doesn’t, the Lions are likely thinking about contingency plans for a losing such a big influence among their coaching staff. But do the Lions have a person currently in place? Could they hire externally and find someone just as capable as Glenn? How much would their defensive efficiency change?
Today’s Question of the Day is:
How big of a deal would it be if the Lions lost Aaron Glenn?
My answer: It’s a bigger deal than I think most people are currently estimating.
Obviously, many will point to Detroit’s poor defensive performance over the past two years as a reason it’s not that big of a deal. The Lions were 31st in scoring defense in 2021 and 28th in 2022.
But Glenn has not had the benefit of two critical things in his span as Lions defensive coordinator: talent and stability. Year 1 was full of a bunch of first and second year players—some undrafted—who were just trying to find their footing in the NFL. Year 2 saw a completely different influx of players, and the starting lineup for most of 2022 included just two carryovers from the previous season (Alim McNeill and Alex Anzalone). For the majority of both seasons, Glenn was constantly shifting the team’s strategy trying to find what would works best and where his players’ strengths were. Detroit tried some three safety looks in 2021, and disposed of that in 2022. They had McNeill at the nose in 2021, and moved him to the three-tech in 2022. They went from a more passive front last season to more aggressive this year. And when the run defense got off to a rocky start in September, they adjusted by utilizing their secondary in a more aggressive fashion in the run game. By the end of the 2022 season, it seems like Glenn had finally calmed things down a bit.
Some will see this as excuse-making for Glenn—and maybe it is—but it’s also pretty darn important context to the defense’s performance. He has not been given a great hand, and I’ll take the coach that is constantly trying to shift the scheme rather than one who insists their way is the right way and everyone else has to adjust (/stares violently at the previous regime).
In 2023, Glenn will finally have both of the things he was missing. He has a foundation of talented players on defense and most will be returning this year. If there isn’t significant improvement then, it would be fair to heavily criticize Glenn.
But if it never gets to that and the Lions lose Glenn, it’s yet another year of drastic changes on defense. More shakeups means it could be another year of transition for a young group of players who would respond best to stability. I’m not sure the Lions have another capable defensive coordinator amongst their young group of coaches, unless the Lions hand the job over to Todd Wash (who was the Jaguars defensive coordinator from 2016-2020). And if they make an external hire as Glenn’s replacement, that could result in even more confusion amongst the ranks.
Of course, I’ve yet to even address Glenn’s best feature: his ability to lead. As a well-respected former NFL player, Glenn’s words carry extra weight in that locker room, and that makes him an excellent communicator and motivator. That ability is extremely tough to replace.
I understand that it would be slightly more tolerable to lose Glenn this year than it was last year for a couple of reasons. For one, the Lions have at least formed a foundation for whoever comes next. Additionally, the Lions would now be eligible to recoup two third-round compensatory picks if they lose Glenn to an NFL head coaching gig.
Still, Glenn’s work here is far from done. If his opportunity to—as he constantly has said—become the best coordinator in Lions history is cut short before given a true chance, it would be a big hit.