Detroit Lions OC Ben Johnson passed over for Assistant Coach of the Year at NFL Honors

Detroit Free Press

Ben Johnson withdrew his name from head coaching consideration last month because he had “unfinished business” as Detroit Lions offensive coordinator – business that might now include winning assistant coach of the year.

Former San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans was named NFL Assistant Coach of the Year, The Associated Press announced just before the NFL Honors show Thursday. Johnson finished second and received 11 of 50 first-place votes, while Philadelphia Eagles offensive coordinator Shane Steichen was third.

Ryans, who received 35 first-place votes, was hired as Houston Texans head coach last month, while Steichen is a finalist for the Indianapolis Colts job.

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Johnson, 36 and in his first season as a play caller, was the creative mind behind a Lions offense that finished fifth in the NFL in scoring (26.6 ppg) and fourth in total offense (380 ypg) this season.

Lions quarterback Jared Goff said Johnson was “as instrumental as any coach I’ve ever had” in his success. Goff made this third Pro Bowl this season, completing 65% of his passes for 4,438 yards with 29 touchdowns and seven interceptions. He finished the season with a streak of 324 straight passes without an interception, the fifth-longest in NFL history.

“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,” Goff said after the season. “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 (getting a head coaching job), 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.”

Johnson interviewed for head coaching jobs with the Texans, Colts and his hometown Carolina Panthers this offseason, but pulled his name out of the mix after one round of interviews.

He was considered a long shot to win Assistant Coach of the Year, which has gone to a coordinator on a playoff team with double-digit wins in each of its nine years of existence.

Five of the previous eight winners — Todd Bowles, Kyle Shanahan, Pat Shurmur, Vic Fangio and Brian Daboll — have gone on to become head coaches. Daboll, now with the New York Giants, is a finalist for Coach of the Year.

The Lions went 9-8 this season and missed the playoffs for the sixth straight year, but were one of the most improved teams in the NFL. Last year, they finished 25th in scoring (19.1 ppg) and 22nd in total offense (322.6 ypg).

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

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