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Ben Johnson Lions
NFL

Did Ben Johnson Make Right Decision To Stay With Lions?

  • Justin Melo
  • January 18, 2023
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Detroit Lions offensive coordinator Ben Johnson has decided to return to the team in 2023, according to multiple reports. Johnson had been receiving serious interest for multiple head-coaching vacancies around the NFL. Johnson had already interviewed with the Indianapolis Colts and Houston Texans, and was scheduled to interview with the Carolina Panthers later this week. Johnson’s decision is admirable, but curiously foregoes the old “striking while the iron’s hot” mantra.

Despite entering the 2022 season as largely an unknown commodity, Johnson soared up the coaching ranks and was expected to land a head coaching gig this offseason. Johnson arguably put forth the best performance of any offensive or defensive coordinator in the country. Detroit’s offense wrote one of the most surprising storylines of the campaign.

The Lions ranked fifth in scoring, averaging 26.6 points per contest. They moved the ball with ease, averaging a fourth-ranked 380.0 yards per outing. The Lions finished with their first winning campaign (9-8) since 2017 as a result.

The 36-year-old Johnson was a first-year coordinator in 2022. He initially joined the Lions staff in 2019 as an offensive quality control coach before being promoted to tight ends coach in 2021. An ascending Johnson has his entire coaching career in front of him.

Johnson could have followed the cautionary tale set forth by Tampa Bay Buccaneers offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich last offseason, however. Leftwich was considered one of the hottest head coaching candidates after experiencing back-to-back successful seasons with Tom Brady as his quarterback. Leftwich was reportedly a shoo-in for the Jacksonville Jaguars’ head coaching job before allegedly becoming choosy with Jacksonville’s front-office dynamics.

Leftwich decided to spurn Jacksonville’s interest while passing up an opportunity to coach a generational talent in Trevor Lawrence. Leftwich returned to the Buccaneers, where he experienced a below-average season and is now reportedly being fired. Doug Pederson accepted the Jaguars’ offer and has them playing against the Kansas City Chiefs in this weekend’s postseason divisional round.

Johnson will return to coordinate a Lions offense that should retain their key pieces. D.J. Chark and Jamaal Williams are the lone contributors who are set to reach unrestricted free agency. Chark is less of a straightforward decision, but Williams and Lions general manager Brad Holmes should share a mutual interest in a long-term contract extension after Williams scored a league-high 17 rushing touchdowns.

Starting quarterback Jared Goff experienced a bounce-back campaign like no other. Goff completed 65.1% of his passing attempts while throwing for 4,438 yards and 29 touchdowns. Goff is a Comeback Player of the Year candidate after posting his best numbers since 2019. The Lions are no longer expected to draft a quarterback in the first round of the 2023 NFL Draft as a result. Johnson and Goff should theoretically manage to build on the chemistry they found in 2022.

Johnson ultimately made the best decision for himself. His heart clearly wasn’t responding fondly to current head coaching opportunities. Johnson would have been doing the Panthers’ organization a disservice by moving forward with the interview process. The Lions are capable of achieving something special in 2023 with a returning Johnson in the fold. We just hope Johnson’s stock remains as high next offseason.

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Justin Melo