The hottest head coaching candidate of the last two hiring cycles is staying put.
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Detroit Lions offensive coordinator Ben Johnson told the Seattle Seahawks and Washington Commanders that he will return to Detroit for another season, according to a report from NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero. The 37-year-old coach also had head coaching interviews with the Atlanta Falcons, Carolina Panthers, Los Angeles Chargers, and Tennessee Titans.
This is the second time that Johnson has pulled his name out of the head coaching conversation. The Lions offensive coordinator had interviews with the Panthers, Houston Texans, and Indianapolis Colts before rescinding his name.
Johnson’s resume was even better in his second season as offensive coordinator. In 2023, the Lions put up the second-most points in franchise history according to Pro Football Reference. According to FTN, the 2023 Lions posted their first top-five finish in offensive DVOA since at least 1981. The 2022 and 2023 Lions are third and fourth, respectively, in franchise history in yards per offensive play.
Part of the reason Johnson wants to stay in Detroit, according to ESPN Commanders reporter Nicki Jhabvala, is that he wants to win a Super Bowl. That’s both a promising sign for Detroit’s 2024 prospects and a not-so-subtle dig at the remaining head coaching opportunities. After making their first NFC Championship in 32 seasons, the Lions are returning 38 of the 53 players on their roster and boast the sixth-most cap space in the NFL this offseason.
The Commanders and Seahawks, on the other hand, are pretty far from legitimate contention. Washington is set to enter a full-on rebuild; while they are equipped with the second overall pick and a league-leading $73.6 million in cap space, they are still a long way away from being the top team in their own division, let alone their conference. The Seattle Seahawks are a middle-of-the-pack team in need of a defensive rebuild. The Seahawks finished the 2023 season with the third-worst EPA/play in the league, according to RBSDM. Johnson would also have big shoes to fill, replacing the winningest coach in franchise history Pete Carroll.
However, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, Johnson wasn’t necessarily a lock for a head coaching position this cycle. One of the biggest reported roadblocks in that discussion was his asking price. Back in December, CBS Sports’ Josina Anderson reported that Johnson was looking for a payday of “at least or around” $15 million per year.
Johnson is returning the head coach who gave him his first coordinator opportunity in Dan Campbell. Johnson and Campbell worked together on the Miami Dolphins staff before Johnson left for Detroit. Campbell kept Johnson on his staff as a tight ends coach after taking on the head coaching role in 2021, promoting Johnson to offensive coordinator in 2022.
In an interview with Kevin Clark, Johnson defined the unique relationship he had with Campbell, specifically outlining how badly he doesn’t want to disappoint him.
“That would crush me,” Johnson said. “If I knew that I disappointed him … he wouldn’t have to yell. He wouldn’t have to say anything. Just knowing that I let him down would do it.”
Johnson may have disappointed Campbell with some of his play calls in the Lions’ collapse in the NFC Championship. Namely, Johnson called a third-and-goal run to David Montgomery that got stuffed for a loss with just over a minute left to go in regulation. It forced Detroit to burn a timeout, eliminating any realistic chance of Detroit getting the ball back from San Francisco. According to RBSDM’s win probability model, the decision cost the Lions 4.7 percent in win probability.