Seahawks Coach Search: What makes Lions OC Ben Johnson great

Jan 22, 2024, 1:43 AM | Updated: Jan 23, 2024, 10:03 am

Seattle Seahawks coach candidate Ben Johnson Lions...

Detroit Lions offensive coordinator Ben Johnson and talks to Jared Goff on Nov. 23, 2023. (Mike Mulholland/Getty Images)

(Mike Mulholland/Getty Images)

The surprise team of the NFL playoffs so far has been the Detroit Lions, and at least some of the credit for their run to playing in the NFC Championship next week can be given to somebody on the list of Seattle Seahawks head coach candidates.

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The Seahawks reportedly requested last week to interview Lions offensive coordinator Ben Johnson as they continue their search for the successor of Pete Carroll. So on Friday’s edition of Wyman and Bob, they caught up with Tim Twentyman, senior writer and insider for the official Lions website, to get insight into what makes Johnson so intriguing.

You can hear the full conversation in the podcast at this link or in the player below. After that, let’s break down a few things we learned about Johnson from Twentyman.

1. Johnson was a Lions holdover who impressed coach Dan Campbell.

There’s not usually a lot of carryover from the previous season when a new head coach takes over an NFL team, but Johnson was a rare exception in Dan Campbell’s debut season.

Johnson was previous Detroit coach Matt Patricia’s offensive quality control coach in 2019 and then tight ends coach in 2020. When Campbell was hired in 2021, he actually kept Johnson on, promoting him first to passing game coordinator and then offensive coordinator in 2022.

“Dan identified Ben as a guy that was really smart, really trending upwards,” Twentyman said.

Are people in Detroit now concerned that Johnson may be headed elsewhere for a bigger job? Twentyman said they’re pretty understanding of the situation in the Motor City and prefer it to what they’ve known for a long time, adding that Wyman and Bob was third “on the Ben Johnson tour” Friday in terms of interviews he personally had done in markets with NFL coach vacancies.

“No, I think that’s a good thing,” Twentyman said about Johnson getting attention for head coach positions. “That’s what happens, right, when you turn things around, when you win games. Your assistant coaches get some spotlight, and I would certainly rather have that than the alternative of keeping guys who aren’t winning you football games. Ben Johnson and (Lions defensive coordinator) Aaron Glenn helped this team do things that haven’t been done here in a long time: 12 wins, the first division title in over 30 years, and the playoff win. So kudos to them. They’re very well deserving of getting the looks.”

2. A coach with big offensive ideas.

The Lions finished near the top of the league in three big offensive categories – rushing yards, passing yards and scoring – which is a pretty easy explanation for Johnson becoming a hot name in the head coach search.

“Ben just knows offensive football. It’s really fun to watch him put together a scheme,” Twentyman said. “Look what he’s done to this Detroit Lions offense – they’re top five in running and top five in passing. That’s pretty hard to do. For the last two seasons, they’ve thrown for at least 4,000 yards and rushed for 2,000 yards – first time that’s ever happened in franchise history.”

Though Johnson is just 37, what he’s done with the Lions in his two seasons as OC suggests to Twentyman that he is ready for a head coach position.

“Yeah, I think he’s ready. Obviously, the offensive numbers, the scoring that you talked about, but you talk to any player on offense and the level of respect that they have for how he has made every single one of them better, and that’s what players want, right?” he said. “Players want to come into this league, they want to be coached, they want to know that there’s somebody there that’s gonna make them a better football player.

“I think that’s the one thing when I talk to all the guys on offense – and I think this will certainly apply across the entire roster if he gets a head coaching job and his responsibilities expand. But what he has been able to do with some of these rookies, how they’ve come in and played. And then some of these guys like (Lions wide receiver) Josh Reynolds, a guy who’s kind of been around the league, been a good player a lot, but now he’s a key member of this team. He makes huge plays and he’s gotten better at this stage of his career, and that’s what players want. I think that’s what Ben Johnson has proven, and I think if you’re a franchise looking for a head coach, you just want to see that you have a guy that can develop talent – not only identify it, but then develop it and make guys better. And I think that’s what you’re getting with Ben Johnson.”

3. Seattle Seahawks could use a coach who can mold an offense around a QB.

While Geno Smith has had a strong two seasons as the Seahawks starting quarterback, at his age (33) there is always the possibility that Seattle will look for a younger franchise QB sooner rather than later. If that is the case, or even is the Seahawks stick with Smith for a while, what Johnson has shown he can do through his work with Lions QB Jared Goff is something that could come in handy.

“One of the best things Ben Johnson did was when he was named offensive coordinator… he and Jared Goff sat down in the offseason and they built this around Jared Goff and the quarterback position,” Twentyman explained. “You know, ‘Jared, what do you do well? What don’t you like? What don’t you do well? You know, obviously I have my principles, I want to do these things, but let’s stay away from things you don’t do well, and let’s really build this around the things that you do do well.’ And so I give him a lot of credit for that.”

The 29-year-old Goff had one of his best regular seasons as a pro in 2023, finishing second in the NFL with 4,575 passing yards, fourth in touchdown passes with 30, and 10th in completion percentage at 67.3.

“Jared Goff would be the first one to to speak his praises for what he’s been able to do and the numbers that he’s been able to put up,” Twentyman said of Johnson. “… It allowed Jared to take ownership of the offense and really know the ins and outs. I think when you talk about those two guys, they can almost finish their sentences when they’re talking offensive football and how they see the game. So Jared Goff would give Ben Johnson a ton of credit for the way he’s played the last two years.”

More on Seattle Seahawks’ coach search

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Seahawks Candidate Deep Dive: Isaiah Stanback on Dan Quinn
ESPN insider details what Seattle Seahawks have asked coach candidates
ESPN’s Barnwell: What Seahawks could do at coach and QB
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