I’ve spent a lot of time since it was announced Pete Carroll was departing weighing up potential replacements. There are some strong candidates but one coach more than any other stands out.
I want the Seahawks to appoint Detroit Lions offensive coordinator Ben Johnson.
The man who replaces Carroll needs to tick several boxes. He needs to be a great communicator — a CEO type more than just an effective coordinator. He needs to be leading an offense or defense that is enjoying transferrable success. He needs to be able to build a strong staff. He needs to be able to set a new culture and have clarity on what his football team is going to be.
I believe Johnson is the man most likely to tick all of these boxes.
Firstly, let’s look at what he’s done in Detroit. He was initially tight ends coach when Dan Campbell took the Lions job. After a miserable 0-8-1 start in Campbell’s first year, he decided to demote offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn. Johnson was promoted to be Detroit’s new offensive coordinator the following February.
Here’s what has happened since then. Under Lynn, the Lions had the 29th ranked offense per DVOA. Johnson then took over and Detroit had the 7th ranked offense in 2022. This year, they had the 5th ranked offense. That’s what you call having an impact.
Quickly word was spreading that Detroit had one of the bright young coaching stars on their books. Bengals coach Zac Taylor, who had worked with Johnson in Miami, commented on his ability in the week of Cincinnati’s Super Bowl match-up against the Rams:
“I’ve tried to hire Ben many, many, many times. He always just gets promoted to where I can’t get him. [Lions coach] Dan [Campbell] knows that,” Taylor told reporters. “I’ve always tried to find a place for him on staff, whether it’s offense, defense, special [teams], it doesn’t matter. He’s one of those guys you want on your staff because he’s brilliant.”
Dan Campbell inherited Johnson and kept him on when he took over from Matt Patricia. Eric Woodyard at ESPN notes why the coach took a shine to his talented coordinator:
Campbell describes Johnson as a “chess player”. He says Johnson puts a lot of time and thought into getting certain players touches and when to call plays, which, according to Campbell, is key in building the gameplan for the week.
“He can identify quickly things that, ‘Man, I know I’ve got to be better here. I won’t ever do that again. Man, if we play these guys again, this is exactly what I would do,'” Campbell said.
“He’s got an answer for all of it in real time and the more he memory banks, he just keeps getting better and better and growing. And then even from the game-plan standpoint, putting players in the best position to have success.”
This is all very appealing. You have a 37-year-old coach viewed as a star in his field. He has produced at a high level for the Lions, transforming their offense. The results speak for themselves.
I think Johnson’s work in Detroit specifically speaks to what the Seahawks need. He has achieved great results with Jared Goff. Stylistically, Goff might be different to Geno Smith. Yet their PFF rankings for 2023 (Goff 11th, Smith 13th) suggests they are two players of a similar level. Let’s not forget that the Rams essentially palmed Goff off on the Lions in order to acquire Stafford. Johnson isn’t succeeding because he’s had the fortune to work with Patrick Mahomes or Josh Allen. He’s succeeding because he’s helped Goff perform at a good level.
For me, it’s time for the Seahawks to embrace where their talent is on the roster. Currently they are not a power-running team who can play great defense, as Carroll desired. Their key components are their young skill players — DK Metcalf, Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Ken Walker and Zach Charbonnet. They have a quarterback who is experienced and capable. They used a top-10 pick on a pass-protecting left tackle in Charles Cross.
These players should form the new identity and focal point for the team. Johnson is ideally placed to make this happen.
Let’s start with the running backs. The Seahawks have used two second round picks on Walker and Charbonnet, yet received minimal return from that investment in 2023. Detroit also spent big on the position — signing David Montgomery then using a high first round pick on Jahmyr Gibbs.
Montgomery had 1015 yards this year, Gibbs had 945. The pair combined for 23 rushing touchdowns and produced the NFL’s fifth best rushing attack. Three of the teams above them in the rankings feature running quarterbacks, so really the only team with the better pure ground game was the San Francisco 49ers.
That’s the kind of production you need if you spend high picks on running backs.
In the passing game, Johnson helped turn Amon-Ra St.Brown into a star. He had 1515 receiving yards this year (third in the league, only behind Tyreek Hill and Ceedee Lamb) and 10 touchdowns. They know how to feature him and feed him the ball — St.Brown had the fifth most targets in 2023 (164). The Seahawks badly need someone who can create a system to max-out Metcalf, Smith-Njigba and Tyler Lockett (if he remains on the roster).
Then there’s Sam LaPorta — second round rookie tight end. He was a revelation this year, catching 10 touchdowns and recording 889 receiving yards. When’s the last time the Seahawks featured a tight end in this way? It’s such a crucial position in the modern NFL and they need a big-time tight end target going forward.
Everything is set for Johnson to come in and emulate what he’s achieved in Detroit. He can take Seattle’s offense to new heights and with a complementary defense in tow, there’s no reason why as soon as next season the Seahawks couldn’t emulate the Lions and be a dangerous playoff team. How many other franchises can offer that?
The Lions have transformed from 3-13-1 to 9-8 to 11-5 contenders with Johnson, the OC, building one of the most dynamic offenses in the NFL. His play design is innovative. His playcalling, fearless. Production speaks for itself: Detroit ranks sixth in passing (4,286 yards), fourth in rushing (2,241 yards) and have scored the third-most touchdowns (54) in the NFL. Jared Goff revitalized his career. When this unit is synchronized, rushing lanes part like the sea. Receivers are wide open. There are flea-flickers… and third-down passes to Penei Sewell… and 2-point passes to Taylor Decker. The Lions turn Sundays into backyard football.
Most owners crave offensive minds at the edge of innovation. That’s why the coaching trees of Sean McVay and Kyle Shanahan were pillaged. Those who are a step behind will resemble dinosaurs — fast. That was the problem in Carolina. Frank Reich’s playbook was suddenly collecting cobwebs and the Panthers had too much invested in Bryce Young. It’s no shock Carolina reportedly covets Johnson.
This is a good video detailing how Johnson succeeds on a schematic level. You’ll need to head to YouTube to watch it as the NFL has blocked the footage appearing on other sites but it’s well worth seeing:
Dunne also highlighted the culture Dan Campbell has created in Detroit and why it would be useful for the Seahawks, in their current form, to try and tap into this:
This Lions staff full of former pros — Campbell, Aaron Glenn, Antwaan Randle-El, Mark Brunell — is all business, he explained. There’s no showboating, no screwing around. The Lions are “not putting up with any bullshit,” he said. There’s maximum effort from guys up and down the roster. It’s nonstop. It’s relentless. Receivers block. Corners hit. “They don’t care about the score or nothing,” McGinn added. “Those coaches are on these people. I can just imagine what it’s like behind closed doors.”
I can’t imagine the Jamal Adams tweets, Tariq Woolen grabbing his crotch, cigars in the locker-room after missing the playoffs and players saying ‘the Rams wanted it more than us’ would cut it on Campbell’s watch and there’s a chance Johnson would bring that approach to Seattle.
At the start I mentioned you need to be a CEO type, not just a good play-caller or position coach. Johnson’s press conferences, which I’ve watched in the last 24 hours, show a charismatic, personable coach. He enjoys a good relationship with the Detroit media and speaks well. You can see why he graduated from North Carolina with a degree in mathematics and computer science — he’s clearly intelligent with the way he speaks. To me, he comes across in a very similar way to Sean McVay.
Dunne explains that Johnson has the necessary communication skills to be a Head Coach:
Johnson is described as an effective teacher. He’s able to transfer everything players see on film to the field.
“A gifted communicator,” Blough says. “His whole career has just been founded in hard work where he’s been the grinder just his whole time and he’s not afraid to be creative. So he maximizes his guys’ skill-sets and then allows them to go and play fast because of the way he communicates the details. His gift is definitely communicating details.”
The only question mark for me is his ability to build a great staff — but that’s a question for all candidates. I can’t say with any certainty that any of the candidates would be able to do that. Campbell did a good job building his staff in Detroit, so he can maybe pull from that group.
Clearly he would need a good defensive coordinator. I’d quite like to tap into Brandon Staley, who feels like a good personality match with Johnson and had success with the Rams as a defensive coordinator, even if he struggled as a Head Coach. Alternatively, the Seahawks could aim to appoint a very experienced ‘wise head’ to support Johnson. That worked between McVay and Wade Phillips in LA. Or perhaps Johnson has someone in mind from Campbell’s Detroit staff?
Regardless, he is my preferred candidate as of today. The NFL is an offensive-minded league. If the Seahawks draft a quarterback soon, it’d be beneficial to have an offensive-minded Head Coach to work with that player. John Schneider’s background is in Green Bay, where they have consistently had an offensive leader and a team built around the QB — Mike Holmgren, Mike McCarthy, Matt LaFleur, Brett Favre, Aaron Rodgers and now Jordan Love.
I think this was would be a better bet than simply appointing Dan Quinn, who never produced more than an average defense in Atlanta where he didn’t have the Legion of Boom or Micah Parsons. His Falcons record without Kyle Shanahan was 24-29. Quinn has key qualities as a communicator, leader and he’s well respected in Seattle. I’m still not sold on his ability to elevate this team to where it wants to get to. I don’t think he’d have a chance to be the best coach in the NFC West and it was unnerving seeing the 49ers destroy Dallas during the regular season.
The aim has to be to appoint someone who can go toe-to-toe with Shanahan and McVay. Johnson, to me, feels like he’s cut from the same cloth. He is a hot candidate among the teams with vacancies and the Seahawks will be an appealing gig based on the talent on the roster, especially on offense, plus the chance to work with a proven GM, at a great facility with a supportive and ambitious ownership group.
Ben Johnson is the man I hope will be coaching the Seahawks in 2023.
I discussed the runners and riders in a new video below, check it out: