Ben Johnson Says “Thanks But No Thanks”

Ben Johnson

Josh Harris gassed up his private jet and set his course for Detroit with the goal of scoring the coaching services of Ben Johnson. Johnson had been the hot offensive coordinator candidate for any head coach opening. The NFL is currently obsessed with hotshot offensive coordinators in their 30s and Johnson checked all of those boxes. Add to this the fact that seemingly every NFL reporter and insider outside of Adam Schefter was linking Johnson to the Commies to the point where it seemed to be a fait accompli.

Once Dan “I hate field goals” Campbell and the Lions got bounced from the playoffs, nearly everyone expected the Commies to roll out Ben Johnson as their new head coach in short order.

We cut back to Harris and his formidable search committee on their private jet and headed to interview Johnson. Everything was going according to plan. And we know all about what Mike Tyson said about plans. Everyone has one until they get punched in the mouth. Welp, that punch to the mouth came in the form of Johnson phoning Harris and informing Harris that he was pulling out of the running for the position of head coach of the Commies.

What a stunner. Talking heads, radio personalities, and columnists all went nuts. What had seemed like a forgone conclusion suddenly turned into an embarrassing moment for the new ownership group of the Commies.

To no surprise, fans immediately reacted as if the Commies missed out on signing the next Vince Lombardi. To that, I would submit the past offensive coordinators that the Washington football team hired to be their head coach: Jay Gruden and Norv Turner. So, we can all pump the brakes on the hand-wringing and teeth-gnashing over missing out on Ben Johnson. Maybe Johnson will be an excellent head coach and the Commies will rue this day. Or maybe Johnson would have been another hot-shot offensive coordinator who failed to transition into being a successful head coach.

There have been several theories posited as to why Johnson gave the Commies an in-flight Heisman. Let’s break them out and examine each one.

Stay and win a Super Bowl

Johnson’s stated reason for bailing on the Commies while they were flying to meet with him was that he wanted to stay in Detroit and “finish the job” and win a Super Bowl. Of all the theories put forth as to why Johnson passed on the Commies, this one seems to be the least believable theory. Almost all assistant coaches leap at the chance to become a head coach in the NFL. There are only 32 teams in the NFL and getting a head coaching position is extremely rare. Nobody passes on a head coaching position to stay as an offensive coordinator to try and finish the job by winning the Super Bowl.

Another reason that this theory is hard to believe is that nobody with a brain in their head would think that making the NFC Championship Game translates into being able to make the Super Bowl the following year. The NFL is highly unpredictable. A team that makes the NFC Championship Game one year is just as likely to experience some bad injuries, have some bad luck, and finish 7-10 the next year.

Maybe Ben Johnson is telling the truth. But, I am just not buying it at all.

Salary Demands

There are rumors that it was Johnson’s high salary demands that scared off teams. The theory is that the Commies were balking at Johnson’s salary demands and Johnson pulled out of the running rather than getting passed over by the Commies. It’s the classic “You can’t fire me, I quit!” scenario.

I am not subscribing to this theory, either. First, I cannot believe that Josh Harris and company would be okay with spending 6 BILLION for the Commies, but would balk at paying Johnson $15 million a year instead of $12 million a year. This just doesn’t make sense at all. That would be a “penny wise pound foolish” approach by Harris that would make me question his intelligence as an NFL owner.

Secondly, if it was Johnson’s salary demands that killed any deal then this would have happened after the Commies met with Johnson in Detroit. This sticking point would have cropped up during salary negotiations after the Commies had decided that they wanted to hire Johnson. It would not have happened while the Commies were in the air flying to Detroit to interview Johnson.

So, while Johnson’s salary demands may have scared off NFL teams, I am not buying this as the most likely theory for why Johnson decided to stay in Detroit.

Johnson did not want the Commies or the Commies did not want Johnson

Another theory is that either Johnson was not impressed with the Commies or that the Commies were not that impressed with Johnson. This theory is more plausible to me than the prior two theories. Let’s look at it from the perspective that Johnson was not impressed with the Commies. There are many reasons for this.

First, the Commies lack talent. Yes, Johnson would have the most salary cap space to chase free agents and would also have the number 2 pick in the draft. But, the fact remains that the Commies have a pretty awful roster.

Second, the Commies have the worst stadium in the NFL and the worst fan support. Okay, maybe the Chargers have the worst fan support. It’s a toss-up. Johnson may have had little desire to coach in a home stadium where he would have to dodge broken sewage pipes like he was Super Mario. Maybe the idea of being in a home stadium that lacks basic needs like running water was unappealing. Perhaps, Johnson was worried about being killed due to faulty railing in FedEx Field. Who knows?

Also, Johnson may have had no desire to coach for a team that has a home stadium dominated by the opposing team’s fans. Sundays in FedEx field are usually the scene of the opposing team’s fans taking over FedEx field like Viking raiders swarming the British Isles. I am sure few coaches get excited at the prospect of having 16 away games on the schedule.

Lastly, Johnson is only 37 years old. From his viewpoint, the Commies are a trashcan organization. Sure, long-time Washington Redskins fans remember when this franchise was the envy of the NFL and a storied franchise. But, the fact is for anyone under 40, the Washington football team is a poverty franchise. The Washington franchise is the Wile E. Coyote of the NFL and watches everything blow up in its face every season. There is little appeal to a coach in their 30s having to go to this dumpster fire of an organization.

On the flip side, Harris and his search committee may have been unimpressed with Johnson after their first interview with him. Perhaps Johnson lacked the type of leadership that Harris was looking for in a new head coach. After all, in Adam Peters’ press conference, Peters made a point of stressing that the number one quality in a head coach was leadership. Peters made it clear that the ability to draw up an impressive offensive gameplan was not the top characteristic he was looking for in a head coach.

We also heard reports that Johnson was not an automatic lock for the Commies. The Commies were highly impressed with some of the other candidates.

Lastly, the feeling could have been mutual. Perhaps both Johnson and the Commies were equally unimpressed by each other. Both sides may have independently felt that this was not the type of football marriage that either party was looking to enter into.

Johnson lacks confidence

The final theory is that Johnson lacks the self-confidence to become a head coach at this point in his career. It has been reported that Johnson was not the alpha male presence in the Detroit Lions organization. Dan Campbell was THE alpha of the Detroit Lions. It was reported that Johnson was the quiet cerebral type who preferred to stay in his office crafting the offensive game plan for the upcoming game.

Therefore, Johnson may not have felt that he had what it took to be that alpha as the head coach of an NFL team. This lack of confidence is certainly a reason why Johnson would panic and call off his interview while Harris was flying to Detroit. If Johnson truly lacks the confidence in himself to be a head coach then the Commies are probably better off not hiring him.

Johnson may also not want to deal with all of the other tasks that fall on the head coach like dealing with the media or being the taskmaster who metes out penalties. Johnson may simply love being an offensive coordinator and staying in his little world without all of the big responsibilities of a head coach. If this is the case then the Commies dodged a bullet by not hiring Johnson.

In the end, I think it was a combination of the Commies not being totally sold on Johnson and Johnson lacking the confidence to transition to being a head coach at this point in his career.

At any rate, the search continues as the options get fewer. After Johnson pulled his name out of the running for any head coaching spots, we then heard that Bobby Slowick pulled his name out of the running for any head coaching spots.

Therefore, it looks like the Commies are down to hiring either Dan Quinn, Mike Macdonald, or Anthony Weaver. In the end, either man might turn out to be the right man for the job. Of course, Harris is going to take plenty of slings from a large part of the Commies fanbase who are not going to be excited with any of these defensive coaches.

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