When Jim Caldwell got the Lions job, moving Bobby Johnson from tight ends coach to assistant offensive line coach was a no-brainer. (Scott A. Miller / Associated Press)
Mobile, Ala. — During Bobby Johnson’s time coaching offensive line at Indiana University from 2005-09, he used to drive north from Bloomington to Indianapolis and spend time with then-Colts offensive line coach Howard Mudd.
New Lions coach Jim Caldwell, who was with the Colts at the time, took notice of Johnson and put him on a list of potential assistants should he ever land a head coaching job.
So when Caldwell landed with the Lions last week, keeping Johnson and moving him from tight ends coach to assistant offensive line coach was a no-brainer.
“I admired the way in which he worked, I admired the way his guys played at Indiana, and not only that, I had a chance to kind of evaluate him and watch him work in those settings,” Caldwell said of Johnson. “I knew at some point in time that was going to be a guy that I’d certainly like to have on my staff because I know he can get to a point where he gets players that are around him better.”
Whether Caldwell worked with them or crossed paths somewhere — like when he tried to recruit offensive line coach Jeremiah Washburn to Wake Forest — Caldwell knows most of the eight coaches he retained from former Lions coach Jim Schwartz’s staff and said the front office didn’t force him to keep them.
Caldwell has also hired some new coaches from his running list of assistants to watch, including defensive coordinator Teryl Austin and assistant head coach and tight ends coach Ron Prince. Lions general manager Martin Mayhew said Caldwell mentioned those two as possible assistants during his interview and, shortly after Caldwell’s hire, he added them to the staff.
Although Caldwell didn’t share the list, new offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi was likely on it. Lombardi was in his first year as Saints quarterbacks coach when New Orleans beat the Colts in the Super Bowl in 2009 and Caldwell was head coach.
Caldwell’s staff is mostly full now, but there are still coaching vacancies for the quarterbacks, wide receivers and defensive backs. There’s a chance the Lions will use the quarterbacks slot for another assistant because Caldwell and Lombardi have worked extensively with quarterbacks, but that remains to be seen.
In addition to Austin, Prince and Lombardi, Caldwell has hired Bill Sheridan to coach the linebackers. Sheridan is a native Detroiter who went to De La Salle High, spent five years as an assistant at Michigan, three as an assistant at Michigan State and the past two years as defensive coordinator with the Buccaneers.
The holdovers besides Washburn and Johnson are run game coordinator Curtis Modkins, special teams coordinator John Bonamego, special teams assistant Evan Rothstein, defensive line coach Kris Kocurek, defensive line assistant Jim Washburn and offensive line assistant Terry Heffernan, whose title will change to quality control.
Heffernan, though, will primarily work with the offensive line along with Jeremiah Washburn and Johnson. Caldwell said the Ravens had three coaches work with the offensive line when he was most recently their offensive coordinator.
“It’s not unprecedented. It’s kind of the way I like it,” Caldwell said. “There’s a lot of work to be done. Those guys have five guys in there with maybe the most intricate work to be done.”
Jeremiah Washburn’s retention will surely please an offensive line unit that allowed the second-fewest sacks in 2013 despite having three new starters.
When Caldwell was head coach at Wake Forest, he recruited Washburn as a center in the mid-1990s only to see him go to Arkansas where his father, Jim, was coaching. Caldwell said Jeremiah Washburn’s history as a center shows he’s smart and has a good understanding of offenses, and Caldwell praised his sense of scheme as well as knack for relating to players while being able to challenge them.
Meanwhile, Caldwell remembers Jim Washburn from when he was coaching the Titans’ defensive line, a division rival of Caldwell’s Colts. Kocurek also played for the Titans in 2002, Caldwell’s first year in Indianapolis.