Lions cornerbacks jump to defense of position coach Aubrey Pleasant amid criticism
Allen Park — After Lions defensive backs coach Aubrey Pleasant was caught by broadcast cameras yelling at cornerback Jeff Okudah during Sunday's loss to the San Francisco 49ers, a number of former players have offered their assessment on the situation.
Former Lions Glover Quin and James Ihedigbo were critical of the moment on Instagram, with Quin saying he doesn't understand how a player can be expected to go out and play after the berating. Meanwhile, former safety Will Blackmon, whose playing career overlapped with Pleasant during his two years as a low-level assistant with the Washington Football Team from 2015-16, wondered why no one was focused on another clip that showed the coach smiling and giving Okudah a hug.
The sharpest comments came from former receiver and current NFL Network analyst Steve Smith, who believes the moment was a reflection of Detroit's overall cultural issues.
"I think it kind of goes to something that we need to address," Smith said during a conference call on Tuesday. "The DB coach or the pass coordinator for the Detroit Lions, how he was dog cussing that third overall pick with the Detroit Lions. I thought that’s interesting.
"They need to protect him the same way they need to protect a quarterback because we all know if the way that coach was talking to him, if Jeff would have responded in a way that coach was, they’d be suspending (him) and saying that player is detrimental. So I think we need to start holding coaches accountable and … start calling some of these coaches out to show that you can’t expect us players to be a certain way and then you not be that certain way."
Pleasant's intense coaching style has been on display in Detroit since he arrived. In a recent practice, he had a similar moment where he got all over Okudah for a mistake during an individual drill. But just like the hug that followed on the broadcast, Pleasant encouraged the player both before and after his next rep, when the expected corrections were made.
On Wednesday, two of Detroit's young cornerbacks defended Pleasant's approach.
"I'm going to make it real clear, everyone has particular relationships with Coach Pleasant," Amani Oruwariye said. "He came here and has really challenged everyone because he sees the potential in everyone. He really just wants to light that (fire) under every single guy, and he has different relationships, different ways of going about that with every one. But at the end of the day, it's two guys just wanting to be great."
Oruwariye went on to say he felt the sideline moment between coach and player had been misconstrued on social media, but everyone in the meeting room knows Pleasant's true intent.
"You know it doesn't mean anything disrespectful, everything is all love," Oruwariye said. "As long as the player and coach have that relationship, it's always good."
Rookie Ifeatu Melifonwu echoed his teammate's comments, saying Pleasant's tough love comes from a good place and he just wants to help the players reach their potential.
Melifonwu did say that Pleasant addressed the moment with the players after the game, but opted to leave the details of that conversation behind closed doors.
In a radio interview earlier this week, coach Dan Campbell was also asked about the incident, revealing he had mixed feelings.
"I don’t like it, but I don’t dislike it," Campbell said. "It’s what goes on, on the sideline. It’s high emotions, man, it’s high stress. It’s the only way to communicate at times. You have to get through, you got to break through that barrier and sometimes there’s players and there’s coaches, when you get one blow-up, now you can finally get some work done if that makes sense. And it just happens that way, naturally. I don’t want disruption, but at the same time I know this, that things got cleaned up after that and so, it’s just, that’s the way it goes sometimes."
Okudah, who suffered a season-ending Achilles injury later in the game, had previously been highly complimentary of Pleasant's coaching.
"Honestly, I feel like me and Coach Pleasant are kind of a match made in heaven," Okudah said. "Me, my game is already based around technique, being a technician. That's something that he's brought to the table every single day. He's someone that's detailed-oriented. He understands that I'm going to ask a lot of questions, so he never really gets frustrated. He answers my questions and that's been pretty big, having a coach that's willing to embrace the kind of player I am and put his full belief and confidence into me being the player he envisions me being."
Outside of Okudah, who was placed on injured reserve on Monday, the Lions were down two players for Wednesday's practice — wide receiver Tyrell Williams and defensive tackle Kevin Strong.
Williams is in concussion protocol after taking a helmet-to-helmet shot from 49ers safety Jaquiski Tartt, while Strong left the field with a lower-body injury suffered on the same play where Okudah exited.
To provide some additional insurance with Williams sidelined, the Lions re-signed receiver Geronimo Allison to the practice squad. The former Green Bay Packers wideout initially signed with the Lions a year ago before opting out of the 2020 campaign. In the preseason this year, he caught five passes for 64 yards.