Lions' Staley to serve as head coach at Senior Bowl; Pleasant and Johnson will coordinate
As part of changes to the Senior Bowl setup in 2022, the head coaches of the two NFL teams selected to work the event will serve in advisory roles, while elevating multiple members of their staff to serve in more significant capacities for the week of practice and next Saturday's game.
On Friday, it was announced Lions running backs assistant Duce Staley will serve as the head coach of the American Team next week in Mobile, Ala., while defensive backs coach Aubrey Pleasant and tight ends coach Ben Johnson will be Staley's defensive and offensive coordinators.
“We as a staff are excited to hit the ground running at the Senior Bowl," Staley said in a statement. "This week will serve as a valuable experience for all of us to help lead our coaching staff alongside coach (Dan) Campbell as we get to know this talented group of young men. We are looking forward to a great week of football in Mobile."
Staley came to Detroit after spending the past 10 seasons with the Philadelphia Eagles. A bittersweet move away from his longtime home, Staley felt it was the right move to better open up the door for future head coaching opportunities.
“I love the man," Eagles owner Jeffrey Laurie said last January. "I just believe — and I think he believes — that it’s best for his goal of being a head coach in the league to work for another organization for a while and set himself up the way many of the candidates have, and it’ll help him and I just want the best for him. I think he’ll be an excellent leader wherever he is in the future and I just want to share that love for Duce. He’s very special."
Lions head coach Campbell, who was similarly groomed for his opportunity in Detroit under the tutelage of Sean Payton in New Orleans, saw an opportunity to pay it forward with Staley, giving him the title of assistant head coach, along with added responsibilities to better prepare him for the next step in his career.
“I told Duce when I was on the phone with him, when I thought that he was about to get out of Philly, or he was thinking about it – I told him, ‘Look, you’re not going to be a token assistant head coach,'" Campbell said shortly after the hire. "I’m going to use him, and I plan on using him for some media obligations. We had him in during our player evaluations on the whole offense and defense ... I’m going to keep him abreast of the cap and things of that nature, what we’re trying to do with free agency, guys that I know, even if they’re on defense, I want him to have a hand in."
As for Johnson, he's in the mix for Detroit's vacant offensive coordinator job following the recent departure of Anthony Lynn. When Campbell took over play-calling duties from Lynn midseason, Johnson was unofficially elevated to passing game coordinator, where he played an integral role in the improved offensive output, as well as the performance of quarterback Jared Goff during the second half of the season.
"Yeah Ben really stepped in there about halfway through the year and became very involved and had a lot of ideas, installing things and having his hand on a lot of the stuff the quarterback position was doing," Goff said earlier this month. "Really every position (in the passing game), wide receivers, really just heightening everybody. So his ceiling is — sky's the limit for him."
Pleasant, a Flint native who played collegiately at Wisconsin, joined the Lions staff after four years coaching the cornerbacks for the Los Angeles Rams. In Detroit, he leads the entire secondary, while also serving as the pass game coordinator for the defense.
Pleasant received frequent praise from Campbell through the course of the season for his work with a notably young and inexperienced group that battled through a number of key injuries.
"Look, AP’s been great and it was one of the reasons that we wanted him here," Campbell said in November. "He’s always been able to develop young talent. I brought it up when we hired him, he’s developed a lot of young talent, guys that nobody’s ever heard of, but then he’s also been able to take some of these really elite guys, like (Jalen) Ramsey and (Aqib) Talib and those guys, and get some of the most productive years out of those guys as well.
"He understands personalities, he knows how to teach, he can reach different, all different walks of life with those guys in there. Man, he keeps it interesting, engaging and he’s high energy, he’s passionate."
Current Detroit defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn has been generating buzz as a head coaching candidate and is slated to interview for his third opening in two years in the coming days. The latest opportunity is in New Orleans, where he worked from 2016-20, helping turn the Saints secondary into one of the NFL's best.
If Glenn were to land that job, Pleasant would be a strong candidate to permanently replace him as Detroit's coordinator.