The Washington Commanders are expected to move on from head coach Ron Rivera after the 2023 season. At 4-8, Washington has four games remaining and made a change at defensive coordinator last week when Rivera fired Jack Del Rio.
While the Commanders currently operate under the coach-centric model with Rivera acting as general manager overseeing all football operations, that’s not expected to be the case moving forward. New Washington owner Josh Harris will likely hire a new general manager, and the job should be coveted.
So, while it’s much too soon to name potential coaching candidates for the Commanders for obvious reasons, there are some potentially attractive candidates for what could be a busy 2024 coaching carousel.
One of the more prominent names is Detroit Lions offensive coordinator Ben Johnson. In his second season as Detroit’s offensive coordinator, Johnson has done an excellent job rejuvenating quarterback Jared Goff’s career. Johnson, 37, could have had the Carolina head coaching job last offseason but wisely declined.
Could Johnson be a match for the Commanders? Much of that could depend on what he thinks of quarterback Sam Howell. If Washington wants to build around Howell, it will need a coach with a similar mindset. Johnson has some history — albeit brief — with Howell.
Johnson graduated from the University of North Carolina, where he was a walk-on quarterback from 2004-07. Howell was a record-setting quarterback for the Tar Heels from 2019-21. Rest assured, Johnson has an opinion on Howell, being that he quarterbacked at his alma mater.
Fast forward to the 2022 Senior Bowl. The Detroit Lions coached the American squad. Howell was one of three quarterbacks on the American roster. And there’s a video of the pair working together during a practice.
Johnson was evaluating Howell along with Detroit’s quarterback coach, Mark Brunell. A longtime NFL starting quarterback, Brunell spent four seasons in Washington.
After watching Howell throw, the pair talk about what it’s like for Howell to have a coach communicating with him through his helmet. Then Howell asks Johnson why he coaches. Finally, Johnson jokes with Howell about what it’s like to be the second-best quarterback to come through North Carolina.
Howell’s response? “Who’s the first?” Johnson was obviously joking with Howell, and we aren’t sure if Howell knew Johnson played for the Tar Heels.
There’s no way of knowing what Johnson thinks of Howell from that clip, but the coach noted their shared history at UNC. He likely has a strong opinion on Howell, one way or the other.