Johnson had no shortage of suitors, and he emerged as a primary candidate for the Commanders' head- coaching job as the Lions prepared for the playoffs. Now, the 37-year-old will run it back, as Detroit continues the hunt for its first Super Bowl win.
Amon-Ra St. Brown shed more light on why Johnson decided to remain. On Wednesday, the Lions' star receiver explained that Johnson called him Tuesday to let him know that he would be returning.
The reason behind it? They had more to accomplish.
"I'm like, 'So what's up with you, you did an interview, like, are you leaving?'" St. Brown said on the "St. Brown Brothers" podcast. "He's like, 'You know what, I'm on my way to the facility right now.' He said he couldn't sleep last night. He was thinking about it, and he said, 'There's unfinished business.' He wants to stay.
"He said his heart is in Detroit, he wants to stay. So, he told me that while he was on his way to the facility."
Ben Johnson helped turn around Jared Goff and the Lions
Johnson joined the Lions in 2019 as an offensive quality control coach and worked his way up to tight ends coach, then passing game coordinator, then offensive coordinator last season.
The year before his promotion, the 2021-22 Lions ranked 25th in the NFL in points scored and 22nd in yards gained. Jared Goff's first season with the team was a dud, finishing with a 3-13-1 record while Matthew Stafford won a Super Bowl title after he was traded to the Rams.
It was a night-and-day difference once Johnson took over. Goff immediately became one of the NFL's most efficient quarterbacks, while the overall offense jumped to fifth in points and fourth in yards. The unit boasted a diverse and creative scheme, routinely catching defenses off guard.
That success continued this season, leading to a 12-5 record and Detroit's first division title since 1993. The season ended in a 34-31 defeat to the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC championship game on Sunday, lengthening the franchise's championship drought to 68 years.
While the Lions are one of 12 teams to have never won the Lombardi Trophy, they are one of just four teams in the league to have never played in the Super Bowl.
Johnson was considered for some head coaching jobs last offseason, interviewing for the Houston Texans vacancy before they hired DeMeco Ryans. This time, Johnson was an even more high-profile candidate. He drew requests from the Commanders, Carolina Panthers, Atlanta Falcons, Tennessee Titans and Los Angeles Chargers. His salary expectations left some organizations with sticker shock, ESPN's Adam Schefter reported.
Clearly, there was a lot to like in Detroit this year. While teams with head coach vacancies took notice, Johnson deferred for unfinished business. The news likely comes as a relief for anyone hoping to see the Lions build on their spectacular 2023 showing. But the staff could still lose a vital member during the current head coaching cycle.
Commanders officials were on their way to Detroit with plans to meet with Johnson and Lions defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn when they learned about Johnson's plans to stay put, per Schefter. Washington's leadership team still reportedly wants to meet with Glenn for its head coach opening.
Glenn was recently named the league's top defensive coordinator in an NFLPA survey of more than 1,700 players. Assuming the position of defensive coordinator with the Lions in 2021, the 2023 campaign was Glenn's 10th as an NFL coach. The former first-round draft pick worked in the New York Jets front office before serving as defensive backs coach with the New Orleans Saints (2016-2020) and assistant defensive backs coach with the Cleveland Browns (2014-15).
Depending on the outcome of Glenn's interview with Washington, Detroit could retain both coordinators ahead of what has the potential to be a historic 2024 season for the franchise.