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4 Detroit Lions coaching candidates to replace Dan Campbell

Matt Johnson
Detroit Lions
Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Detroit Lions head coach Dan Campbell is one of the most well-liked figures in the NFL. Liked by players and beloved by NFL fans after Hard Knocks 2022, he provides a personality that people gravitate towards. Unfortunately for Detroit, he is simply not working as its head coach.

The Lions’ coaching search cast a wide net to find the right replacement for Matt Patricia. Robert Saleh, Todd Bowles, Arthur Smith, Eric Bieniemy, Marvin Lewis and Luke Fickell.

Ultimately, Detroit bought into Campbell’s vision during his interviews. A few weeks later, the former Miami Dolphins interim coach and then New Orleans Saints tight ends coach replaced Patricia. With the hire, the Lions hoped they would have a figure who the city and players would rally around after the issues during the previous regime.

Related: Detroit Lions schedule

Reviewing the Dan Campbell era

Everyone bought in early. Despite being in a rebuild, the Lions played in nine one-score games during the 2021 season and posted a 2-6-1 record. With more experience and added talent, the organization counted on significant growth in 2022.

  • Dan Campbell record: 4-19-1

Instead, Detroit is on pace for another season with three wins or fewer. More alarming, entering Week 9, Campbell’s win-loss percentage (.188) is the second-worst in franchise history among head coaches with 10-plus games.

Campbell’s teams are losing more often than during the Patricia era (.314) and the lack of success makes the decision to fire Jim Caldwell (.563) even worse). While change isn’t imminent, there remains a strong possibility that Campbell is fired at the end of the season.

Evaluating Detroit Lions coaching candidates

We’ll evaluate additional coaching candidates following each Detroit Lions loss.

Luke Fickell, Cincinnati Bearcats head coach

NCAA Football: Cincinnati at Central Florida
The Cincinnati Enquirer-USA TODAY NETWORK

Considering Detroit interviewed Fickell the last time it conducted a coaching search, it’s reasonable to expect his name to be brought up again. The 49-year-old worked as an assistant with the Ohio State Buckeyes from 2002-’16 before taking over as the Bearcats’ head coach in 2007.

After a transition year – 4-8 in his first season – Fickell has built one of the most consistent winners in college football. The Bearcats have been to a bowl game in each of the last five seasons, posting a 50-9 record during that stretch.

Even after losing NFL talent like Sauce Gardner, Coby Bryant, Desmond Ridder, Myjai Sanders and Jerome Ford, Fickell has maintained an excellent record and Cincinnati will have a shot at its fifth consecutive year with at least nine wins. He effectively serves as the CEO of the program, a trait that is especially crucial to be a successful head coach.

However, there is a reason Detroit should be wary of hiring someone out of college. Of the last six head coaches hired from the collegiate level, Bill O’Brien was the most successful (52-58) and Kliff Kingsbury is the only one remaining. It’s a difficult transition that Fickell might not be ready to make and a hire that might be too risky for the Lions.

Shane Steichen, Philadelphia Eagles offensive coordinator

NFL: Washington Football Team at Philadelphia Eagles
Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

The Lions will be in a great position to draft either C.J. Stroud or Bryce Young with their first-round pick in the 2023 NFL Draft. It’s the type of addition at quarterback this franchise desperately needs, but they also must find the right coach to work with either signal-caller.

Philadelphia Eagles head coach Nick Sirianni described this summer how heavily involved Shane Steichen is with the offense. In fact, the 37-year-old took over the entire offensive play-calling duties this season. Not only do the Eagles have one of the best offenses in the NFL, but quarterback Jalen Hurts has blossomed into an MVP candidate.

  • Philadelphia Eagles offense stats (2022): 28.1 PPG (3rd), 391 total ypg (5th), 0.417 points per play (6th), 70% red-zone TD rate (4th), 45.9% third-down conversion rate (4th)

Steichen served as the Los Angeles Chargers offensive coordinator during Justin Herbert‘s historic rookie season in 2020. While he has worked with quarterbacks since 2016, he is also excellent at establishing an effective ground attack. Steichen could be an ideal hire if the Lions want to maximize D’Andre Swift, Amon-Ra St. Brown and Jameson Williams with Stroud or Young.

Demeco Ryans, San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator

NFL: Seattle Seahawks at San Francisco 49ers
Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

It would be stunning if San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans isn’t hired as a head coach in 2023. Just a few years removed from playing linebacker for the Eagles and Houston Texans (2006-’15), the 38-year-old is one of the fastest-rising coaches in the NFL.

Replacing Robert Saleh in 2021, Ryans’ defense carried San Francisco on its playoff run. Despite having to design a defense for a team that lacked healthy, high-end talent at cornerback, Ryans got the most out of his group.

49ers defensePPG AllowedYPG AllowedYards per PlayPressure %Def. DVOA
2021 season20.6 (5th)311.8 (4th)5.1 (4th)24.1% (20th)7th (-7.4%)
2022 season18.4 (5th)285.9 (1st)4.8 (4th)25.5% (5th)7th (-7.3%)

He is doing the same in 2022, even as the 49ers deal with significant injuries on that side of the ball. It’s a credit to Ryans, who relies on his defensive line to generate pressure with the linebackers and defensive backs put in positions to either make plays or prevent big gains.

Related: NFL defense rankings

While the Lions have tried things with a defensive-minded coach before, Ryans’ personality is more similar to Campbell’s than Patricia’s. He could be the right head coach to fix the defense, solving a problem that has haunted Detroit all season.

Ben Johnson, Detroit Lions offensive coordinator

Syndication: Detroit Free Press
Junfu Han / USA TODAY NETWORK

It’s rare to see an NFL team fire its head coach and then promote a coordinator to fill the position. However, it’s something to consider if Detroit moves on from Patricia and would seem to be even more plausible if Ben Johnson takes over as interim coach during the season.

Detroit’s offense isn’t the problem right now. Despite being limited by quarterback Jared Goff, Detroit is one of the best offenses in the NFL entering November. It is averaging the third-most total yards (394.9), the ninth-most points per game (24.7) and ranks third in red-zone touchdowns per game (2.6).

The 36-year-old offensive coordinator brings innovative play-calling and he shows the ability to create unique game plans while maximizing whatever talent is available. He’s been part of the organization since 2019 and will receive head-coaching interviews in 2023. If the Lions want to maintain the continuity of their offense and then add a high-end quarterback talent to put it over the top, Johnson could receive a promotion.