Ben Johnson feels like he has some unfinished business left to take care of in Detroit.
Johnson, 36, was a hot candidate for some of this year's head coaching vacancies after leading the Lions' offense to a top five finish in total yards (4th) and points scored (5th) this past season. He interviewed with Carolina, Houston and Indianapolis for their open coaching gigs, but in the end, Johnson took his name out of consideration for those jobs.
"It's really simple for me," Johnson told detroitlions.com and the Twentyman in the Huddle podcast on Wednesday. "It starts with this place and these people. Been here four years now and I believe in (principal owner) Sheila (Hamp) and what she's doing. (Team president) Rod Wood. Dan (Campbell), Brad (Holmes). It starts at the top and trickles down.
"This is as encouraged [as I've been] in my four years with the direction of the Lions and where we're headed."
Johnson told a story about going to a Garth Brooks concert at Ford Field during one of his first offseasons in Detroit after coming over from the Miami Dolphins staff.
"I was thinking at the time and soaking in the atmosphere, and it was like, 'Holy cow, this is what a home playoff game is going to be like, and this is what I want to be a part of. This is what I want to feel. This is what I want to experience.'
"It made me feel some type of way and I kept going back to that as part of the process and you know what, there are so many good things going on here. So many good people, coaches, players, I love the offensive staff and everyone we have on board there. I love the players. I love coming into work every day. Coach Campbell is incredible, and so end of the day talking with my family it just made sense. Don't ruin a good thing."
In his first year as offensive coordinator, the Lions' offense finished third in the NFL with 6,460 total net years (4,281 passing & 2,170 rushing), fourth in touchdowns scored (54), fourth in total first downs (376) and first in fewest turnovers (15) in the league. It was the first time in franchise history the Lions threw for at least 4,000 yards and rushed for at least 2,000 yards in a single season.
Johnson's offense scored 30-or-more points in eight games this season, tied for the most in the NFL, which also established a new franchise record in a single season.
He and his offensive coaching staff are currently in the self-scout phase of the offseason, and he's already marveled at how far they've come compared to where they were last year at this time. A math major at UNC, Johnson had a good analogy to explain the process.
"I think the most encouraging thing is where we can get to because we'll make a huge jump here between Year 1 and Year 2 in this offense as we clean up the details," he said. "There will be less thinking and more reacting. The conversations we're having now as a coaching staff are like calculus as compared to the pre-algebra we were doing a year ago this time."
It's easy to see how this offense can be even better in 2023 with Johnson's return. Quarterback Jared Goff is feeling at home in the system, one of the best offensive lines in football is all under contract, Amon-Ra St. Brown is a budding superstar in the slot, and dynamic rookie Jameson Williams will have a full offseason to prepare.
The offensive line in particular is the key to it all for Johnson, who sleeps well at night knowing the big guys upfront are back to lead the way.
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"That's why I'm back," Johnson joked.
"It's everything. I'm telling you right now. When we did the run game last week I kept saying over and over, 'surge, surge, surge.' It didn't matter what scheme we were running, displacement of the line of scrimmage was happening on a regular basis. That's a testament to them. They are phenomenal.
"Coach (Hank) Fraley does a great job with them. And like I said before, there's still room for growth in that room. We are going to coach them hard when they get back and we're going to continue to take that next step.
So what is Johnson looking forward to most when the players get back in the spring and they start building the 2023 version of the Lions' offense?
"The challenge of getting the players back in and learning from what we put on tape last year to take the next step," Johnson said. "I don't know if it's reinventing the wheel and coming up with all these brand-new plays. That's not it. The secret sauce is the teaching and executing just a little bit better than what we did a year ago."