Why is there drama between the Commanders and Lions OC Ben Johnson?

The Washington Commanders hired their new head coach last week in Dan Quinn, but the whole process didn’t quite go as planned. A cancelled second interview between the Commanders and Detroit Lions offensive coordinator Ben Johnson has led to battling reports about whether Johnson turned the Commanders down first or vice versa.

To get caught up on the drama and media mudslinging, read on.

What went down between Johnson and the Commanders?

Johnson, who was considered to be one of the leading candidates for the Commanders top job, interviewed with the Commanders’ search committee (which included new owner Josh Harris and new GM Adam Peters) last month, and the Commanders reportedly wanted to conduct a second interview with him. However, before the interview took place, Johnson withdrew his name from consideration and decided to stay put in Detroit.

That seems pretty simple. So why is there drama?

Johnson reportedly texted the Commanders to tell them of his decision to stay in Detroit while they were literally on a plane traveling to Michigan to meet with him. It’s unclear if Johnson knew they were in midair when he sent the text, but it was close enough to the time and date of the interview that the members of the Commanders’ search committee were reportedly left with a pretty bad taste in their mouths.

That does sound a little inconsiderate.

From the outside it doesn’t look great, no. But according to an NFC front office executive who spoke to The Athletic, Johnson was not in a great headspace to make decisions about his future at that point.

“He got out of that San Francisco loss, having been walloped emotionally. Think about what he went through,” said an NFC front-office executive. “To consider where he wanted to (work and live) at that exact moment … if he was self-aware to make the right decision for him, I commend him.”

Despite any extenuating circumstances, The Athletic’s Ben Standig and Dianna Russini reported that a number of league sources share the view that the Commanders got “screwed.”

DETROIT, MICHIGAN - SEPTEMBER 24: Ben Johnson offensive coordinator with the Detroit Lions looks on during a game against the Atlanta Falcons at Ford Field on September 24, 2023 in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Mike Mulholland/Getty Images)

The Commanders and Lions offensive coordinator Ben Johnson have been trading barbs in the media. (Photo by Mike Mulholland/Getty Images)

So the Commanders just moved on, right? Like any normal team would do?

Well, they moved forward by hiring Dan Quinn to be their new head coach on the evening of Feb. 1. But moved on? It doesn’t appear so.

Oh no.

“Oh no” is right. On Feb. 1, the day after Johnson turned the Commanders down, NFL Network Insider Mike Garafolo went on the “Puck & Jim Show” and shared some info he got from unnamed NFL insiders. Here are the finer points:

  • Johnson reportedly “didn’t interview very well.”

  • Johnson was reportedly not the Commanders’ top candidate at the time he withdrew his name from consideration.

  • Johnson withdrew from the search because he reportedly knew he wasn’t going to get the job.

Garafolo didn’t attribute those sentiments to the Commanders, but there are only a few people who might know that information, and most of those people are on the Commanders’ search committee. Plus, there’s no earthly reason for someone to leak any of that unless they’re trying to embarrass Johnson and make themselves look good. The only party that might possibly benefit from this information being public is the Commanders.

Did Johnson respond?

Johnson didn’t respond directly, but a report from ESPN’s Jenna Laine included info that pretty much only Johnson or his close confidants would know.

“Was told that Ben Johnson was ‘turned off’ by Commanders ownership, that they’re ‘basketball guys’ and felt they were a little too confident in their football opinions,” Laine posted Saturday on X (formerly known as Twitter).

So each side has taken a shot. Is it over now?

We can only hope it’s over. At this point it would benefit no one for this mudslinging to continue. The Commanders have a new head coach, Johnson has the job he wants, so there’s no reason for either side to keep this going.

And if anyone is worried about Johnson’s ability to get a head coaching job in the future after “screwing” over the Commanders, they shouldn’t be. If Josh McDaniels was able to get multiple chances in the NFL, Johnson should be just fine.

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