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What would Lions DC Aaron Glenn bring as the Broncos head coach?

I spoke with Pride of Detroit’s John Whiticar and Football Absurdity’s Walker Kelly to find out if Detroit Lions defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn would be a good head coach for the Denver Broncos.

NFL: Arizona Cardinals at Detroit Lions
Is Glenn the right fit for Denver?
Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

The Denver Broncos are in the market for a new head coach and George Paton is currently in the process of interviewing 10 candidates to fill the position. Among the lesser known candidates is Detroit Lions’ defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn. A first round pick out of Texas A&M in 1994, Glenn has a wealth of experience that surely caught Paton’s eye.

Glenn spent the majority of his playing career with the New York Jets before landing with the expansion Houston Texans in 2002, where he was coached by Vic Fangio. After his playing career came to an end he signed a one day contract to retire a Texan in 2010. In 2012 he was hired as general manager of the Lone Star Football League’s Houston Stallions for a season. After leaving the LSFL he became a personnel scout for the Jets for two years. From there he jumped into coaching. He spent two years with the Cleveland Browns before he became the New Orleans Saints defensive backs coach. When Dan Campbell was hired as the Lions’ head coach, he quickly made Glenn his defensive coordinator.

To get a better idea as to what happened during Glenn’s one season in Motown I reached out to John Whiticar of Pride of Detroit and Walker Kelly of Football Absurdity.

1st and 10

Aaron Glenn may just be the biggest surprise candidate of the Broncos coaching search so far and the numbers aren’t especially flattering to the Lion’s defense last year. Should fans be concerned about him landing the top job?

Kelly: No, absolutely not. Glenn took a bare bones defensive roster with a ton of injuries and turned it into a unit that, while bad on paper, held its own in many games.

Whiticar: Don’t let the Lions’ record fool you: Aaron Glenn was fantastic.

The Lions’ defense was ranked 29th in DVOA, but if it weren’t for Aaron Glenn, it would have been 32nd. The failure that was the Matt Patricia era left the Lions roster, especially the defense, completely barren. The Lions had very few true starters on defense, even after the draft and free agency. To make matters worse, two of their most talented players, Romeo Okwara and Jeff Okudah, tore their Achilles within the first month. One of the best defenders in years past, Trey Flowers, was hurt throughout most of the year. Suddenly, the defense was down to cornerback Amani Oruwariye, safety Tracy Walker, and a lot of youngsters.

Aaron Glenn was able to get significant production out of a roster of scraps. Two undrafted rookies, Jerry Jacobs and AJ Parker, saw sizeable roles on defense, and they performed very well given the circumstances. Charles Harris, a former first round bust, had a career year with the Lions. Even Jalen Reeves-Maybin, mainly a special teamer entering the season, had a drastic improvement under Glenn. The Lions were punching above their weight on defense nearly all year. Holding the Arizona Cardinals to 12 points was his magnum opus this season.

Detroit getting stomped by Denver surely left a bad first impression on Broncos fans, but the leadup to that game was a total disaster. The Lions were struck with a massive flu outbreak and hardly had an opportunity to practice. The Lions got blown out on other occasions, but that mainly comes down to execution. From a play calling perspective, Glenn did an excellent job. When players were executing, the scheme was working. Glenn brought creative blitzes to make up for lackluster talent. The statistical results are bad because the defense just wasn’t talented enough. There’s only so much coaching can do.

2nd and 4

In George Paton’s press conference he emphasized the need to find a head coach who can be the leader of the whole football team. Do you think Glenn is up to that task?

Kelly: I’m not sure, honestly. Glenn doesn’t have any experience with the offensive side of the ball. He’s an open-minded coach and a tremendous motivator, but in terms of scheme I think he’d be lacking on offense.

Whiticar: Perhaps the key reason why Glenn has succeeded in Detroit is his leadership. The players on defense absolutely love him. Glenn, as a former NFL defensive back, has connected very well with the players. He may occasionally bring the tough love, but he is very much a father figure in that locker room. He has been the perfect mentor for such a young defense, especially in the secondary. Walker was the de facto veteran of the group, and he’s just 26 years old. As I mentioned, the Lions were overachieving on defense, and Glenn’s leadership is one reason why. He’s a coach you want to fight hard for, along with head coach Dan Campbell. The Lions were sitting at 0-10-1 at one point, but they finished the season strong. It’s rare that a three-win team is so optimistic, but Glenn is a big reason why.

3rd and 3

How will Lion’s fans feel if Glenn takes the Broncos head coaching job?

Kelly: We will all be very sad if he leaves. He’s an important part of this coaching staff that we largely love. However, I’ll personally be very happy for him personally, and I think Aubrey Pleasant can take over as DC and do well.

Whiticar: I can’t speak for the whole fandom, but most of us at Pride of Detroit would be disappointed. We’d be happy for him of course, but we’re really hoping to see the rebuild continue under him. Glenn was a favorite amongst us when the Lions were looking for defensive coordinators, and Glenn has lived up to our hype. Losing Glenn after just one season would be a tough blow. Given the state of the roster, the Lions were never going to be competitive this season. We are all looking forward to seeing what Glenn can do with a talented defense. The Lions seem more committed to spending in free agency this offseason, and the Lions will have cap space to get a few solid additions. With the Lions selecting second in the draft, it is possible that one of Kayvon Thibodeaux or Aidan Hutchinson could be targets. The idea of an Aaron Glenn-led defense with a healthy Okwara and a top edge prospect is enticing to say the least.

That being said, losing Glenn would not doom the Lions’ rebuild by any means. His likely successor is Aubrey Pleasant, the current defensive backs coach. He and Glenn are up there for Lions Coach of the Year with the job they’ve done. Like Glenn, he is beloved by the players. Pleasant wrongfully got negative press this season when a video of him yelling at Okudah on the sideline popped up on Twitter, but that’s the tough love mentality I spoke about. What everyone missed was the follow-up of them embracing. I’d feel confident with him as our defensive coordinator.

Another aspect of losing Glenn that would disappoint fans is that the Lions would not receive a compensatory pick for his hiring as a head coach. A recent NFL rule, if a minority staff member gets hired as a head coach or general manager, the team losing that staff member would be rewarded with two third-round picks. For example, when the Lions hired general manager Brad Holmes this past offseason, the Los Angeles Rams received a 2021 third and a 2022 third. However, this would not apply to the Lions and Glenn. Staff members need to be employed by the organization for two or more years, which Glenn has not. Not only would the Lions lose a coach that is very critical to their rebuild, but they would not even receive some much-needed draft picks.

4th and inches

Do you think Glenn would be a good fit as the Broncos head coach?

Kelly: Not really, no. His specialty is coaching up a secondary, and that’s already one of Denver’s biggest strengths. I don’t think he provides much more than Fangio did to help the offense. Glenn will interview well, and he’s a talented coach, but I don’t think this specific opportunity is the best fit for him.

Whiticar: I hate to give a cop-out answer, but it’s hard to say. The Broncos have had good defenses in recent years, but the numbers seem to indicate they took a step back this year. I know they shipped off an icon in Von Miller, but it seems like Patrick Surtain II is a budding star. The prospect of him and Justin Simmons under Aaron Glenn is really exciting. If Glenn can get solid performances from undrafted free agents, I can only imagine what he could do with talents like Surtain and Simmons.

Glenn would be a well-respected leader in Denver, but the question surrounding him is experience. This was his very first year as a defensive coordinator, having made the jump from defensive backs coach with the Saints from 2016 to 2020. I have no doubt Aaron Glenn is future head coach material, but I do wonder if this is jumping the gun a bit. It looks like Denver is about to do a total coaching overhaul, with Pat Shurmur out the door and Ed Donatell maybe joining him.

I don’t know what direction Glenn will go for his coordinators since his connections are somewhat lacking. My greatest fear is that the Broncos hire Glenn and he takes Pleasant with him to be his defensive coordinator. I say this because those are two coaches I think very highly of, and I want them to stay in Detroit. The offensive coordinator position is another story. Maybe he takes Lions running back coach Duce Staley with him. Maybe he brings Ronald Curry from his time with the Saints. There aren’t any obvious answers for offensive coordinator, and given his shorter resume, perhaps a veteran would make sense. It might not be an exciting name, but Matt Nagy could be a fit.

The future is bright for the Detroit Lions, and it starts with the coaching staff. If Denver ends up poaching Glenn and a coach or two, that is something Broncos fans should be excited about.


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