Right off the bat, it was easy to point to the Washington Commanders' head coaching job as one that would appeal to Detroit Lions offensive coordinator Ben Johnson. Subsequently, there were plenty of indications he was their top candidate to replace Ron Rivera.
Johnson, and Lions' defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn, did initial virtual interviews with Washingtin. Two days after the Lions' loss in the NFC Championship Game, a contingent from the Commanders was set to fly to Detroit to interview both in-person.
We know what happened. When the Commanders were in-flight to Detroit, Johnson contacted them and said he was removing himself from consideration for that job and staying with the Lions for at least one more year.
The subsequent reporting has carried water for a Commanders' narrative. ESPN's Adam Schefter reported Johnson's asking price "spooked" some teams. SI's Albert Breer reported Johnson did not knock his interview with the Commanders "out of the park."
The "he said-he said" continued with a report Johnson was not too enamored with Commanders ownership, dismissing them as "basketball guys", but ESPN's Jenna Laine had to add how she also heard Johnson did not "interview well."
The Commanders just can't stop slandering Ben Johnson
On Monday, an article from Ben Standig and Dianna Russini of The Athletic came out regarding the Commanders' coaching search that landed them Dan Quinn. It's worth noting Standig covers the Commanders for the site.
The slandering of Johnson continued.
"I like Ben. A year ago, he knew he wasn’t ready,” one high-ranking executive with another team texted. “I get a feeling he still thinks he needs time. Who knows? But to break (the decision) while they were in the air is a poor choice.”
"Whatever the theory, league sources, whether they cared about Washington’s plight or not, shared one unified sentiment: The Commanders got screwed."
“Outrageous. Simply outrageous,” said a league source familiar with the situation. “That’s not how you conduct business. It is how you ruin your reputation.”
To be fair, the article offers a positive spin on Johnson deciding to remove himself from consideration for the Commanders and Seahawks' jobs after the loss to the 49ers.
"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.”
But then came the final parting shot at Johnson's acumen as a potential head coach.
"He is considered a coach who prefers holing up in his office, coming up with game plans and playing with mad scientist vibes rather than leading a locker room."
The Commanders seemed to prepare themselves for the idea Johnson would not be their new head coach, even if they wanted him more than any other candidate. If he didn't interview well the first time, it makes little sense to fly to talk to him again. Then, after leaking that Johnson wanted too much money, they were apparently (according to The Athletic) outbid by the Seahawks for Mike Macdonald.
Washington got rejected by Johnson, they don't know how to handle it and they can't decide which narrative to push. Was he not a serious candidate, for whatever reasons? Or did he "screw" them?
Whatever the case, hopefully the Commanders' concerted effort to slander Johnson through the media is over now.