Lions OC Ben Johnson In Lead For Panthers HC Job?

It sounds like Ben Johnson is now the favorite to land the Panthers’ head coaching gig. According to Jonathan Jones of CBS Sports (Twitter link), the Lions offensive coordinator “has the lead” for the position. Joseph Person of The Athletic shares a similar sentiment, noting that “it still feels like there’s momentum” for a Johnson hiring.

[RELATED: Patriots’ Jerod Mayo Declines Panthers HC Interview]

After serving on Matt Patricia’s staff in Detroit, Johnson was kept around following Dan Campbell’s hiring. Johnson ended up impressing the new coach enough to earn a promotion from tight ends coach to offensive coordinator. During Johnson’s first season at the helm, the Lions ended up finishing 9-8 despite sporting the NFL’s worst scoring defense. Jared Goff finished the year with 29 passing touchdowns (his highest total since 2018), while running back Jamaal Williams broke Barry Sanders‘ franchise record for rushing touchdowns in a season with 17.

Thanks to the Lions’ resurgence, Johnson has turned into a popular name on the head coaching circuit. Besides the position in Carolina, Johnson has also been connected to head coaching jobs with the Texans and Colts. Even if Johnson doesn’t get the job with the Panthers, he could still be a target for the organization, with Person suggesting pairing the offensive mind with an experienced head coach candidate like Sean Payton.

Elsewhere on the coaching front, NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport tweets that the Panthers have requested permission to interview Saints defensive backs coach Kris Richard for “a possible” defensive coordinator job. The Panthers will probably provide their new head coach with some say in a defensive coordinator hire, although Rapoport notes that the organization is conducting interviews for both gigs concurrently.

Richard made a name for himself in Seattle, where he played an important role in the formation of the Legion of Boom. The coach was relieved of his duty as defensive coordinator in 2017 and later caught on with the Cowboys. He joined the Saints as their defensive backs coach in 2021 before earning a promotion to co-defensive coordinator (with Ryan Nielsen) in 2022. Thanks in part to New Orleans’ performance this past season, Richards “likely will get offers” for full DC opportunities, per Rapoport.

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