The Washington Commanders eventually settled on Dan Quinn being their next head coach. He was seen as a strong candidate for the job throughout. Others held the belief those in power were going for Detroit Lions offensive coordinator Ben Johnson as their primary target.
That came with complications attached in the end. After initially agreeing to a second interview, Johnson got cold feet as Washington's vaunted hiring committee was in the air en route to Detroit. He pulled out of the meeting via text by all accounts, opting to remain with the Lions in the hope of securing a Super Bowl in 2024.
This forced the Commanders to pivot. It led them to Quinn. While choosing this method to spurn Washington's advances was a bad look for Johnson, the perceived reasons were justified.
But as always where the NFL is concerned, there was one final twist to the tale.
Commanders were on the fence about Ben Johnson
Mike Garafolo of the NFL Network had a completely different view on how things went down with Johnson during this hiring cycle. The respected insider revealed via USA Today Sports that the play-caller didn't interview well. He wasn't seen as a true leadership type. There were also suggestions he jumped before being pushed to save face.
"I don’t think he interviewed particularly well. [Ben] Johnson withdrew, and he withdrew as Washington was coming to see him, which did not go over well at all with the Washington organization. But, I believe he withdrew from two coaching searches that he wouldn’t have gotten the job anyway. So, that’s the old ‘I’m not fired, I quit,’ one of those deals. So, I don’t think he really bowled people over in the interview process at all. And I’ve heard that his personality, you know, he’s very smart, very bright, a great play-caller, but I’ve heard that his personality is kind of…..not the most gregarious guy. Not a Mike Macdonald-type guy or even a Dan Quinn-type guy, so I think that came across in the interview process."- Mike Garafolo via USA Today Sports
If this was the case, why interview Johnson a second time?
Others like the Carolina Panthers and Atlanta Falcons went in different directions quickly to get their chosen targets. Did the Commanders wait around to get a broader perception from others within the hiring committee? If so, it left them with egg on their face.
Garafolo added another interesting detail specific to the Commanders. He got the sense that Johnson was the preferred choice of general manager Adam Peters. Seems fair enough considering they are two young, progressive figures with glowing reputations. They had the potential to mesh well before things took an unexpected turn.
The insider believes that others weren't so sure about Johnson. But again, if this conclusion had been made, why waste time going for a second meeting?
"My belief is that he came into this; Adam Peters had Ben Johnson as his guy. And Adam Peters was not the only one making the decision there in Washington. Which is not to say he was undermined, but [advisor] Rick Spielman was involved, Josh Harris, obviously the owner of the organization, [advisor] Bob Myers involved as well, so four people who came to a collective decision, and it was not going to be Ben Johnson."- Mike Garafolo via USA Today Sports
Something doesn't add up to me. The Commanders are rightfully annoyed about the way Johnson handled this situation. There is also plenty of smoke that could suggest these reports hold some weight - especially Josina Anderson's report about his representatives wanting around $15 million per season to take the plunge. Even if the actions and overall timeline suggest something else.
The truth is probably somewhere in the middle. Dwelling on the past isn't going to do the Commanders any good. Everyone must give Quinn their full backing no matter what they think about the hire. That's the only way Washington is going to drag itself out of the proverbial wilderness and back among the contenders.
They have tons of cap space and high-end draft capital. The Commanders also have plenty of options from the No. 2 overall selection. There are far more positives than negatives heading into the offseason.
And who knows, the Commanders might have had a lucky escape where Johnson is concerned. Time will tell on that one.