Detroit Lions coaching staff is a varietal who’s who of former NFL stars

Get to know the Detroit Lions coaching staff. Good thing is, you probably already know the majority of them from their playing days.

The Detroit Lions are still searching for their first win under new head coach Dan Campbell and his coaching staff. Detroit was on the wrong side of history in Week 1 when their furious comeback against the Baltimore Ravens was thwarted. Justin Tucker’s record-setting 66-yard game-winning field goal pushed Detroit to 0-3 for the first time since 2015.

While the Lions are lacking in name recognition on the field this season, they’re not lacking famous faces on their sidelines. With their divisional battle against the Chicago Bears looming, we look to see if this coaching staff has what it takes to grab their first win.

Join us on this journey through the yesteryears of the NFL.

Who are the Detroit Lions coaches?

Led by Campbell, the Lions’ coaching staff consists of nine former players. They’re players we’ve all played as in video games, watched as we grew up, or downright despised because they played for rival teams. Here’s how the Detroit Lions coaching staff shapes up for the 2021 season:

  • Head coach: Dan Campbell (11 seasons played, 11 seasons coached, one interim head coach job)
  • Offensive coordinator: Anthony Lynn (seven seasons played, 21 seasons coached)
  • Assistant head coach/running backs coach: Duce Staley (10 seasons played, 11 seasons coached)
  • Quarterbacks coach: Mark Brunell (19 seasons played, one season coached)
  • Offensive line coach: Hank Fraley (10 seasons played, 10 seasons coached)
  • Wide receivers coach: Antwaan Randle El (nine seasons played, three seasons coached)
  • Assistant wide receivers coach: Seth Ryan (three seasons coached)
  • Tight ends coach: Ben Johnson (10 seasons coached)
  • Offensive quality control: Tanner Engstrand (two seasons coached)
  • Offensive quality control: Steve Oliver (one season coached)
  • WCF minority coaching assistantship: DeOn’tae Pannell (two seasons coached)

 

  • Defensive coordinator: Aaron Glenn (18 seasons played, eight seasons coached)
  • Senior defensive assistant: Dom Capers (35 seasons coached)
  • Defensive backs/pass game coordinator: Aubrey Pleasant (nine seasons coached)
  • Defensive line coach: Todd Wash (one season played, 15 seasons coached)
  • Inside linebackers coach: Mark DeLeone (nine seasons coached)
  • Outside linebackers coach: Kelvin Sheppard (eight seasons played, one season coached)
  • Defensive assistant: Brian Duker (five seasons coached)
  • Defensive quality control: Stephen Thomas (four seasons coached)
  • Special teams coordinator: Dave Fipp (14 seasons coached)
  • Assistant special teams coordinator: Jett Modkins (two seasons coached)

The numbers mentioned above are seasons in which they played on active rosters and coached at the NFL level.

Starting at the top of the Lions’ coaching staff

Starting our journey through the years, we kick things off at the top of the Detroit Lions coaching staff family tree.

Dan Campbell, Head Coach

Campbell took his first head coaching gig with the Lions after an interim stay as the Miami Dolphins head coach for much of the 2015 season. He finished fourth in the AFC East and had a 5-7 record as the interim head coach.

As a player, Campbell was drafted by the New York Giants and played from 1999 to 2009. He hauled in 91 career receptions for 934 yards and 11 touchdowns. Campbell also had stints with the Cowboys, Lions, and Saints before joining the Dolphins’ coaching staff as an intern in 2010.

After completing his tenure as Miami’s tight ends coach/interim HC in 2015, Campbell was given the title of assistant head coach with New Orleans. He stayed with the Saints through 2020 before parlaying that role into a six-year deal with the Lions.

Anthony Lynn, Offensive Coordinator

The former head coach of the Chargers, Lynn moved back to offensive coordinator, a position he held briefly with the Buffalo Bills in 2016. In total, Lynn has been a coach since the turn of the millennium, coaching for eight different teams since 2000.

Lynn was an undrafted RB out of Texas Tech who won two Super Bowls as a member of the Denver Broncos. He recorded just 28 carries for 177 yards in a seven-year playing career.

Since then, Lynn has taken on many offensive coaching roles along his coaching journey. He was the Jaguars’ RB coach before holding the same position with the Cowboys, Browns, and Jets in the early 2000s. In 2013, Lynn was promoted to assistant head coach with the Jets. He later took the same role with the Bills before being named interim head coach for one game after Rex Ryan was fired.

Lynn finished his Chargers’ career with back-to-back losing seasons but a career record of 33-31 as head coach.

Aaron Glenn, Defensive Coordinator

A former first-round pick from Texas A&M and a member of the Jets’ all-time four-decade team, Glenn has rapidly risen up the NFL coaching ranks. Glenn started his playing career with the Jets after being selected with the 12th pick of the 1994 NFL Draft. He played eight seasons with New York before stints with Houston, Dallas, Jacksonville, and New Orleans.

In his career, Glenn posted 41 interceptions and 634 tackles. A threat with the ball in his hands, he scored 8 total touchdowns, as well. He became a coach in 2014 as the assistant defensive backs coach in Cleveland — a job he held for two seasons. Glenn then made the move to DBs coach with the Saints from 2016 to 2020.

Heading to Detroit from New Orleans alongside Campbell, Glenn is a first-time defensive coordinator with a short track to a head coaching job sooner than later.

Former players form the majority of Detroit’s offensive coaching staff

Ex-players litter the Detroit staff, especially on the offensive side of the ball.

Duce Staley, Assistant Head Coach/Running Backs

The Duce is Loose! A former third-round pick, Staley was the Eagles’ running back from 1997 to 2003. Then, from 2004 to 2006, he played for the Steelers. Staley ran for 5,785 career rushing yards and 24 touchdowns, though he may be credited for something even larger.

Staley essentially helped usher in the evolution of the running back position. A true dual-threat out of the backfield, Staley recorded 287 career receptions for 2,587 yards and 10 touchdowns. After a brief stint away from football, Staley joined Philadelphia’s coaching staff in 2011 and rapidly rose the ranks.

Staley went from special teams quality control to assistant head coach in the span of six seasons. He joined the Lions’ staff as the assistant head coach and seems to be well on the way toward a head coaching gig soon.

Mark Brunell, Quarterbacks

The lefty with the moves, Brunell finished his three-decade-long playing career after the 2011 season. A fifth-round selection in the 1993 NFL Draft by the Packers, Brunell famously joined the Jaguars as the franchise’s first-ever trade acquisition. Jacksonville gave up third- and fifth-round picks for Brunell.

Brunell quickly rose to fame as Jacksonville’s quarterback and was selected to the Pro Bowl three times. He made history as he led the Jaguars to the playoffs three times over the team’s first four years. Jacksonville became the first-ever NFL expansion team to accomplish such a feat.

After nine seasons in Jacksonville, Brunell was traded to Washington. There, he battled injuries before winning the 2005 NFL Comeback Player of the Year award. He set the NFL record for consecutive completions (22) during his time in Washington. Brunell joined the Saints for two seasons and the Jets for two more before retiring in 2011.

2021 marks Brunell’s first-ever NFL coaching stop, although he previously served as the head coach at Episcopal School of Jacksonville from 2013-2020. His illustrious playing career included a Super Bowl with the Saints, a National Championship at Washington, and the NFL’s passing yardage crown in 1996. He threw for 32,072 career passing yards and 184 touchdowns while rushing for 2,421 yards and 15 more scores.

Hank Fraley, Offensive Line

Fraley’s NFL career began in 2000 as a member of the Steelers’ practice squad after going undrafted out of Robert Morris. In 2001, he started 15 games for the Eagles, becoming a valuable member of the club’s offensive line up until 2005.

For his career, Fraley started 123 of the 142 career games he played. He joined the coaching ranks after his playing days wrapped up in 2012. After a one-year collegiate stop at San Jose State, Fraley was named the Vikings’ assistant offensive line coach in 2014.

He then jumped back into college as UCLA’s offensive line coach in 2017 before joining the Lions’ staff as assistant offensive line coach in 2018. In 2020, Fraley was promoted to the top OL job in Detroit and maintained that position after Campbell took over.

Antwaan Randle El, Wide Receivers

One of the game’s most versatile athletes, Randle El joined the Lions’ staff this year after serving as an offensive assistant on the Super Bowl-winning Tampa Bay Buccaneers staff last season. Randle El is most famous for his efforts on the field as a multi-talented quarterback-turned-receiver for Pittsburgh.

A second-round pick in 2002, Randle El was drafted after becoming the first player in FBS history to throw 40 career passing touchdowns and run for 40 rushing touchdowns. He finished his career at Indiana fifth on the all-time NCAA total yardage list. He threw for 7,469 passing yards, ran for 3,895 rushing yards, and recorded 92 total touchdowns in his impressive collegiate career.

As a member of the Steelers from 2002-2005, Randle El was a member of the Super Bowl XL team and a first-team All-Pro in 2005. In 2006, he signed a seven-year, $31 million deal — a hefty contract at the time — with Washington. After Mike Shanahan cleaned house in 2010, Randle El joined the Steelers for one final season before ultimately hanging up his cleats due to injuries.

Randle El finished his NFL career with 4,467 receiving yards, 438 rushing yards, 323 passing yards, 2,557 punt return yards, and 1,759 kick return yards. He scored 48 career touchdowns over nine seasons. He joined Tampa Bay’s coaching staff in 2019 after serving as athletic director at Virginia Academy in Ashburn, Virginia.

Seth Ryan, Assistant Wide Receivers

Ryan never made an NFL roster after winning a National Championship, Fiesta Bowl, and Orange Bowl as a member of the Clemson Tigers. Playing receiver for Clemson, Ryan recorded just 6 receptions over his final two seasons before joining the NFL coaching ranks in 2019 under Lynn. Ryan had served as the Chargers’ offensive quality control coach for the past two seasons before following Lynn to the Lions in his current role.

Ben Johnson, Tight Ends

After four seasons as North Carolina’s QB, Johnson joined the coaching world in 2009 at Boston College. He then entered the NFL ranks as an offensive assistant coach with the Miami Dolphins in 2012. After serving as Miami’s assistant QB coach from 2013-2015, Johnson was promoted to tight ends coach in 2015.

Integral in helping Ryan Tannehill’s continued growth as a passer, Johnson was promoted to assistant wide receivers coach in 2016, before shaking the assistant moniker and moving to full-time WR coach in 2018. Johnson then became Detroit’s offensive quality control coach in 2019 before grabbing the TEs coaching position in 2020. Like Fraley, Johnson is a holdover from last year’s coaching staff.

Tanner Engstrand, Offensive Quality Control

A long-time collegiate coach, Engstrand joined the NFL ranks in 2020 as the Lions’ offensive quality control coach. He was the offensive coordinator of the XFL’s DC Defenders and was previously on Jim Harbaugh’s Michigan staff. Engstrand has more than 15 years of experience coaching, with 10 of them coming at the University of San Diego.

Steve Oliver, Offensive Quality Control

Oliver is in his first year with Detroit’s staff, having himself been coached by Fraley while at San Diego. He also played under Engstrand at USD. After his college playing days were over, Oliver joined the University of Idaho as a graduate assistant before becoming Idaho’s Director of Operations in 2018. He joins the Lions this season after five years of college coaching.

DeOn’tae Pannell, WCF Minority Coaching Apprenticeship

Pannell played collegiately at Penn State and signed a free-agent contract with the Saints in 2012. Though he didn’t make the final roster in New Orleans, Pannell joined the family business of coaching with stops at Peru State College and Birmingham Grove High School.

Meet the Detroit Lions’ defensive coaching staff

The defensive side of the ball for the Lions is similar to the offensive side, as up-and-coming talents mix with former players. In some cases, the up-and-comers are indeed former players themselves.

Dom Capers, Senior Defensive Assistant

Capers is widely regarded as one of the best defensive minds in football history. He’s been in the coaching realm since 1972, with stints as far west as DB coach at Hawaii from 1975-1976 to head coach of the Houston Texans from 2002-2005. Capers was the NFL Coach of the Year in 1996 with Carolina and won Super Bowl XLV as an assistant coach with Green Bay in 2010.

His career is as illustrious as it is long, with players such as Rod Woodson, Jason Taylor, and Charles Woodson winning the NFL Defensive Player of the Year award under Capers’ tutelage. As a senior defensive assistant in Detroit, Capers’ wealth of experience is necessary for a young unit.

Aubrey Pleasant, Defensive Backs/Pass Game Coordinator

Pleasant may not have made an NFL roster, but he certainly is an experienced player. Pleasant recorded 41 career games for the Badgers in three seasons at Wisconsin and made appearances in four straight bowl games. After failing to make an NFL roster, Pleasant joined the coaching ranks in 2010, first stopping at Grand Blanc High School before quickly moving to the University of Michigan.

Pleasant moved from graduate assistant to assistant defensive backs coach in just one season with the Wolverines before taking a coaching intern spot with the Browns. Pleasant’s first full-time coaching gig was with Washington as an offensive assistant in 2013. More recently, he tutored Jalen Ramsey as the Rams’ cornerbacks coach.

Todd Wash, Defensive Line

Wash played one season for the Houston Oilers in 1992 but made his name known as a coach starting in 1996. As the head coach at Fort Lewis, Wash made his way through the Division II ranks with stops at Nebraska-Kearney, North Dakota State, and Missouri Southern State before breaking into the NFL as a defensive quality control coach for the Bucs in 2007.

In 2008, Wash was promoted as Tampa’s defensive line coach and took the same role in Seattle in 2011. Wash was Jacksonville’s run game coordinator in 2013 before getting promoted to defensive coordinator in 2016.

Mark DeLeone, Inside Linebackers

DeLeone first began coaching in 2007 under Iowa legend Kirk Ferentz. His first NFL position came in 2012 when he joined the Jets as a defensive assistant. After that, DeLeone was a Chiefs defensive quality control coach from 2013 to 2015 before grabbing promotions in consecutive seasons to assistant linebackers coach and inside linebackers coach, respectively.

In 2019, DeLeone served as Chicago’s ILB coach before moving to Detroit for the same role. He’s coached a who’s who of linebackers, including Derrick Johnson, Tamba Hali, and Justin Houston.

Kelvin Sheppard, Outside Linebackers

A former LSU Tiger, Sheppard was a third-round pick of the Bills in 2011 after winning a BCS National Championship in Baton Rouge. Sheppard played two seasons with Buffalo before navigating across the NFL landscape. His stops included one year with Indianapolis, two years with Miami, two years with the Giants, one year with the Bears’ practice squad, and a final season with the Lions in 2018.

Following his playing days, Sheppard joined the LSU athletic department as the director of player development. That stint was brief, as he joined the Lions’ coaching staff earlier this year as the outside linebackers coach. The former linebacker posted 423 career tackles, 3 sacks, and 2 interceptions in his NFL career.

Brian Duker, Defensive Assistant

A rising star in the making, Duker spent the past three seasons with the Ravens as a defensive staff assistant and coaching analyst. Over those three years, Baltimore allowed the fewest points in the NFL and won two division titles. Duker spent time with the Browns and 49ers in similar analyst/intern roles in 2015 and 2016, respectively.

Stephen Thomas, Defensive Quality Control

Thomas is a long-time college coach with stints at Southern Mississippi, Delaware, and Cortland. He had a year with the Eagles in 2015 but sandwiched that time in Philadelphia with two stints at Princeton. With the Tigers, Thomas coached for six total seasons as the inside linebackers and special teams coordinator.

During his time at Princeton, the Tigers had the nation’s No. 4-ranked scoring defense, while Thomas had two first-team All-Ivy League linebackers playing under his tutelage. He enters his third season as Detroit’s defensive quality control coach and fourth season in the NFL.

Specialists form the rest of Detroit’s coaching staff

Punters are people too! Here’s a look at the men who coach the punters (and kickers).

Dave Fipp, Special Teams Coordinator

A long-time special teams coordinator, Fipp played a pivotal role as a special teams player for the Arizona Wildcats. After his playing days were over, he quickly joined the coaching ranks and rose to the NFL after 10 years in college.

From 2008-2010, Fipp was the San Francisco 49ers’ assistant special teams coordinator. He then took the same role with the Dolphins from 2011-2012. Securing a promotion with the Eagles, Fipp held down Philadelphia’s ST coordinator position for the past eight seasons, including a win in Super Bowl LII. Fipp joined the Lions in 2021.

Jett Modkins, Assistant Special Teams Coordinator

Modkins is the youngest member of Detroit’s staff, both in age and experience. After spending 2019 as a volunteer coach at Akron, he was Denver’s diversity coaching intern a season ago. The son of Broncos running backs coach Curtis Modkins, Jett played collegiately at Glendale Community College and Mesa Community College.

Listen to the PFN Inside Access Podcast!

Listen to the PFN Inside Access Podcast! Click the embedded player below to listen, or you can find the PFN Fantasy Podcast on iTunes, Spotify, and all major podcast platforms.  Be sure to subscribe and leave us a five-star review!

Related Articles