The Broncos began their interviews with head-coaching candidates on Thursday, and Lions defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn was first on the docket for General Manager George Paton and Co.
Despite the lack of elite talent — the Lions lost two of their best players to injury early in the season — Glenn helped Detroit take a step in his first year as the team’s defensive coordinator. After ranking 32nd in points allowed in 2020, the Lions allowed nearly five fewer points per game in 2021.
To learn more about Glenn and his candidacy for the role, DenverBroncos.com spoke with the Detroit Free Press’ Dave Birkett.
Aric DiLalla: What do you think it is about Aaron Glenn that put him on the Broncos’ radar? And he’s talked about as a well-respected guy throughout the league. How have you seen him earn that reputation?
Dave Birkett: “I think if you’ve spent any time around him, he strikes you as head coach material. I realize that coming from the Lions and a three-win team this year, it’s probably a tough sell, but when you look at the leadership qualities, the people that he’s learned under — Bill Parcells, Sean Payton, some of those guys — I don’t think there’s any doubt he’ll be a head coach in the NFL eventually. I can tell you that all the Lions players up here speak highly of him as a motivator, a teacher, a person. I just think in today’s NFL, that goes a long way.”
AD: George Paton mentioned the No. 1 thing the Broncos are looking for is that leader. How have you heard guys talk about his leadership style?
DB: “Someone had asked Tracy Walker, the Lions’ safety, about him and he sort of compared him to that uncle that sort of always looks out for you and always has your back but then he’ll always tell you when you’re doing wrong, too. It’s kind of what A.G. is to a lot of the guys. He’s going to have their back always and he’s going to make sure to tell them what they did right and praise them for that and try to build off that. He’s not going to settle for letting you do things that are going to put you or your team in disadvantageous spots. I think that’s a big thing. Look, frankly, up here a lot of the guys were sort of shell-shocked from the last coaching staff. They needed a little bit of a change, and Aaron being a former defensive back, having that aggressive mindset, having some of the player traits that he had, I think that’s gone a long way in the locker room, too.”
AD: As a former player and a three-time Pro Bowler, how much does that experience help him connect and relay the message to his guys?
DB: “It does, because I know at least from the Lions’ perspective, the guys appreciated it. They thought that this staff in general, and Aaron in particular, were in tune with their needs, both from taking care of the body to letting each player be his own individual self. That’s another thing that players have said is this staff and the defensive staff — I guess I’m talking about defensive guys here — they’re very receptive to suggestions that players have. That doesn’t mean they institute everything, but there’s at least an open line of communication. That wasn’t always the case in years past in Detroit, and so I think to see Aaron and his staff be receptive to some of those ideas I think has opened players’ eyes that there’s more than one way to cut an apple, if you will. You can get things accomplished in a lot of ways and be successful doing it.”
AD: Was he the defensive play caller this year, and how would you assess the unit and maybe the hallmarks of that group?
DB: “Definitely called plays. Dan Campbell, the head coach, ended up calling offensive plays the second half of the season, so what you saw from the Lions’ defense was very much an Aaron Glenn production. The numbers probably don’t look good — they don’t look good on paper — but I’ll tell you, the Lions had the worst defense in franchise history last year, and they made some significant improvements this year. I don’t think we were able to see all of what Aaron wanted to do either, because this Lions defense lacks playmakers, it lacks talent in a lot of areas. It’s funny, I asked Aaron, maybe midseason at some point, they were 0-8 or maybe they had a tie under their belt, but I said, ‘In some ways, have you guys overachieved defensively?’ It sounded kind of funny to say, but just with the injuries they had on that side of the ball and the lack of talent, they were doing some things and … having defensive performances that maybe were out of character from what you would expect. I think when he has all the pieces that he wants, you’ll see an even more aggressive style of defense coming from him. Certainly likes big defensive backs. Wants to entrust those guys with the game. Doesn’t always play man-to-man, plays a lot of zone too. I do think he mixes things up and he does a good job of calling plays.”
AD: He just finished his first year as a defensive coordinator — and we don’t know which direction the Broncos will go with this hire — but how high is your faith that at some point he’s going to be a head coach in the league?
DB: “He interviewed for the New York Jets job last year, and when I got to meet him and hear him talk, see the way he carries himself and the way that players respond to him, I have no doubt that he’s going to be in that mix soon. This year, who knows? It would take a strong fan base to look past the record and see Aaron for who he is and the leader he can be, but I do think he’s going to get more and more of these job interviews until he finally gets one. I think whenever a team hires him, you’re going to find a lot of players that respond to him in a very positive way.”