The Detroit Lions the coaching staff took a pretty big hit this week when the news broke Running backs coach/assistant head coach Duce Staley leaves for a role with Carolina Panthers. It’s unclear if he’ll take on the offensive coordinator role there, which would represent a significant promotion for Staley, but according to the Detroit News, part of Staley’s motivation is to be with his sick mother.
Either way, Lions now have an important role to play. Their running game is paramount to the Lions’ attacking success and with a relatively young set of running backs, they will need a coach who is as passionate as Staley.
It’s not going to be easy to find. But here are four very real options for the Lions to replace Staley.
Current passing game coordinator Tanner Engstrand
With the Lions’ recent hiring of Steve Heiden as their new tight ends coach, the common thought was that Engstrand would move into a more global role, whether that was simply passing game coordinator or assistant head coach.
What if, instead, they supplemented his resume by moving from passing game coordinator to running backs coach? If they are really preparing him to be a potential replacement for the offensive coordinator, it may make sense to involve him more in this phase of the game.
Coaching running backs isn’t even a foreign concept to Engstrand. He was the running backs coach at San Diego from 2007-2008 and served in the same role (plus offensive coordinator duties) for the XFLShort-lived DC Defenders in 2020.
Panther RB Coach/Assistant Coach Jeff Nixon
The Lions could trade running coaches with the Panthers, and there is a strong connection with the team’s current personnel. Nixon was the dolphins‘ running backs coach when Dan Campbell was the team’s tight ends coach from 2011 to 2015.
The big question here is whether Nixon is even available. He was the assistant offensive head coach for the Panthers last year, and has already booked an interview for the position of offensive coordinator for the Cowboys.
If the Lions can bring him in, he’s a hugely experienced coach who could literally slip into the same running backs coach/assistant head coach role that Staley left to continue his upward trajectory.
Georgia RB Coach/Dell McGee Running Game Coordinator
Let’s take a little trip down memory lane here. McGee is a former fifth-round pick in 1996 and even had a very short stint with the Lions.
Since the end of his playing career, however, McGee has developed a solid reputation as a running backs coach, going from an Auburn analyst to his current position at the University of Georgia as a running backs coach. ball player/running game coordinator.
McGee has seen several impressive running backs from Georgia on his schedule, including Nick Chubb, Sony Michel, Zamir White and… *pause for dramatic effect*…D’Andre Swift. In fact, McGee played a huge role in recruiting Swift to Georgia.
“Dell McGee is amazing,” Darren Swift, D’Andre’s father, said in 2016. “He’s a top recruiter and he sold me quickly. He sold me, but I didn’t feel like it was a sale. Everything he said to me made it clear it was never about D’Andre the football player It was about him as a person They say student-athlete but Dell always talked about D’Andre the student Not the athlete.
In 2021, Georgia made him the highest paid running backs coach in college, so he has a lot of pedigree. The question is whether the Lions could pull him away from a major program like Georgia.
Miami RB Coach Kevin Smith
Another direct connection to the Lions, Smith was Detroit’s third-round pick in 2008. However, his merits go beyond familiarity with the franchise. He’s been in the coaching ranks since 2015, and he quickly rose from UCF to Florida Atlantic to Ole Miss and now to Miami, showing he’s risen through the ranks pretty quickly. Notably, he coached under Lane Kiffin at Florida Atlantic and followed him to Ole Miss.
He is still relatively young (36 years old), but the Lions have not shunned former players a few years into their playing career.