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Journalismism

Pro-Commanders Spin Somehow A Bigger Mess Than Commanders

2:22 PM EST on February 5, 2024

Ben Johnson during a game
Mike Mulholland/Getty Images

It was a common assumption, at least among NFL outsiders, that Detroit Lions offensive coordinator Ben Johnson would move up to a head coaching job somewhere at the end of the season. In the swirl of searches that followed all the winter firings, rumor had it that the Washington Commanders owned first dibs, if he did in fact decide to leave Detroit. Last week, however, Johnson told his suitors that he'd be signing up for another year with Dan Campbell. Washington, having missed out on both Johnson and Mike Macdonald, ended up hiring Cowboys defensive coordinator Dan Quinn.

It'd be fair to view Quinn's arrival as a bit of a disappointment for Washington, given that he was, at best, the team's third choice for the open head coach position. But a piece today in The Athletic, authored by Ben Standig and Dianna Russini, does everything in its power to convince you that Quinn was ultimately the correct choice after the team got "screwed" by Johnson. And not only does the article, headlined, "How the Commanders landed on Dan Quinn amid twists, turns and ‘outrageous’ actions," advance transparent spin from Commanders execs, it also features a ton of sentences that are just ... really weird! Let's start with this early paragraph:

The Commanders were never in sole control of their destiny despite the competence, vision and sanity emanating from the ownership group led by managing partner Josh Harris. They inhabit a world where other masters-of-the-universe types have agendas. The Commanders already conquered competitors in the general manager market by landing Peters. Like it or not, those other organizations would have their day.

Right away you can see that the basis of this piece is the team's desired narrative, crafted by those folks who emanate sanity. You can stop there and understand the gist of the whole 3,000-word piece to come, but if you did, you'd miss some of the most deranged concoctions of words you've ever read. This is a simple pet peeve of mine, but it's a good primer:

The NFL world praised the Lions’ offensive coordinator as next in line. In the context of alpha head coaches, it turned out they were coveting a false idol.

Those are different commandments! You're not supposed to worship false idols, and you're not supposed to covet wives and houses. Maybe not everyone got seven years of Sunday school, but it gets worse. Let's keep going:

When pundits and internet rumors flooded the zone for weeks with claims that Johnson, 37, was the overwhelming favorite, if not a “lock” hire in Washington — a downside of Harris running a largely leak-free search — minimal pushback occurred. The gleefully ignorant voices were unaware or chose not to care that the consummation assumptions came from an echo chamber of gossip rather than factual information.

I saw The Consummation Assumptions open for Kings of Leon back in 2011. The gleefully ignorant voices behind me were unaware or chose not to care that their interlocking guitars and cathartic lyrics were miles ahead of the radio-friendly pop-rock that would follow.

Anyway, why were the Commanders seemingly wrong-footed by their candidates' final decisions?

When newbie power brokers like Johnson and Macdonald attempt to control their newfound leverage, wild twists and turns may follow whether experienced advisers try steering them toward calm waters. Attempts to anticipate those next moves can make interested suitors appear lost.

Oh, I see. Well, I hope their interview process, if nothing else, was live and not a perfunctory exercise?

Winning is the ultimate elixir. Nobody knows which coach would best help the medicine go down. That’s why Washington’s interview process was live and not a perfunctory exercise.

Great. You definitely want a coach that helps you drink Winning without throwing up. And what's Johnson's deal, anyway? What kind of vibes would he like to play with?

Jump on any of those names, and there would be complaints about not waiting for Johnson even if Washington already recognized clues he remained commitment-phobic. Some reports and insights meshed with the notion about Johnson not being ready to rumble. He is considered a coach who prefers holing up in his office, coming up with game plans and playing with mad scientist vibes rather than leading a locker room.

Mad scientists are rarely ready to rumble. I mesh with the notion about that. Here are three more sentences that turned my brain upside down:

League sources putting their chips in this bucket cite the agent, Richmond Flowers, as hoping to void Johnson’s head-coaching apprehension with a Godfather offer he couldn’t refuse.

The only sources that should be putting their chips in a bucket are the ones working in the kitchen at a British takeaway shop.

The unknowns with Johnson and Macdonald, both two-year coordinators, are whether they rocket to the league’s coaching apex or become the latest supernovas unable to transition from coordinator to the pilot seat.

Is the supernova ... flying a plane?

Those not situated at the birthplace of Mardi Gras but within arm’s reach of a text message device floated their hearsay.

It's called a PHONE!

You probably get the point by now. There might be an interesting post to be written, with insight from league sources, about how Johnson's refusal of the Commanders job flouted NFL conventions, caused some hurt feelings, and illuminates the inherent shakiness of any coaching search. It's a big challenge for teams to navigate, no doubt. But there's nothing to be gained from bending over backwards to accommodate the team's narrative, and on top of that, what is the deal with this writing? It's constantly doubling and tripling the necessary lengths of sentences. It's playing three-card monte with its metaphors. These are experienced reporters writing for one of the world's biggest sports outlets, not a coked-up cop calling into The Fan during the night shift. But even if reading these crooked paragraphs makes you question your own literacy, at least they got one pretty funny scoop out of all this effort:

The rub is that Johnson, who pulled himself out of 2022 opportunities despite his burgeoning hot coach status, and his agent shared their exit plans by texting team officials while the Commanders’ group was on a flight from the Washington, D.C., area to meet in Michigan.

Here's your headline: Football Dupes Make 500-Mile Trip For Coney Dogs.

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