Column: Why Matt Patricia is the right head coach for the Detroit Lions
For a lot of people, the traditional interview question "Where do you see yourself in the next five years?" can be difficult to answer.
Well, for the first time in a while, the Detroit Lions can answer that question with confidence and excitement. Within the next five years, any fan of the Detroit Lions will remember Feb. 5, 2018, very fondly as the day the Lions turned their franchise around for the better.
Matt Patricia was hired on this seemingly random winter Monday, and under his leadership, the Motor City can finally make the leap from an average franchise to a force to be reckoned with.
Lions fans have lots of reasons to be confident in the hire of this brilliant, bearded beast. One of them is the fact that he knows what success looks like. He has worked with the New England Patriots—arguably the most successful professional sports franchise of the 21st century—since 2004, working his way up from an assistant offensive line coach to the defensive coordinator the past five years.
Patricia got his coaching start at his alma mater, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, the school where he was a four-year starter on the offensive line. From there, he had small roles with Amherst and Syracuse before being asked to join Belichick’s dynasty in 2004.
Running an elite NFL defense can sometimes be as complicated as rocket science, but that’s a good thing for Patricia. In 1996, he received a bachelor’s degree in aeronautical engineering and was offered a six-figure job managing nuclear submarines and aircraft carriers, meaning he literally could have been a rocket scientist. But alas, Patricia turned down the offer and chose to pursue his dream of coaching football.
And the RPI grad has done a great job pursuing that dream, especially in his key role with New England. In his time with the Patriots, he won three Super Bowls, including two as the lead architect of the heralded New England defense.
The hire of Patricia makes a lot of sense for the "Cardiac Cats." Bob Quinn is also a disciple of the New England powerhouse, so the hire brings two like-minded minds back together. And Quinn just recently signed an extension to work with the Lions until 2022, so it looks like he is committed for the long haul.
As a Lions fan, I am genuinely excited to see what Patricia has to offer in his leadership of this team. He brings with him a very complex defensive scheme, as he doesn’t have any concepts set in stone. He is more of a believer in crafting his defense around the players in his arsenal, which should make this Lion’s defense very interesting.
Any improvement to the Detroit defense should be seen as a blessing. This past season was a struggle for the defense, as they ranked below average in the league (worse than 16th) in every major defensive category, including passing yards allowed, total yards allowed and rushing yards per game. They let teams run up the score on them, as they ranked 21st in total points allowed per game (23.5), which is unacceptable for any team looking to make the playoffs.
Luckily for the Lions, not giving up points is a specialty of Patricia’s defenses, as his units have been in the top 10 in points allowed every year he was the defensive coordinator, including a first-place finish in 2016.
Patricia has proven that his teams can be awesome defensively, even without stars on the defense. This year’s Super Bowl team featured a front seven full of players the average NFL fan has never heard of: Eric Lee, Lawrence Guy, Malcolm Brown, Trey Flowers, Elandon Roberts. Patricia made these average players look like stars because of his brilliant schemes that tailored to his players’ strengths.
Patricia can even make former Lions look good. In Super Bowl LII, the New England Patriots started Kyle Van Noy and Johnson Bademosi, two guys who couldn’t see the field in Detroit and were traded for low draft picks. If Patricia can make magic out of these Lions rejects, imagine what he can do with the young guys who currently play for Detroit. The possibilities are endless.
Critics of the hire of Patricia don’t trust that he can succeed at an NFL level simply because he’s a former Patriots assistant. Former Patriots assistants have looked terrible as head coaches elsewhere, with Charlie Weis, Romeo Crennel and Josh McDaniels being some tragic examples.
But something is different about Patricia. He’s been dreaming about an opportunity like this for years. You could see it in the look in his eyes at the Lions press conference. He’s passionate, he’s hungry to prove himself and he can’t wait to get started.
I’m excited to see Patricia show off his genius game plans, shining charisma and big black beard as he wreaks havoc all over the NFC North. This is a team that was one or two games away from making the playoffs last season and appeared to need one last push not only to make the playoffs but to finally do something meaningful once they get there.
Now to answer that dreaded five-year interview question: Patricia, Quinn and franchise quarterback Matthew Stafford are all signed on through 2022, so this core will be around for years to come here in Detroit. Long gone are those days of the “same old Lions," as the sky is now the limit for this franchise.
Where do I see this team in five years? I see Stafford throwing crisp passes all over the field and becoming a perennial MVP candidate. I see a hungry defense led by young studs and smart veterans playing with heart and a newfound invigoration. And most importantly, I see a team that not only can get to the playoffs but that has a legitimate chance at getting to the Super Bowl once January rolls around.
A new culture is brewing here in Detroit, so brace yourselves, Lions fans. The new wave is rushing in. Patricia is the captain now, and I can’t wait to see how far this ship can sail.