Matt Patricia and his beard will be the next head coach of the Detroit Lions, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter. The deal is not confirmed, as Patricia and the Lions aren’t allowed to come to a formal agreement until after the Patriots season ends.
If the report comes to fruition, Patricia will be reuniting with Lions GM Bob Quinn, who served as the Patriots director of pro scouting before joining Detroit in 2016. Now Quinn stakes his first head-coaching hire in a beard that rests on the face of a 43-year-old former engineering student and actual rocket scientist turned Belichick sidekick. Patricia will be tasked with taking the Lions from competent to contender and reversing the legacies of failed Lions coaches (Rod Marinelli, Jim Schwartz, Steve Mariucci, Marty Mornhinweg, et al.) and failed coaches from the Belichick coordinator tree (Romeo Crennel, Eric Mangini, Charlie Weis, Josh McDaniels’s first try, et al.).
Not only is his current and future employer’s history this century working against him, but he had an unlikely path to make the Pats coaching staff. Patricia spent two seasons as a defensive line coach at Amherst College and three seasons as a graduate assistant at Syracuse University before parlaying the Syracuse connections into interviews as a coaching assistant with the Patriots in 2004. (When New England offered him that job, Patricia said he had to discuss it with his wife. The Patriots, who are some intense folks, pulled the offer for his lack of commitment. After some frantic phone calls, Patricia got the gig.)
Patricia proceeded to rise from assistant to linebackers coach to defensive coordinator, and in the process went from a guy in an entry-level position to Bill Belichick’s right-hand man. He is an integral part in the intensive film study that is the key to New England’s weekly metamorphosis that sees the most dramatic game-to-game schematic changes of any team in the league. Patricia’s engineering background was reflected in a meticulous attention to detail that often impressed his peers (he also taught some on the Pats coaching staff how to use computers, so you know he’s wicked smart). It’s hard to parse a coach’s role in game preparation, but we can try: Pats cornerback Malcolm Butler credited Patricia for preparing him to jump the slant route in Super Bowl XLIX, which might be the best example of game preparation in league history. The Patriots never had a dominant defense under Patricia, but they never had a bad one, either. They ranked in the top 10 in points allowed every season under him as coordinator as New England won two Super Bowls and reached a ridiculous seven consecutive AFC championships.
Detroit is not New England––in Patricia’s tenure, the Pats won as many Super Bowls as the Lions played in postseason games. Patricia would be taking over a team that has its quarterback position solidified with Matthew Stafford, but he’ll have to kick-start Detroit’s anemic running game and repair a defense that was dead last in DVOA in 2016 and 19th in 2017. His first key decision will be whether to retain offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter, who Detroit also interviewed for the head-coaching position. Cooter would be key to preserving the Lions’ DNA as a frightening passing attack.
It’s anyone’s guess as to whether Patricia will be able to continue his success in a head-coaching gig, which is more managerial than the coordinator role, but if there’s any franchise that appreciates details, it’s the Lions. Patricia has likely been prepared well by Belichick, but turning around the Detroit Lions is going to be harder than rocket science.