Less than one week after relieving Jim Caldwell of his duties as head coach of the team, the Detroit Lions reportedly reached an agreement with Matt Patricia, defensive coordinator of the New England Patriots, as the team's next head coach. Assuming the deal gets done, what would it mean for the Lions?
In truth, the potential hiring doesn't come as much of a surprise to league observers, and shouldn't come as much of a surprise to fans, either. From the moment that Caldwell was dismissed, Patricia was assumed to be the favorite to become the Lions' next coach, given his previous relationship with Lions General Manager Bob Quinn. While Quinn did essentially give Caldwell a two-year audition to remain the team's coach after the regime change in the front office, the reality in the NFL is that when a team hires a new General Manager, one of the first -- and important -- moves that new GM will make is to hire a head coach with whom he can build and sustain a solid working relationship.
Like many others around the Patriots organization, Quinn reportedly thought very highly of Patricia, when the two of them worked together for the Patriots. That's why Patricia was included in the first group of candidates that Quinn interviewed for the head coach position. Ironically, Patricia was the fifth of the first five candidates Quinn interviewed this past week; Quinn also interviewed defensive coordinator Teryl Austin, offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter, Green Bay Packers' assistant head coach Winston Moss, and Minnesota Vikings offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur. Quinn had also requested to interview Carolina Panthers' defensive coordinator Steve Wilks, but it is unclear if that meeting will still take place.
There's little question that Quinn made the right move in securing Patricia's services, especially this quickly. While Detroit is actually the second team to already reach an agreement with their next coach, they're the first team to do so after interviewing a handful of prospective candidates; as we all now know, the Oakland Raiders dismissed Jack Del Rio and are set to introduce Jon Gruden on Tuesday.
While Patricia will not formally take the position until the Patriots' postseason is over, having him in place allows Quinn and the Lions to focus on figuring out which players -- and coaches -- will be a part of this team moving forward, and will fit the vision and organizational culture that Quinn and Patricia will look to implement in Detroit. The two New England expatriates will almost certainly look to replicate "The Patriot Way" organizational philosophy in Detroit: a thoughtfully-built roster comprised of tough, intelligent, and self-motivated players who play with a focus and discipline around doing their job. Bill Belichick built one of the greatest dynasties in NFL history on the idea that no player is bigger than the team, no player who doesn't fall in line with "the Patriot Way" will be a part of the team, and no player will cripple the team's salary cap flexibility with exorbitant salary requirements. In an ideal world, that's exactly how Quinn and Patricia will turn the Lions into a team that's competing for the NFC North title each year.
If you're a Lions fan that wants to look at this hiring in the most optimistic light, you can point to the fact that Detroit hired someone who could rightfully be considered "the next Bill Belichick" if there ever was one. As a young offensive assistant with the Patriots, Patricia became known was one of the most relentless, hardest-working, and detail oriented young assistants on the Patriots staff. Belichick reportedly grew increasingly fond of Patricia because of their shared love of obsessively watching game film and meticulously analyzing even the most minute details, and the way Patricia was able to collate all that information and deftly utilize it in the development of scouting reports and game plans for his team to use. Just two years after Belichick promoted Patricia to linebackers’ coach, a position which Belichick viewed in high regard, considering Belichick entrusted his linebackers with a great deal of responsibility within his defensive schemes, and because Belichick himself coached linebackers -- including Hall of Famer Lawrence Taylor -- when he rose through the ranks of the New York Giants.
After becoming New England's defensive coordinator in 2012, Patricia's defenses have ranked among the top 10 teams in the NFL in fewest points allowed per game. In 2016, the Patriots were ranked #1 overall, and this past season, the Patriots were #5, despite the litany of free agent losses and injuries that the team has endured over the past two seasons. If nothing else, the organization will look to bring more of that success to Detroit, considering the Lions finished 27th in the NFL yards allowed per game this season, and 21st in points allowed per game.
Perhaps even more importantly, the guys who have played for Patricia rave about his brilliance in knowing the opponent inside-and-out each and every week, and transferring that information to his players such that they're literally prepared for anything the opposing offense might try on game day. Patriots' players have said Patricia's game-planning is akin to "playing with a cheat sheet," and cornerback Malcom Butler credits Patricia's film study (and communication of those findings) for his game-saving interception of quarterback Russell Wilson of the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XLIX.
But if you're a fan of an NFC North rival, and want to view the hiring in a more pessimistic light, you might have an argument as well. After all, this isn't the first time a supposed "genius" assistant in New England arrived with the hopes becoming "the next Belichick" elsewhere. What's to say that Patricia won't follow in the footsteps of guys like Josh McDaniels, Romeo Crennel, and Eric Mangini: star assistants under Belichick who parlayed their successes in New England into head coaching positions elsewhere, only to end up failing to replicate "the Patriot Way" with their new team?
There are some who believe that Patricia may be a brilliant tactician, but ultimately it was still Belichick who was responsible for establishing and maintaining the culture of the Patriots organization. Being the smartest guy in the room, which Patricia may certainly be, is one thing, but walking into a locker room and being a leader of men is an entirely different matter, especially considering how much the players in the Lions' locker room loved Jim Caldwell as a person and as a coach.
Regardless what players felt about Caldwell, the one thing that always seemed to be missing from this franchise as a whole was an organizational philosophy. So if there was ever a place for the Ford Family to bring in guys from, it would be New England. Whether it works or not is yet to be seen, but Lions fans should have plenty of reason to be excited about the fact that Quinn and Patricia will try and bring a culture and pedigree of winning to Detroit, and will be working in lockstep to do so over the foreseeable future.