Detroit Lions announce Matt Patricia as franchise's next head coach
The wait is finally over.
The Detroit Lions officially named Matt Patricia their new head coach Monday, one day after Patricia's New England Patriots lost to the Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl LII, 41-33.
The Lions targeted Patricia from the beginning of their search, both for his tremendous on-field success and his relationship with general manager Bob Quinn, and interviewed him exactly one month ago on Jan. 5.
Patricia, 43, has spent the past 14 seasons on Bill Belichick’s staff in New England, including the past six as defensive coordinator. He won three Super Bowls with the Patriots and worked 12 years with Quinn, who left the Patriots to become Lions general manager in January of 2016.
Quinn said at that time he had a “great” relationship with Patricia and that Patricia was “ready and willing” to be an NFL head coach.
“He’s very smart,” then-Patriots linebacker Rob Ninkovich told the Free Press of Patricia at the time. “He definitely knows football very well and I think he also does a great job of individually understanding that each person is different and how to get to them and have them play their best football for him."
Patricia, who will be the 27th coach in Lions history, is known for his insatiable work ethic, all-around intelligence and unique sideline appearance — he wears a shaggy beard and a red hoodie, and often keeps a pencil tucked behind his ear.
New England Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia is expected to become the Detroit Lions' 27th head coach. Winslow Townson, AP
He played college football at Division III Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, where he studied aeronautical engineering, and spent two years as an engineer before jumping full-time into coaching.
Had he not gone into football, Ninkovich said Patricia likely would be a rocket scientist of some sort now.
"Maybe he’d be up there working on boosters or something for NASA," Ninkovich said. “I don’t know, how do you get to Mars? Something like that. He’s very smart."
A former offensive lineman who worked with that unit as a graduate assistant at RPI, Patricia coached defensive line at Amherst College and was an offensive grad assistant at Syracuse before joining the Patriots as a coaching assistant in 2004.
He climbed his way up the ranks on Belichick’s staff, where friends said he put in 20-hour days early in his tenure in New England and helped modernize the Patriots’ film practices.
"There was a lot of film breakdown and a lot of grunt work to do just to get through that (first) summer,” said Scott Sasenbury, a former teammate and fraternity brother of Patricia’s at RPI. “He said it was just 20 hours a day, just grinding, just trying to get information together for the team to be able to use, and I think at the time they were going from a system that had very archaic kind of film breakdown to putting it on a software that allowed you to sort it, pull it up and kind of go through that process a lot easier than the more manual method. He said when he started there his goal was to save the head coach and assistant coaches time in their day, and I think that was probably one of his early successes was being able to do that."
In 2006, after spending one season as the Patriots’ assistant offensive line coach, Patricia moved to defense to coach linebackers. He spent five seasons working with that position and one more as safeties coach before he was promoted to defensive coordinator in 2012.
The Patriots ranked in the top 10 in the NFL in scoring defense in each of Patricia’s six seasons as coordinator, and they’ve won two of the past four Super Bowls. On Sunday, the Patriots allowed 538 yard of offense and forced just one punt, and Patricia said he was to blame for his team's defensive failings.
"Obviously, I didn’t do a good enough job here with the defense," Patricia said. "Look, that’s a great offense. They’re extremely talented. I’ve been talking about it all week, how good they are. They played really well, we just didn’t get enough stops when we had to. So give them all the credit. They played outstanding."
The Lions, who fired Jim Caldwell on New Year’s Day after four seasons and a 36-28 record as head coach, finished 27th defensively in yards allowed and have the flexibility to overhaul the unit this offseason.
Starters Ziggy Ansah, Haloti Ngata, Tahir Whitehead, Paul Worrilow, Tavon Wilson and Nevin Lawson are all unrestricted free agents.
Patricia has been a part of both 4-3 and 3-4 defenses in the past, though the Patriots used a 4-3 as their base look this season.
Patricia, before a 2014 game against the Lions, praised Stafford as the engine that makes the Lions’ offense go.
"I think the quarterback, it starts with him,” Patricia said at the time. “He’s a very athletic guy, he’s got a strong arm, so he can do a lot of things from the quarterback position as far as moving around in the pocket or getting outside the pocket, along with dropping back, being able to read the defense and then get the ball to the appropriate receivers. I think he’s doing an excellent job of distributing the ball around and getting it to the guys that he needs to get it to."
Quinn said last month his goal in firing Caldwell and embarking on a search for a new coach was “to hire the best coach to help us win a championship."
Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia speaks from Super Bowl LII in Minnesota on Wednesday, Jan. 31, 2018. Dave Birkett, Detroit Free Press
At the time, he said he had no preference on the hire’s background or experience level, but that he wanted someone who was a good leader, who excelled at situational football and who was able to adapt and adjust his scheme to personnel.
The Lions interviewed five candidates in addition to Patricia: Cooter and Teryl Austin, the Lions’ defensive coordinator the past four seasons who has since taken the same job with the Cincinnati Bengals; Minnesota Vikings offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur, who was hired as New York Giants coach; Green Bay Packers associate head coach Winston Moss; and Houston Texans defensive coordinator Mike Vrabel, the runner-up to Patricia in Detroit and now the head coach of the Tennessee Titans.
New England Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia, the expected next head coach of the Detroit Lions, speaks to the media after the Eagles won Super Bowl LII, 41-33, on Sunday, Feb. 4, 2018, in Minneapolis. Video by Dave Birkett/DFP
"More than the other Belichick guys, I think that Patricia is and will be very authentic,” said Ross Tucker, a former offensive lineman who played for the Patriots in 2005-06. “Like, I don’t think he’ll act like he’s Belichick. I don’t think he’ll try to be Belichick, I think he’ll just be him."
The Lions already have started interviewing potential assistants for Patricia's staff, and Patricia has informed several of last year's coaches they will not return.
Boston College defensive line coach Paul Pasqualoni, who gave Patricia his first job at Syracuse, is expected to take a job on the Lions' defensive staff, and Jeff Davidson, who worked with Patricia in 2004 with the Patriots, is the favorite to become offensive line coach.
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