Kalyn Kahler of Bleacher Report published an article over the weekend detailing Matt Patricia’s struggles during his tenure as head coach in Detroit. It’s no secret he has struggled as a first-time head coach. There have been reports over his 2+ seasons with Detroit that Matt Patricia is following Josh McDaniels’ footsteps.
The Lions hired Bob Quinn as their general manager in 2016. Quinn spent all of his 16 years in the NFL with New England and was determined to hire Patricia as soon as he had the chance. The Lions fired Jim Caldwell after a 9-7 season in 2017. Caldwell displayed the personality of a doorknob to the media but developed strong relationships with players behind closed doors that helped him earn their respect. Detroit went 38-26 under Caldwell. He was the first Lion’s head coach to have a winning record during his tenure since Joe Schmidt, who coached the team from 1967-1972.
Patricia’s goal in his first season was to replicate The Patriot Way in Detroit. This was a culture shock to those who played under Caldwell. Most did not react well to Patricia’s demanding, micromanaged, and at times demeaning coaching style. Calling players out in team settings, aggressive conditioning, and controlling social media policies were pain points for Detroit’s players trying to adapt to the culture change.
Patricia started his tenure by permanently damaging his relationship with Darius Slay, one of Detroit’s best players who has since been traded to the Philadelphia Eagles. Patricia called Slay out during a team meeting in his first training camp in Detroit. Slay posted a picture of himself lined up against a receiver, and Patricia told him to "Stop sucking this man's private." His goal was for his players to treat their opponent as the enemy, but the message was not taken as intended. Patricia also wanted his team to understand that every player would be held accountable, no matter what their status is in the league. The two were at odds until the Lions traded Slay in March of 2020.
The Lions were 6-10 under Patricia in 2018. Players who were set to be free agents at the conclusion of the season were open about their intent to sign elsewhere in the locker room. One player brought out the champagne, which was a Christmas gift from their agent that was saved for “a special occasion”. That occasion was not for a career season or a playoff berth. It was to celebrate the end of a dreadful first season under Matt Patricia’s watch. 10-15 players acquired orange juice from the team's cafeteria to host their own celebration in the team's locker room.
Patricia’s last attempt to replicate his success in New England was to bring in those who also graduated from the Bill Belichick Academy of Football. Detroit signed Duron Harmon, Danny Shelton, and Jamie Collins in the 2020 offseason. They joined former Patriots Danny Amendola, Trey Flowers, and Justin Coleman in Detroit. Yet, the Lions are 4-5 with no hopes of making the playoffs. Patricia’s earned a reputation as a defensive mastermind with an aeronautical engineering degree. Yet, his defense currently sits at 29th in points allowed (267) and 26th in yards allowed (3600).
The Lions drafted tackle Taylor Decker in 2016. Decker says things have changed to an extent since the champagne party in the locker room. The biggest change has been Patricia’s willingness to value his player’s input and allowing them to take more ownership of their roles. He’s constantly asking for player’s feedback during meetings and practice. He even took each personnel group out to dinner to get to know the players better. Yet, the results have not changed on the field, and Detroit does not have any more patience for a turnaround.
The Patriot Way seems to be more of a folktale nowadays, but there are aspects of this philosophy that do hold true. Putting the team first. Dedication to excellence. Giving your all for one common goal. You can spend years building that in one place, and you may be successful doing so. But you have to rebuild that culture from scratch when you leave New England. Something that took years to build cannot be replicated somewhere else overnight. It doesn’t matter how many Super Bowls you‘ve won. You have to earn that respect from your players so they will follow your lead. Matt Patricia expects his players to kiss the rings as if he is Bill Belichick. It’s very clear he is not. The one common trait the two have is their defensive front to anyone who questions their intelligence.
Matt Patricia is not the first product of the Bill Belichick coaching tree to face these criticisms. Josh McDaniels took over the Denver Broncos in 2009 at the age of 33. His full roster control and “bullet-proof” mentality caused internal struggles to the point that he alienated essentially all players. No one was willing to fight for him, similar to players in Detroit under Matt Patricia. Denver fired McDaniels after two seasons.
I’d bet whatever scraps I may still have at the end of the NFL season that Matt Patricia will be a Black Monday casualty if he even makes it that far. I’d even tease the possibility of him returning to New England. The Lions retained Quinn and Patricia for the 2020 season with the expectation that they would be a playoff team. They currently sit at the bottom of the NFC North.
(AP Photo/Bruce Kluckhohn, File)