In the NFL, much is made of coaching trees. That is, the assistants who apprentice under Hall of Famer head coaches who go on to greatness once they have left the nest. Former 49er head man Bill Walsh’s pupils include Super Bowl victors George Siefert, Mike Holmgren, and Jon Gruden. The same successful lineage can be found under the guidance of head coaches Bill Parcels and Tony Dungy.
But not every successful coach spawns assistants who go on to lead down-and-out teams to a string of victories. One of the reasons that in 2018 the Detroit Lions management selected Matt Patricia to take over as head coach was his relationship as a student of the New England Patriots head man Bill Belichick. So far, that mentorship has yet to bear fruit.
No NFL experience needed
Which takes us to that bear of man patrolling the sidelines for the Detroit Lions — Matt Patricia, 5-foot-11 and north of 225 pounds. Patricia, along with Bill O’Brien, Jim Schwartz, and Dolphins head man, Brian Flores, are leaves that fall from the Bill Belichick tree. Unlike students of Walsh, Dungy, and Parcels, Belichick’s men have scored a grand total of one playoff victory.
One thing Matt Patricia and his mentor Bill Belichick have in common is that neither played in the NFL after college. Despite his intimidating presence, Patricia played offensive lineman at Division III Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York. The RPI Engineers face such powerhouses as Ithaca College, St. Lawrence University, and Grove City College, a small school in central Pennsylvania with 2,600 enrollees.
After graduating from RPI with a degree in aeronautical engineering, Patricia stayed close to home. His first job was as an assistant coach for his alma mater and then taking a job in Syracuse, New York, related to his college major before moving to coaching full time.
Matt Patricia climbs the ladder
Patricia’s coach career began with a three-year stint at Syracuse University before joining the New England Patriots and Bill Belichick in 2004 as an assistant offensive coach. In succession, Patricia coached tight ends, offensive line, linebackers, and safeties before being named defensive coordinator in 2012. The New York State native called defensive signals for the Pats starting in 2009 and consistently guided the team into the top 10 in scoring defense.
Before joining the Detroit Lions in Feb. 2018, Patricia interviewed with the Cleveland Browns and New York Giants. In his first 28 games, Patricia’s Lions have a dismal 9-18-1 record with games against the Packers and Vikings remaining.
It’s difficult to pinpoint why the Lions are on their way to yet another losing season. One major contributor, and it’s far outside the head coach’s control, is a possible season-ending back injury to the team’s star quarterback Matthew Stafford. That said, the team is 28th in sacks and tied for 31st in interceptions — stats that point to a weak defense (Patricia’s specialty).
Lots of Rope
Despite the team’s poor record, Patricia’s seat may be warm, but far from “ready-to-be-fired” hot. The Lions have hinted the current head coach will be back for the 2020 season.
“The players who Patricia brought in speak very highly of him, and he has strong support all over the league. If he is given enough time, the Lions will be competitive,” Sports Illustrated reported.
Some pundits who believe Patricia needs to make some major changes point to several areas that need addressing. Those include a bad locker-room atmosphere (which led to the trade of Quandre Diggs to Seattle), an inability to build offensive and defensive schemes suited to the team’s talent, and backing away from trying to impose a New England Patriot mindset to a team that has yet to make it to the Super Bowl — let alone win six championships.