Matthew Stafford stood in front of a throng of reporters last month on the day his head coach, Jim Caldwell, was fired and made something pretty clear. While he didn’t know whether he would have input on who his new coach would be, he would like it if his offensive coordinator stuck around.
And now, with the expected hire of Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia just days away following Super Bowl LII, it looks like Jim Bob Cooter is going to stay, according to ESPN Insider Adam Schefter.
The 33-year-old Cooter’s retention has been expected for weeks, especially since he interviewed this hiring cycle for only one job: Lions head coach. Most of the offensive staff have not interviewed for other jobs; only two offensive coaches -- offensive line coach Ron Prince and quarterbacks coach Brian Callahan -- have left the Lions. Prince was fired on Jan. 1, and Callahan left to join the Raiders for a similar position.
“Jim Bob and I have a great relationship,” Stafford said on Jan. 1. “Ever since he’s had an opportunity to take the reins, this offense has moved in the right direction in my opinion. I feel like I’m playing some of the best football of my career, so I would love to have the opportunity to keep working with him. He’s been good for us and good for me.”
General manager Bob Quinn said on Jan. 1 that Stafford would have no role in the hiring process. Quinn also said the new head coach would have autonomy over his staff. According to Schefter, Patricia and Cooter don’t know each other, so this could be a leap of trust for the new Lions head coach.
Patricia, though, is expected to have at least two new assistants on offense as Alex Marvez of the Sporting News reported last week that Jeff Davidson would replace Prince as the offensive line coach and George Godsey -- the former Texans offensive coordinator -- would become the team’s quarterbacks coach.
Part of the reason for keeping Cooter is maintaining continuity for Stafford, who would otherwise be learning a new offense for the fourth time in his career. Considering Stafford is in his prime and has good command of Cooter's offense, that could be a detriment to success.
Under Cooter, who was quarterbacks coach before taking over the offense, Stafford has had four of the best seasons of his career. Since 2014, Stafford has completed 64.6 percent of his passes (1,520-of-2,353) for 17,292 yards, 107 touchdowns and 45 interceptions.
The yardage total ranks fourth in the NFL over that span, behind Drew Brees, Matt Ryan and Philip Rivers. Stafford is tied with Ryan for eighth in touchdowns and has the same interception total as Kirk Cousins over the past four years.
There were some issues with Cooter’s offense last season, though. Detroit’s run game under Cooter has been abysmal, ranking worst in the league last season in yards per game and yards per carry. The run blocking was particularly poor. Although injuries had something to do with it, Cooter wasn't able to solve the problems in Detroit’s ground game. When he was asked before Week 17 why Detroit struggled to run this season, Cooter grew defensive and had few answers.
Since Cooter took over for the fired Joe Lombardi as offensive coordinator in Week 8 of the 2015 season, Stafford has been sacked 112 times -- more than any other quarterback in the league and one of only two quarterbacks, along with Tyrod Taylor, to be sacked more than 100 times.
For comparison, Brees also played in 41 games over that time frame and was sacked 61 times. Derek Carr, in 40 games, was sacked 59 times.
Fixing those issues -- both the run game and offensive protection -- have to be two priorities for Cooter this offseason.
“Yeah, every year I’ll be studying different things. Our staff will be studying different things with an attempt to improve,” Cooter said prior to Week 17 last season. “Whether that’s improving maybe how we teach something, improving maybe how I call a game. Improving could be, obviously, we do a lot of self-scout every year. We watch every play from the year before. We cut them up different ways, and sometimes you come out of that saying, ‘Boy, I need to call less of this thing and more of this other thing.'
“That’ll always be going on. But I’ll try to pinpoint some areas to improve and improve in those. So, that’s kind of every offseason. That’s every time you have a big chunk of time to sort of get better. I’ll be doing that same thing that players will."
And now it appears he'll be getting ready for a return to Detroit with Stafford as offensive coordinator. Whether he's able to fix the run game and protection issues could play a strong role in determining how successful his new boss is in his first season as Lions head coach.