He was the guy the Detroit Lions seemingly wanted all along. There were other interviews, sure, but from the beginning, from even before the franchise had an opening for a head coach, this seemed like the match general manager Bob Quinn wanted to make happen.
Matt Patricia was the top target. He was the man Quinn knew. As Quinn tries to build the Lions from an also-ran to a contender for the first time since the 1990s, this was the guy he believed in.
It led to a wait, sure, as the New England Patriots franchise that both men came from ended up in another Super Bowl (this one a 41-33 loss to Philadelphia on Sunday). But when you’re trying to build something, impatience typically leads to poor decisions. And patience made sense here, especially since NFL rules prohibited anything else from officially happening until New England lost anyway.
Patience also led the Lions to accomplish something they rarely have in the franchise’s history. They picked out and then landed a high-valued asset, even beating out the New York Giants to do it.
Patricia had been one of the -- if not the -- top candidate during this hiring cycle of candidates. And that the Lions landed him is a sign this organization has some of the cachet necessary to remove itself from the decades of doldrums it has lived in.
That’s big for the Lions. It’s big from a public relations perspective -- showing they were willing to do what it took to hire the man they believe they needed. It’s big from a culture perspective -- Quinn and Patricia come from the same mindset, the same way of thinking. That Patriots familiarity should lessen the time Patricia’s learning curve will take as he figures out how to be a head coach.
While the marriage on paper looks like it’ll work and while from a public relations perspective, this is a win for Detroit, there are some reasons for concern -- starting with Patricia’s background.
He has never been a head coach before. He’s never coached in the NFL outside of New England. While it’s fine to take some of the things Belichick has done with the Patriots and bring them to your new place of employment -- the Lions have seen that with some of Quinn’s implementations his first year-plus with the organization -- he has to be his own man.
That means not being Belichickian, even if that’s the guy who taught you so much of what you know. That is how coaches -- and general managers -- fail. Quinn knows this and said as much to ESPN in a sitdown interview before the 2016 season.
“It’s simple. It’s trying to be Bill. I’m not going to try to be Bill, because I can’t. People that have left before maybe tried to be him, tried to act like him even though their personality might not be exactly like his,” Quinn said. “So you have to be your own man and being your own way to communicate with people, communicate with the team, communicate with staff.
“So to try and be Bill Belichick is impossible. I knew when I was coming here that I couldn’t do that. I needed to be my own person.”
By many accounts, Patricia’s personality is not like Belichick’s. Patricia is the guy who players love, who they rave about and who they believe cares about them on a deeply human level beyond football. There’s a compassionate side to him (not that there isn’t to Belichick) and Patricia shouldn’t be afraid to use that in his new job.
That’s the first step for him to become successful. Take what you can from what Belichick taught you. Figure out how it works with your own style now that you’re leading a team. And go from there.
“He works hard every day. Every day. He gets better as a coach every day. He’s one of the smartest people I’ve ever been around,” said Patrick Graham, Patricia’s successor as linebackers coach in New England. “He’s one of the kindest, most caring people I’ve ever been around. He’s just a good people person, a good coach and he’s demanding of players and the coaches around him.
“He’s going to make an excellent coach when that happens.”
His mind -- if you hadn’t heard he could have gone into aeronautical engineering instead of football -- is wired for being able to handle all of the different things being a head coach throws at you. This includes the personal, personnel and scheme demands. From an intellect perspective, there’s no question he should be able to handle the demands of the work.
That, combined with lineage he comes from, are what made him an attractive candidate -- and the Lions hope, a successful head coach who can win playoff games and division titles for the first time in Detroit since Patricia was an undergraduate offensive lineman at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.
There always will be reasons to doubt. Coaching searches are not science. Sure things flame out. Also-rans pan out. But this time, the Lions at least made the right, attractive hire on paper.
In Patricia, the Lions got the hire that made sense with the connections for what the club is trying to do. Now, they have to hope he and Quinn can take the vision they have and make the Lions winners for the first time in a long time.
ESPN Packers reporter Rob Demovsky contributed to this report.