Niyo: Patricia’s ‘Do-your-job’ ethos bodes well for Lions

John Niyo
The Detroit News

Allen Park — Matt Patricia is a smart guy. Smarter than most guys. And there’s a decent chance he will, in fact, be the smartest guy in the room when he stands before his new team here in Detroit.

But if there’s a lesson to be learned as Patricia steps into a new role with the Lions, adopting a new title at the top of his profession, it’s this: Don’t act like it. Don’t assume you’ve got all the answers. And don’t pretend — don’t presume — to be something you’re not.

It’s a mistake one of his longtime colleagues in New England, Josh McDaniels, made as a rookie head coach several years ago in Denver. And it’s one McDaniels, the Patriots’ offensive coordinator whose stunning change of heart about the Indianapolis Colts’ head coaching job had the entire league talking Wednesday, finally fessed up to long after he’d been fired.

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“When you do something like that for the first time, you feel like you have to run through everything and be in charge of too many things,” McDaniels admitted. “And sometimes that’s a significant negative.”

So, then, if you’re looking for positives from Patricia’s introductory news conference in Allen Park, that’s probably a good place to start. With a self-awareness that’s sometimes lacking in guys who find themselves in this coveted position, including the one who was hired with a similar resume here in Detroit the same year McDaniels took over the Broncos in 2009.

That’d be former Lions head coach Jim Schwartz, another genius who scrapped his economics degree from Georgetown in favor of what he called “my Ph.D. in football-ology from Bill Belichick,” working as an office grunt and low-level scout in Cleveland in the mid-1990s. Schwartz went on to make a name for himself as successful defensive coordinator in Tennessee, much like Patricia has in New England.

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And while he oversaw the Lions’ reconstruction era following Matt Millen’s destructive reign in Detroit, leading the franchise from 0-16 to the playoffs in three years, he couldn’t fulfill his promise here in part because he was too full of himself.

With Patricia, you get the sense that won’t be an issue. This might not work, but it seems unlikely that it’ll implode, and not just because the general manager and the head coach have a history together that goes back nearly 15 years.

“I’ll say this: There’s only one Coach Belichick — that’s it,” said Patricia, who made no promises he couldn’t keep Wednesday, even though he was asked to do so more than once. “He’s amazing. He’s in New England. I’m Matt Patricia.

‘My own guy’

“I’m kind of my own person, my own guy. I’ve got my own style.”

Almost to a man, the players in New England will vouch for that, from Tom Brady, who called Patricia a “great leader” with a “great personality” last week at the Super Bowl, to former Lions linebacker Kyle Van Noy, who gushed about how much “respect” he had for a coach who helped rescue his young career.

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We saw and heard glimpses of it Wednesday at the Lions’ headquarters, where Patricia was gracious, if guarded, during his introductory news conference but a bit more expansive afterward.

If he sounded evasive about some of his coaching staff decisions, most notably the status of offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter, there was good reason, apparently. It’s not that he has any great reservations, necessarily. Patricia spoke highly of Cooter’s coaching background — in Indianapolis and in Denver, as well as in Detroit, where Matthew Stafford’s development the last two years was obvious.

“There’s not a situation there at all,” Patricia said. “But here’s the thing I learned a long time ago: Everybody gets caught up in titles. I definitely think it’s a younger generation thing, too. It’s really hard to talk to guys because they’re like, ‘What’s my title. What am I doing?’ or ‘I need this,’ or ‘Hey, I’m the pass-game coordinator.’ What does that mean? I can give you a bunch of titles. What’s the use? I was an assistant coach in New England for 14 years. That’s all I was. I had a job.

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“My job changed every year. The head coach gave me my responsibilities and I did them to the best I could. That’s what it’s really all about.”

And that’s as it should be. A do-your-job mentality, without praise or pretense. A coaching collective, with one goal in mind: Winning.

There’s no telling how far that’ll get the Lions under Matt Patricia. But smart money says this just might work out.