Lions head coach Matt Patricia met the media at the NFL Combine on Wednesday in Indianapolis. John Niyo, Detroit News
Indianapolis — This isn’t your typical buddy cop film, mostly because Bob and Matt — Quinn and Patricia, the Lions’ two leading men — generally think alike and sound alike, at least when it comes to football.
This is no “Midnight Run” script, either, though Patricia, for his part, sure looked more comfortable addressing the media at the NFL scouting combine Wednesday than he did at his introductory press conference in Allen Park a few weeks ago. The beard is growing out again, and he’d shed the suit-and-tie prison uniform for jeans, a comfortable Nike fleece and an all-black Lions baseball cap — the pencil tucked comfortably behind his ear, as always.
Patricia also began his media session with a joke, when asked how it felt to be standing behind a podium for the first time at the combine as an NFL head coach. He grabbed the table in front of him and deadpanned, “Great. Pretty sturdy.”
Not coincidentally, so is the relationship that’s at the core of the Lions’ latest course correction, as Quinn brought in his longtime former colleague from his days in New England to take the wheel in Detroit. And now that they’re together again, old road-trip pals from their scouting days with the Patriots reunited for a new spinoff, there’s a familiar feel to it.
“It’s been like the good ol’ days,” Quinn said. “It’s been busy, it’s been fun. A lot of long hours watching tape, talking through things.”
And as those things have started to come together, from Patricia’s coaching staff to their roster evaluations to the early planning stages for free agency and the offseason schedule, the frantic nature of it all is offset by that comfort level.
Dan Quinn, the Atlanta Falcons’ coach, went through something similar a few years ago, when he coached the Seattle Seahawks defense all the way through the Super Bowl before finally starting his new job in Atlanta in early February.
“What you don’t know until you get out on the practice field,” he said, “is you don’t really know your team that you just took over very well.”
But what he knew then — trusting the groundwork already laid by GM Thomas Dimitroff, another former Patriots personnel man — is what Patricia understands even better now, having spent 12 years in the same system with his new GM in New England.
“So they’re really in good shape,” Dan Quinn added. “That’s a big bridge for Matt, knowing that they have a really (good) handle on that.”
That said, there is a lot to get a handle on in a short amount of time. The Lions took care of one pressing issue Tuesday when they slapped the franchise tag on defensive end Ziggy Ansah to keep their top pass rusher off the open market. But they still have several more pending free agents to make decisions on — including Haloti Ngata and Tahir Whitehead among a half-dozen 2017 starters in Detroit — before they can start pursuing those breaking loose from the other 31 NFL rosters. And then there’s the draft prep that takes center stage this week in Indianapolis, where 336 of the top college prospects are being vetted, on and off the field.
Still, Patricia says he views this “whirlwind” winter as a “fun challenge,” and, frankly, not all that differently than the ones he’s tackled in the past.
“I mean, I think in general when you’re blessed enough to play longer into the season, you’re always kind of feeling like you’re behind, which is not a bad thing,” said Patricia, whose New England teams played into late January or early February each of the last seven seasons. “It kind of puts a sense of urgency on everything, so it is a lot of, ‘Hey, we’ve got to get this done’ or ‘We’ve got to move on to this.’”
And the truth is, one of the reasons they had so much success in New England — aside from Bill and Tom, that is — isn’t simply that they built on what they’d already done.
“Each year is a different year, even if you’re with the same team — it doesn’t really matter,” Patricia said. “The seasons are completely different, the players change, sometimes the coaches change, and you have to really just kind of commit to that one, single year to build on. … So I’m going to start where I do every year. Whether it’s as the head coach or whether it was as a coordinator, you know, you’re going to start over. And that’s what we do.”
But that they’re able to do it together, that certainly helps, both for the new coach and the young GM.
“We kind of just fall right back into our normal routine,” Patricia said of his relationship with Quinn. “And it’s like he said, the ‘good ol’ days,’ like time hasn’t really passed. You just fall right back into the pattern and say, ‘OK, hey, let’s look at this’ or … ‘let’s talk about that.’ And, you know, Bob and I have a language, I’ll call it, that’s very similar from a standpoint of how we look and talk about football. When you have that communication that flows smoothly like that, things tend to go a little bit quicker. …
“I’m extremely lucky to be in a situation where, quite honestly, this is my first time walking this path. So to have someone that’s next to me saying, ‘Hey, look, be alert for this’ or ‘Let’s be ready to go on this’ and just pushing me along from that standpoint — because he’s already been in the fire for the last couple years with it — has been hugely helpful.”
So, yes, they both admit, they’re playing catch-up, in some respects.
But the important thing is, as Quinn notes, “we have a pretty good sense of where we’re going.”