Matt Patricia, like the rest of the members of his NFL fraternity, is still adjusting to life as a stay-at-home coach.
And though the challenges are unique in the midst of a pandemic – “interesting” was how Patricia described it Tuesday on a video conference call with local media – there are some benefits for a married father of three who admits, “The thing I struggle with the most with my career is just not being home.”
There’s more time spent with family, whether it’s getting breakfast for his kids or playing Barbie Dolls with his youngest, Gia. (“When my 4-year-old daughter asks me to play,” he said, “it’s really hard to turn that down.”) And there are even some idle moments around the house for a hobby or two.
“I’ll just show you one,” Patricia said, reaching off-screen and then holding up a ukulele that he says he actually plays on occasion, though he spared his audience an impromptu concert Tuesday.
“I may call them songs,” he laughed. “You would call them noise. So we’ll probably just leave it at that.”
Having left the NFL draft behind them, the Lions began tuning in for Phase 1 of their “virtual” offseason program last week. Patricia and his coaching staff held team meetings online, first with individual players and position groups, and then the full squad – minus the rookie class that’ll join after an introductory minicamp later this week.
“When we logged in with everyone on Thursday, it was awesome,” Patricia said. “It was four pages of faces. I’m scrolling through trying to see everybody and just get caught up. It was really exciting. It was great energy. The players were excited, I think, to see each other.”
And if there’s a revelation thus far for the Lions’ third-year head coach, that’s probably it right there. It’s less about how this new reality looks or sounds for his football team. It’s about how it feels. “Fascinating,” was the word he used Tuesday.
“You know, I like to kind of be live and in-person, feel the energy and be around everybody,” said Patricia, who is very much a hands-on coach on the practice field. “But it’s been interesting from this aspect to watch them really grow. I’m just telling you, to feel the energy through a Zoom call, which was crazy, last Thursday when everybody kind of saw each other, I think that was really cool. I think it was really, really awesome, and I think it just shows a lot about this team.”
Similarities to 2011
Some of that's because of the feelings of isolation we're all feeling these days. But part of it he also attributes to players 15-20 years younger than himself having a greater comfort level with social media, video chatting and technology in general. And to that end, the 46-year-old Patricia was encouraged to see them adapting quickly to a new normal, even including their response to a technological glitch – “a little mishap, I’ll call it,” he said – when a dropped call left the staff scrambling last week.
“So you instantly go into a panic mode, and you’re like, ‘OK, now what? How do we get a hundred people back on a call?’” Patricia said. “Within 2 minutes, everyone was back on. So that was pretty awesome. Certainly there’s going to be those types of challenges going forward, and it’s just great to see our guys be able handle those situations.”
Because there’s a lot that needs handling early on in an offseason that may not be unprecedented, but definitely is unusual. Patricia noted some similarities to the NFL lockout in 2011 that shuttered the league from mid-March until the start of training camp in late July. But he was still a position coach then with the Patriots.
Now he’s in charge of the entire ship. And heading into his third season in Detroit, Patricia is breaking in two new coordinators, with Cory Undlin taking over the defense and Brayden Coombs on special teams – as well as several assistants that are either new to the team or newly-promoted.
That process starts with “coaching the coaches,” as Patricia puts it. Teaching the new terminology, building out the playbooks, and so on. And while the technology can do wonders, it can also get in the way sometimes. Interspersed with all the conceptual learning, there’s also talk now about compression rates for video conferencing.
“We’re doing a lot of different stuff with technology to see what works best,” said Patricia, who, it’s worth noting again, earned his bachelor’s degree in aeronautical engineering at RPI and also holds a master’s degree in math education. “We’ve done everything from implementing video into these calls to actually just old-school, point the back of a camera at the screen and show it that way.”
At the same time, Patricia says he has been impressed with his staff’s ability to begin building relationships with players, even in a virtual setting.
“They’re very creative,” Patricia said. “They come up with different ideas. And on some levels, it’s more intimate because there’s either family running around in the background or somebody’s wife or kid might be there, too, and I think that’s really great. It’s great for everybody to see that, both from the players’ and the coaches’ side.”
It'll be better, though, whenever everybody is able to be back together again. Patricia will be the first to tell you that, as he did Tuesday when talking about that first full-team meeting last week.
"I just wanted to give a bunch of bear hugs out and do all that stuff," he said, "and we couldn’t."
But until they can, he'll stay busy at home, where he's hard at work trying to strike the right tone in a strangely rewarding time.