Allen Park — At first glance, it appears it has been a while since Paul Pasqualoni has called plays. But the Detroit Lions defensive coordinator won’t have to shake off as much rust as you might think.
With more than four decades of coaching experience, including nine in the NFL, it’s been nearly a decade since Pasqualoni has held a coordinator title, when he was promoted as an interim option with the Dallas Cowboys, under Jason Garrett, in 2010. But title or not, it wasn’t the most recent time Pasqualoni had a role in play-calling, including having a hand in the process as the defensive line coach at Boston College the past two years.
“I was calling the defense in Dallas when I left,” Pasqualoni said on Tuesday. “I went to the University of Connecticut, I was probably calling most of it there (as head coach). So, I’ve always prepared like that was going to be a responsibility that you needed to be prepared for. Even as an assistant coach, I was always kind of in that mode.”
The biggest difference between his time calling plays in Dallas and now, according to Pasqualoni, is the incorporation of college spread and zone-read elements into NFL offenses. But after having prepared his players for Lamar Jackson and Deshaun Watson in recent years, Pasqualoni doesn't anticipate the evolution being an issue.
"The past two years in the ACC, I promise you I’ve seen that a little bit, up front and very, very close and personal," he said. "If anything, I think it’s probably helped me a little bit. It really has."
Pasqualoni’s last NFL job was coaching Houston’s defensive line in 2015. That was a pretty good gig, working with defensive MVP J.J. Watt and former No. 1 pick Jadeveon Clowney on one of the league’s best units and a division winner. But Pasqualoni resigned after the season and took the job with Boston College so he could be closer to his family as his three children finished up their education in Connecticut.
With two of his sons graduating high school and moving on to college, the opportunity to return to the NFL proved too good to pass up, especially the chance to work for former pupil Matt Patricia.
Patricia, in his first year as coach of the Lions, had served as one of Pasqualoni’s graduate assistants for three years at Syracuse before getting a break with New England.
“The Syracuse program was a developmental program,” Pasqualoni said. “The GAs who came in there had a lot of responsibilities. They had a lot of jobs they had to do. They worked very, very hard at it. A lot of good things have happened to a lot of those guys.”
Pasqualoni and Patricia have remained close over the years, with their NFL experiences overlapping. Patricia worked under Bill Belichick for 14 years in New England, while Pasqualoni had a couple stints with Bill Parcells, Belichick’s former boss.
Pasqualoni and Patricia have had plenty of conversations about scheme during that time and Patricia has said the two share a defensive philosophy. They have also equated coaching to their passion for teaching.
“People think I’m nuts, but I got in this to be a teacher,” Pasqualoni said. “I was like a K-6 teacher, had no intentions to ever coach in college or pro football. It’s just I wanted to be a high school coach back in my hometown, Cheshire, Connecticut.”
Pasqualoni did coach at Cheshire, as an assistant, for four years. From there it was a couple small college jobs before four seasons at Syracuse coaching linebackers. And when the team’s coach Dick MacPherson left to take the head job with the Patriots, Pasqualoni was promoted to replace him. He led Syracuse for the next 14 years, amassing a 107-59-1 record.
For some coaches, it might be strange working for a former assistant, but it’s an old hat for Pasqualoni at this point. Boston College head coach Steve Addazio was a tight ends and offensive line assistant for Pasqualoni from 1995-98. And in Dallas, in a separate stretch before he was defensive coordinator, Pasqualoni coached the linebackers under Brian Stewart, who had coached the defensive backs at Syracuse in 2001. He now coaches the Lions' secondary.
“I’ve worked for a lot of people, and I feel like I could work for a lot of people,” Pasqualoni said. “I just want to help and do what I can do to be a part of, maybe, something that’s pretty good.”