Allen Park — Barring an unforeseen, late-season turnaround, the growing expectation is Detroit Lions coach Matt Patricia will be making some changes to his staff this offseason.
The top name perceived to be on the hot seat is offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter, who has struggled to get consistency out of his unit while offenses around the NFL surge.
Through 11 games, the Lions' offense ranks 23rd in yardage and 21st in points. Quarterback Matthew Stafford, the focal point of the unit, is also having his worst season under Cooter's tutelage. Stafford's passer rating, yards per attempt and interception rate are all at four-year lows.
On the flip side, few offenses are been more prolific than the Los Angeles Rams, Detroit's next opponent. The Rams, led by coach Sean McVay, are averaging 35.4 points per game and have scored fewer than 30 just twice in 11 games.
McVay, the NFL's 32-year-old boy wonder, calls the plays in L.A. Still, that won't stop NFL decision-makers from looking to pluck the fruits of the young coach's tree. One name generating some early buzz is the team's passing-game coordinator Shane Waldron.
At this point, it's all speculation. There's nothing officially connecting Waldron to Detroit, other than the fact he briefly worked on the New England Patriots staff with Patricia in 2004 and again from 2008-09.
The Rams' passing attack has played a big part in the offense's overall success, with quarterback Jared Goff on pace to throw for 5,159 yards, 38 touchdowns and eight interceptions.
Asked what Waldron has meant to the staff in Los Angeles, McVay showered his assistant with praise.
"He's a phenomenal coach," McVay said during a conference call with Detroit reporters on Wednesday. "He’s a great communicator. He’s got a rare ability to authentically and genuinely connect with not only coaches, but the players and be able to correct in a manner that doesn’t make guys' guards come up. It's all about problem solving and doing it together. He’s obviously done a phenomenal job, really mainly as a leader for our offense, not exclusively to just being a pass-game coordinator.”
Waldron, 39, played tight end at Tufts University before going into coaching. After his initial three-year stint with the Patriots (2002-04), he joined former Patriots offensive coordinator Charlie Weis at Notre Dame (2005-08). Waldron briefly returned to New England in 2008, where he coached the team's tight ends in 2009.
He first connected with McVay while serving as a quality-control coach in Washington, where McVay was a coordinator.
Asked if he believed Waldron was prepared to be a coordinator in the NFL, McVay offered a bittersweet stamp of approval.
"Absolutely," McVay said. "I would be extremely disappointed, selfishly, if we lost him, but so happy if that’s something that he felt like was next for him and his family. There’s no doubt about it, he’s a great coach and he’s certainly ready if that’s the next step that he decides he wants to take."